A sign of Preston past

Posted on - 17th March, 2013 - 10:47pm | Author - | Posted in - History


Taking a stroll through the streets of Preston the visitor can sometimes stumble across surprising relics from the last war.

Giant faded yellow letters spelling ‘EWS’ can be found on walls at random locations around the city.

What does EWS mean? Well, it can be a great excuse for a little local history lesson.

Preston wasn’t particularly affected by German bombing raids during the war. Curious, considering the railway station was a major rallying point for thousands of troops, the docks provided a launching point for boats and Preston factories churned out all kinds of wartime munitions. However, in preparation for air raids by the Germans, all local authorities had to provide emergency water supplies for fighting fires, in case supplies of mains water were damaged by bombing.


Councils in 1939 made sure there were clear signs pointing to an emergency water source for the fire tenders’ pump crews.

The EWS signs were big yellow letters normally with a pointer and sometimes shown with a distance to the nearest water supply.

Some think the water supplies pointed to by the signs were rivers or pools already in existence. In fact most were mini reservoirs such as large tanks, collapsible paddling or swimming pools or basements of derelict buildings. In Preston some pointed to the water reservoirs used by the many cotton mills to be found around the town.

Grills had to be put over the top of the smaller reservoir tanks to stop children drowning. Its a sad fact that dozens tragically died while playing in the water. I’m unsure of any fatalities in the Preston EWS tanks.

During the war the emergency water supplies could be found everywhere, all with EWS on or nearby. Preston still has its fair share of the old wartime signs and finding them can be fun.

Many are badly faded which mean they may not last for much longer. A shame, as they are a poignant reminder of the Second World War and historically important piece of Preston past.






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