Preston encyclopedia entry from 1819 tells of the Guild, Horrockes and Preston’s founding

Posted on - 8th November, 2013 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - History
Lills Court, a narrow lane ran between Friargate and Back Lane.

Lills Court, a narrow lane ran between Friargate and Back Lane.

We had this through the post the other day, a description from 1819 of how Preston used to be:


Preston, a borough town in Lancashire, pleasantly situated on a gentle elevation above the Ribble, about 15 miles from the confluence of that river with the Irish sea, and in the centre of a country abounding in rich and varied landscapes.

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The town rose into existence on the decay of the ancient city of Ribchester, a city which is now reduced to the humble condition of a village, about 11 miles distant from Preston.

A priory was anciently established here, for the relief of the Grey Friars. The building which formed the seat of the institution was, subsequently to the destruction of religious foundations, converted into a house of correction, and is now occupied in distinct private dwellings of the lowest description.

The town was incorporated by Henry II in 1160. By a subsequent charter, granted in the reign of Henry III, the officers of the burgh were authorised to hold a guild merchant for the renewal of the freedom to the burgesses, and for other purposes.


This privilege is made the occasion of great festivity. For a long time after their first institution the guilds were held at irregular periods, but they have now for more than a century been uniformly celebrated every twentieth year, commencing on the Monday next after the decollation of At.John, which generally happens in the last week of August. The last was held in 1802.

The amusements, which are of great variety and interest, continue for a fortnight, but for civic purposes, the guild books are open for an entire month.

The body corporate consists of a mayor, recorder, seven aldermen, and 17 capital burgesses, who together form the common council of the borough.

The mayor, and a town’s bailiff and serjeant, are elected annually, by a jury of 24 guild burgesses.

The members of the council, with the exception of the mayor, retain their seats for life, or during the pleasure of a majority, and vacancies are supplied by the remaining members.

The two sends two representatives to parliament, and affords a practical example of universal suffrage, every male inhabitant, whether housekeeper or lodger, who has resided six months in the town, and who has not been chargeable to any township as a pauper for twelve months, having a right to vote for two candidates at elections.

This principle was established by a decision of the house of commons, on an appeal in the year 1766, and has ever since been acted upon.

During the greater part of the last century, the town has been much restored to, as agreeable retirement, by old and respectable families of slender incomes, but having, during the last 20 or 30 years, become the seat of very extensive manufacturing establishments, the character of inhabitants has undergone a consequent change.

This change was in a great measure brought about through the spirited exertions of a single individual, the late Mr John Horrocks, who, in the year 1791, commenced, nearly without capital, a small manufacture of muslin, and, taking advantage of the important improvements then introduced in the art of cotton spinning, he formed several establishments in this branch of business, and, in the course of a very few year, became the master or principal owner of six large factories, and obtained interest sufficient to secure his return to parliament without opposition, at the general election of 1802.

The population of the town had been nearly stationary for a full century previous to the year 1790, and generally estimated at 6000 persons. In 1801 the number was 11,887; in 1811, 17,065; and in July 1819, the number of inhabited houses was found to be 1546, uninhabited including new buildings 170 and inhabitants 21,958.

The streets are generally broad and well paved; the houses are almost entirely built of red brick, and slated, but the town cannot boast much in respect of public buildings. The proportion of Roman Catholics is perhaps greater here than any other town in England. This body of Christians possesses two large chapels; one of them is said to be the largest in the kingdom, and both of them are generally well filled. The Methodists also have large meeting houses, and there are slender congregations of Independents, Quakers and Unitarians.

Most of the public offices belonging to the county palatine and duchy of Lancaster, as well as the county court, are kept in this town. The quarter sessions for the hundreds of Amounderness, Blackburn and Leyland, are also held here, and there is a house of correction built on the plan of Howard, and at present under excellent management.

A gas company was established here in 1815, being the first of the kind successfully formed, after those in the metropolis.

The Ribble does not admit vessels of large burden, on which account the maritime trade of the town is confined to the western coasts of Great Britain, and some of the ports if Ireland. The river is, however, considered susceptible of being rendered navigable for vessels of sufficient magnitude to carry on an intercourse with American and the West Indies.

The public foundations of the town are a dispensary, a national school on the system of Dr Ball, a Catholic school, also conducted on the mechanical system, a free grammar school for the gratuitous instruction of freemen’s sons in classical literature, but which few of the freemen now avail themselves of, and several other minor institutions.

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The late Dr Shepherd, a physician and alderman of the borough, left, about 40 years ago, the whole of his extensive library, and the interest of 1000, for its support and enlargement, to the mayor and alderman for the time being, who grant free admission thereto.

The principal market, which is very plentifully supplied, is held every Saturday, besides which, there are markets for fish and vegetables every Wednesday and Friday.

31 miles from Liverpool, the same distance from Manchester, 22 south of Lancaster and 214 north-west of London.

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