The Historic City of Preston has seen many changes over the years and with so many these changes is it wonderful to see just how may places and buildings are still with us to this day. The ‘Then and Now’ image above illustrates exactly that in the three historic images in comparison with their current existence. Explore the evolving face of this fascinating city with Marriott Hotels’ guide to Preston then & now.
With a prime location on the banks of the River Ribble, Preston has long been considered an important centre for industry, trade and administration in the county of Lancashire. Like many industrial English cities, both its appearance and the nature of its economy have altered greatly over the last two centuries, and in many ways the current city would be unrecognisable to inhabitants of even a hundred years ago. Read on to learn more about the amazing evolution of this fascinating historic city…
Throughout the Middle Ages, Preston benefited from a prosperous textile industry based on the production of local wool and linen. Medieval Preston was never walled, but was instead surrounded by agricultural fields, which have since been consumed by expanding suburbs.
Up until the mid-19th century, the town essentially consisted of three main streets – Friargate, Churchgate (now known as Church Street) and Fishergate. These ancient streets still form the heart of the city centre today, and in some areas show evidence of the old medieval burgage system, in which urban rental property was divided into long, thin lots, with a narrow street frontage usually occupied by a building.
By the 18th century, Preston was known as an attractive, prosperous town, with handsome buildings set on elegant streets occupied by old landed families – this earned it the nickname “Proud Preston”. However, the coming of the Industrial Revolution drastically changed the face of Preston within a relatively short period of time.
Over the course of the 19th century, Preston’s population exploded as workers arrived to man the factories, with the town centre quickly becoming densely populated and new tenement buildings springing up around industrial sites. As was the case in many rapidly growing industrial cities, overcrowding and unsatisfactory sanitary and living conditions plagued many of the poorer neighbourhoods. In fact, Preston was so much the model of a typical industrial city that it served as the inspiration for the fictional Coketown in Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times.
However, the Victorian era did also see a number of reforms and improvements in the fields of education, public transport and facilities – in particular, in 1815 Preston became the first British town after London to introduce gas lighting. Much of the city’s most striking historic architecture also dates from this period.
Preston’s strategic location means it has always been an important connecting point for travellers, post and freight being transported between the south-east and north-west of England, not to mention London and various cities in Scotland. This role was only emphasised by the arrival of the railway in the 19th century.
The first railway station in Preston was opened by the North Union Railway in 1838, with subsequent expansions over the next century designed to accommodate the additions of rival railways, who would each lay their own individual lines to the station. By the 1860s, trains were regularly stopping at the station on their way from London to Glasgow in order to allow the passengers to dine in the station canteen, although facilities in these early days were still fairly basic. For instance, there were no footpaths connecting platforms – staff had to escort passengers directly across the tracks instead.
The current station was built in 1880 and extended in 1903 and 1913. At its height it featured 15 platforms, including an impressive central island platform that at 1,225 feet (373 metres) long and 110 feet (34 metres) wide, was larger than any of those found in London stations. During the First World War, it became famous for hosting a free 24-hour buffet service for troops in uniform.
Only eight platforms are still in use today, with those for the East Lancashire lines having been demolished to make room for carparks for the station and nearby Fishergate Shopping Centre.
To counter the rapid urban growth of Preston during the industrial era, the city’s Victorian inhabitants made provisions for public green space. Designed by well-known landscape architect Edward Milner and constructed in the 1860s, Avenham Park (and the adjoining Miller Park) provide a peaceful retreat from the bustling city centre along the scenic banks of the River Ribble.
Today the parks have a Grade II listed status in recognition of how well their layout has been preserved since the Victorian era. Of course, these much-loved areas have seen some changes over the years. For instance, a Japanese rock garden was added in the 1930s, when such designs were particularly trendy, and The Belvedere, a striking white pavilion located in the north-east corner of the park, was moved here from its original location in Miller Park, where it was replaced by a statue of the Earl of Derby.
Meanwhile, the traditional Victorian bandstand was replaced in the 1950s by a larger stage made of brick and concrete, but this, too, has since been demolished. Today there’s a performance area where a temporary stage can be erected, and the park is still a popular venue for concerts, festivals and other cultural events – especially since it recently underwent an extensive restoration, to ensure it remains a favourite gathering place for future generations.
By staying at the Preston Marriott Hotel you can continue exploring the theme of Preston old and new during your stay. The hotel is set in a former Victorian manor house that was built in 1891 as a family home for James Clarke, his wife Elizabeth and their five children. The residence was called Broughton Park, and falls within the historic parish of Broughton, located about four miles north of the Preston city centre.
After James Clarke’s death in 1915, Elizabeth and the children continued to live in the house until 1928, after which it was occupied by Kathleen and Eric Dickson, their four sons and one daughter for the next 50 years – save for during the Second World War, when Broughton Park was requisitioned by the government and served as quarters for 100 WAAFs.
During this era the home became known for its fine gardens, where a variety of fruit, vegetables, roses and other flowers were cultivated. There was a greenhouse where peaches and grapes were grown, and even a private tennis court. The house was screened by a particularly fine collection of trees (many of which still stand today), including a rare cut leaf lime tree called Gloria that many visitors came expressly to see.
When Kathleen died in 1977, the house was purchased by the Bennets, local businessmen who converted the building into the 12-bedroom Broughton Park Hotel. The hotel was redeveloped and expanded by new owners the Coupes during the 1980s, including the addition of a further 91 bedrooms, additional conference facilities, a restaurant and Drakes Leisure Club. As a result, the hotel was awarded four-star status in 1984. In 1996 the hotel became part of the Marriott group, with further refurbishment and additions making it the largest hotel in the Preston area – as well as an impressive testament to the city’s never-ending ability to refresh itself and combine the best of old and new.
Image credits for beginning feature image:
Avenham Park by Disillated, license
Preston, Avenham Park by Preston Digital Archive, license
2014_31 by Chilanda Cement, license
Preston Railway Station in 1966 by 70023venus2009, license
Have you been to the Marriott Hotel, the former Broughton Park Manor House? Let us know in the comments below.