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Proud Preston was this week awash in a kaleidoscope of vibrant colour which is accompanied by wonderous cacophony of vibrant and pulsating beats in the form of Preston’s Caribbean Carnival. Gracing Preston’s streets since 1974, carnival is a much-loved event just as the Whit walks once were.
Whit walks are now all but a distant memory in Preston. Originally celebrated during the feast of Pentecost until 1965, when it was it was decided to be held on the last week in May, hence the term Whit Week.
There are many Prestonian’s who will have memories of Whit Walks, I wonder however, how many people are aware that 2018 marks the 150 th anniversary of Preston’s 1868 Whit Week riots?
Whitsuntide was traditionally celebrated during Pentecost which marked the fiftieth day since the descent of the Holy Spirt upon the twelve apostles. Pentecost was first adapted as a religious celebration in 305 AD. It became a major celebration in the fifth century and became known as Whitsun or Whitsuntide in England during the eleventh century.
The origin of this nickname is obscure however, it is possibly associated with the baptism of converts at this time. The converts wore white signifying their purity and the solemnity of this occasion. The wearing of white thus became a common feature of Whit Walks through the ages.
The Whitsuntide processions were banned by Elizabeth I and did not reappear until the 1790’s, and during the 1830’s, became the principle holiday for Preston’s numerous mill workers.
Numerous societies and churches all marched together after services at their respective place of worship until 1844 when sectarianism reared its ugly head and sullied this celebration of togetherness.
The Church of England scholars marched from Bow Lane, up Fishergate and then down Avenham Street to the National School. The Cannon Street Independent Chapel School marched in 1854, followed by the Wesleyan Scholars the following year.
Being non-conformist both groups marched separately to other Protestant groups. There may have been a separation however, there was no trouble until Preston’s Orange Order were allowed march in 1864.
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Who are the Orange Order and what do they represent? In Ireland the answer to that question depends on which part of the political/religious divide you come from. To some they are a Christian brotherhood that uphold the Protestant religion and culture.
To others they are a bigoted anti – Catholic organisation. The Orange Order was founded in Co. Armagh in 1795. Its purpose was to safeguard Protestant landowner’s economic interests in the Irish linen trade. The English Order was established in Manchester in 1807 to combat Luddites. It is unclear when the Orange Order was established in Preston.
The earliest mention comes from John Grantham’s obituary that states he joined in 1827. The Order marched in the 1831 Whit procession where they were attacked by a mob on Lune Street.
They were also attacked in the 1838 procession when the membership dwindled down to one solitary member. The Order reappeared in the town in 1844 and was mainly a middle-
class group. However, this changed when a new Orange Lodge in Preston was established in
This group was established so that members could indulge in their papaphobia which was in direct contravention of the Orange Order’s rule No. 5 which states, ‘that no person do prosecute or upbraid any one on account of his religious opinions; but that he will on the contrary be aiding and assisting to every loyal subject of every religious description.’
To be a loyal subject meant to uphold the Crown and Church of England. This very church was under sustained attack in 1868, at least in the Orangemen’s eyes. Their fears were brought to life by Cannon Parr’s sermon on Whit Monday 1868.
Cannon Parr, a virulent anti-papist was in his element on Whit Monday when he railed against the forces of evil that were surrounding the Church of England. Revolution was in the air as Irish communities were placed on a discreet watch, Preston’s Police station was fortified against the threat of Fenian bombs and the Anglican Church of Ireland faced being
It was a very credible fear of all Anglicans in England their church would be next. Cannon Parr would not be left wanting and he urged his flock to join him in the vanguard against this attack on everything they held dear.
In his sermon, he told his flock they should fear God and the King. Fear of God and the King meant you would obey their will. However, if the monarch signed a law that went against God’s wishes you must disobey the monarch. Monarch’s reigned subject to God’s ordinance, therefore, God’s will must come first.
If Queen Victoria gave the Royal Assent to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, she would be disavowing her coronation oath and therefore, must be removed as monarch. It was against this backdrop that the Orangemen were let loose to face their foes. Whit Monday itself passed without any incident of note. The riots themselves would occur later in the week when the Orangemen in full regalia marched on the Irish neighbourhood situated in Craggs Row.
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Craggs Row was known locally as Paddy’s Rookery. On Whit Tuesday a group of Orangemen marched into this area kicking down doors and calling for the Irish residents to come out
and fight. This went unanswered so they returned the following night. The Irish were waiting and were very well prepared. The Orangemen suffered an avalanche of paving and cobble stones raining down on them. Vicious fighting took place as both sides were armed with sticks and bats. Amid this vicious and bloody melee, a pistol was fired into the crowd.
Two more shots followed and John Ribchester was shot in the eye. The Orangemen eventually fled with the Irish in hot pursuit. Sectarian antagonism unfortunately became a feature at Preston’s Whitsuntide processions, thankfully, never again on this scale.
This riot alongside Whit Walks themselves has passed into the realm of Preston’s illustrious past. I wonder though will the memories of Preston’s Whitsuntide fade into obscurity? What other local pastimes have suffered this fate?
On Saturday 14 July at the Lancashire Archives, the author Stephen Poleon is giving a talk about the riot in Cragg’s Row. Running from 12.30pm to 3.30pm the event gives a chance to see research done on the topic and view material from collections. It’s free to attend, just register via Eventbrite.