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The sad demise of Preston Guild Hall and the origins of the Guild

Posted on - 12th December, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Arts, History, Nostalgia, Preston Bus Station, Preston City Centre, Preston Guild Hall, Preston News
Preston Guild Hall Pic: Tripadvisor
Preston Guild Hall Pic: Tripadvisor

The future for Preston Guild Hall looks in doubt as legal wrangles continue over this now closed venue. Once a revolutionary building, has the Guild Hall had its day?

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The brutalist building was built at around the same time as the once threatened Bus Station, which was recently refurbished.

Preston Guild

The Guild Merchant document Pic: Lancashire Archives
Pic: Lancashire Archives

Preston Guild began as long ago as 1179. A fair has been run every 20 years since 1542. Guilds are a kind of business union, used to promote the traders of a town. 

Preston Guild was and is an official body run by local burgesses (councillors). In fact you could not trade in Preston unless you were a member. The first burgess was appointed in 1179 by Henry II.

Now the Guild has become a celebration of the city of Preston, used to promote business and culture.

A new Guild Hall was begun in 1969. It was to be a venue for entertainment and culture, with two theatres and a shopping complex linked to the Bus Station by a (now defunct) subway. There is also a footbridge.

The Guild Hall site

Various mills, the old Ribble Bus Station, and housing were demolished to make way for the Guild Hall and new Bus Station.

The site of the Guild Hall and new Bus Station Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The site of the Guild Hall and new Bus Station Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The photo below shows the junction of Lord Street and Cheetham Street, shortly before construction of the Guild Hall. The top of the Harris can be seen on the left; note the smoke staining.

Location of the old Bus Station Pic: Preston History Society, Beth Hayes
Location of the old Bus Station Pic: Preston History Society, Beth Hayes
The original Preston bus station, this shot is to the left of the image above Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The original Preston Bus Station; this shot is to the left of the image above Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The Guild Hall and new Bus Station

Preston Bus Station under construction; note the showcase of 1960s cars, everything from a two-tone Triumph Herald to a Vauxhall Viva Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Bus Station under construction; note the showcase of 1960s cars, everything from a two-tone Triumph Herald to a Vauxhall Viva Pic: Preston Digital Archive

1969 saw the opening of the new Preston Bus Station. The Guild Hall opened in 1973, after delays. The complex was created with two venues – the Grand Hall and the more intimate Charter Theatre. 

Until 2014 the site was owned by Preston City Council, with demolition under consideration. However it was then sold to Simon Rigby.

Guild Hall shops Pic: Tripadvisor
Guild Hall shops Pic: Tripadvisor

Recent history

Preston Guild Hall Grand Hall Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The Grand Hall Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The Guild Hall has hosted major music acts in its time, as well as the World Snooker Championship.

Stars such as David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and The Jackson 5 have all appeared at the venue.

The Jackson Five, who appeared at the Guild Hall in 1979
The Jackson 5, who appeared in 1979
The Charter Theatre also hosted 1930s musicians such as Nat Gonnella. The style of shows on this play bill is a real throwback, for the 1970s Pic: Arthur Lloyd
The Charter Theatre also hosted 1930s musicians such as Nat Gonnella. The style of shows on this play bill is a real throwback, for the 1970s Pic: Arthur Lloyd

A future for the Guild hall?

Is there a future for the Guild Hall? The virtually worthless building was sold by Preston City Council to Simon Rigby in 2014, for £1. The plan was to refurbish it.

Before his death in 2020, Mr Rigby revealed that he had lost £6 million on the Guild Hall project. The venue had been closed By Mr Rigby in May 2019, shortly after the Guild Hall Company went into administration.

At this point the Guild Hall went back into Preston City Council ownership, which cited breaches of the lease. Meanwhile, Covid intervened, delaying the legal case brought by Mr Rigby and 13 other entities, who claimed the seizure was illegal. This case is still ongoing putting the future of the building in limbo. 

Read more: The tragedy of Simon Rigby and the failed Preston Guild Hall dream

Has the building a future, especially in the current environment, for public performance venues? Time will tell.



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