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Step back in time and explore some of Preston’s oldest pubs

Posted on - 12th February, 2022 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - City Centre, Food & Drink, Friargate, History, Nightlife, Nostalgia, Preston City Centre, Pubs, Things to Do in and around Preston
Ye Olde Blue Bell is situated on Church Street. Pic Lisa Brown
Ye Olde Blue Bell is situated on Church Street. Pic Lisa Brown

We’re stepping back in time to take a look at some of central Preston’s oldest and most traditional pubs in a mini heritage pub trail. Local historian and author, Stephen R. Halliwell, talks about the history of each pub and we look at what makes each one special.

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Ye Olde Blue Bell

Ye Olde Blue Bell is one of Preston’s oldest pubs situated in the heart of the city in Church Street.

There are many stories attached to the Grade II Listed pub – including rumours of a bricked-up passageway leading from the cellar to a local church – none of which the staff can confirm as the Samuel Smith’s Brewery is publicity-shy. The owner Humphrey Smith disallows staff to talk to the press.

It being a Sam Smith’s pub it encourages socialising over staring at devices, with locals enjoying their pints by the open fire and laptops, mobile devices, TV, music, and swearing banned.

The pub is warm and friendly and is decorated in a traditional style with photographs of old Preston hung on the walls. It serves the full range of Samuel Smith’s beers.

Stephen R. Halliwell includes the pub in his blog Pubs in Preston. He said: “At the end of April 1716, Widow Hall was fined £2 at the Court Leet, for keeping a disorderly house at the Blew Ball, Churchgate. It is presumed that it would take some time to develop into a disorderly house, and the date when it first became a tavern is unknown. Although the Olde Blue Bell has seen its share of assorted events, it’s probably best known for the murder of the daughter of the landlord in 1881, when Annie Ratcliffe was killed by her lover in the neighbouring Sir Walter Scott Inn in North Road at the corner of Lord’s Walk. Her assailant was hanged. The uniqueness of the Blue Bell has been lost, like it has with so many other licensed premises, by walls being taken out to enable better supervision of the premises.”

The Grade II listed Black Horse has three entrances on three different streets. Pic Lisa Brown
The Grade II Listed Black Horse has three entrances on three different streets. Pic Lisa Brown

Black Horse

The Black Horse has been a mainstay on the pub circuit for a number of years, with many telling tales of crawling out of the building after just a few pints of Old Tom. Amongst the many drinks on offer, it serves at least eight Robinson’s cask beers. A lovely traditional pub with a friendly, convivial atmosphere and open fires.

The Black Horse's beautiful tiled bar Pic Lisa Brown
The Black Horse’s beautiful tiled bar Pic Lisa Brown

Stephen R. Halliwell includes the Black Horse in his blog Pubs in Preston. He said: “Dating back to at least the late 1700s, the current building was erected on the footprint of, and adjacent to, the original one, in 1898.

“There are many features in this Grade II Listed building that remain since that time, particularly the stonework on the exterior of the building, and the woodwork on the interior. The circular tiled bar is believed to be of more recent origin, completed by Burmantoft’s of Leeds, and although the intricate terrazzo floor is reputed to date from 1898, I have doubts about it. The company credited with carrying out the original work, Quilligotti’s of Stockport, was not in existence until after the Second World War, so either the date is wrong, or the name of the company is wrong.

Real fires and cosy rooms at The Black Horse. Pic Lisa Brown
Real fires and cosy rooms at The Black Horse. Pic Lisa Brown

“None of that detracts from the Black Horse being a must place to visit, and is a superbly preserved example of public houses of that era. The circular bar, together with its surrounding Art Nouveau decor, is reason enough to visit the Black Horse when all the other discoveries will be an enjoyable bonus.”                         

The Moorbrook is popular with North End fans on match days. Pic Lisa Brown
The Moorbrook is popular with North End fans on match days. Pic Lisa Brown

The Moorbrook

The Moorbrook has become synonymous with delicious wood-fired pizzas and craft and cask ales. This cosy pub in North Road features a lovely bar, two rooms, and an outside space at the rear of the pub. Popular with North End fans on match days, it is a firm local favourite.

The Moorbrook serves a range of cask and craft ales. Pic Lisa Brown

Stephen R. Halliwell includes the pub in his blog Pubs in Preston. He said: “Standing at the northerly point of North Road, the earliest date for the Moorbrook Inn is 1860, just seven years before the Cattle Market Hotel was opened by the Corporation on Brook Street. The significance of that is that formerly the Cattle Market was situated where English Martyrs Church now stands and before there was on St. George’s Road. The Unicorn Hotel had previously been known as The Cattle Market Tavern, and it had a neighbour called The Shepherds’ Tavern, both references to the activity being carried out next door. The Shepherds’ Tavern stood between the Unicorn and where the Moorbrook now stands.

Cosy rooms and a welcoming atmosphere await at The Moorbrook. Pic Lisa Brown
Cosy rooms and a welcoming atmosphere await at The Moorbrook. Pic Lisa Brown

“For 150 years the life of the Moorbrook was mainly as ‘just another street corner pub on North Road’. There were a lot of them. The majority of its trade will have been from the Moorbrook Mill which overlooked it. The recent past has seen it acquired by local licensed trade developer, Jeremy Rowlands, and it has been revitalised with many facets of pub-offerings, including food and an outdoor beer garden.”

Plau

Plau is situated on Friargate and is home to some fascinating historical features. Pic: Lisa Brown

Renowned for its delicious food, as well as its extensive gin and cocktail menu, Plau continues to go from strength to strength.

The pub regularly hosts a range of interesting events and music nights in its downstairs vaults and Market Street Social space. During the day you can enjoy a tasty brunch and herb tea, followed by a trip around the back to Once Was Lost located in one of the weavers’ cottages on Market Street West. The store features the work of independent traders and creatives who sell their work at Market Street Social’s makers market.

At night the restaurant above the pub opens, serving a selection of tasty small plates. There are plans to expand the space further to include a roof terrace and it is rumoured there may be a further hidden room to excavate.

The bar in Plau's vault, the space hosts lots of interesting events. Pic Lisa Brown
The bar in Plau’s vault; the space hosts lots of interesting events. Pic Lisa Brown

Stephen R. Halliwell includes Plau in his blog Pubs in Preston. He said: “Another acquisition by Jeremy Rowlands is a property on the summit of Friargate Brow, next door to Roper Hall. In 2015, it had completed 102 years in a variety of retail endeavours, but from the 1600s until 1913 it had traded as The Plough Inn. Jeremy’s new project presented him with a history that could potentially date back to the 1200s. That is the date suggested for the fantastically constructed well on the site. Jeremy could have decided to obliterate all the history in his quest to develop his business, but chose to alert Historic England, and work with them to preserve it. The whole of Preston should applaud this choice.

The water in Plau's well is fed from a natural spring running underneath the buildings. The level rises and falls. Pic: Lisa Brown
The water in Plau’s well is fed from a natural spring running underneath the buildings. The level rises and falls. Pic: Lisa Brown

“Today, the 42 feet deep well, safely covered with toughened glass, is now a feature in the comfortable Vaults, which were, incidentally, a 1700s Gin Den. The whole property has now been lovingly restored and growing in popularity and renown. Further developments are still being carried out at the rear of the Friargate property, including the restoration and re-use of three weavers’ cottages that have a frontage on Market Street West, with a development known as Market Street Social. Access to the rear can be had through Clayton’s Gate, an arched passageway on Friargate Brow. The reputation of Plau continues rapidly on an upward trajectory, and the future for them looks rosy!”     

Stephen R. Halliwell’s book Pubs in Preston from Plough to Plau is available to buy from Waterstones, WH Smiths and Once Was Lost.


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Do you have a favourite traditional pub in Preston? Where would you include on a heritage pub trail?        

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