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G Reed and Sons Preston steeplejacks, a lost trade

Posted on - 27th November, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, History, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Tulketh, University campus
G Reed, founder of G Reed and Sons Pic: Preston Digital Archive
G Reed, founder of G Reed and Sons Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Once a common sight, mill chimneys often needed maintenance and repair. The job of steeplejack – made famous by Bolton’s Fred Dibnah – continued on into the 1970s. G Reed and Sons took care of the chimneys and churches in Preston. In 1925 they issued a promotional brochure. This showed the work that they undertook, which included the steeple of St Walburge’s Church – hence the name steeplejack.

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Tulketh Mill undergoing repair Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Tulketh Mill undergoing repair Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Tulketh Mill

Tulketh Mill chimney was shortened and repaired by G Reed in 1925. The mill still exists and still has its chimney, one of the few survivors in Preston. The mill was built in 1905 for the Tulketh Spinning Company and was designed by an Oldham architect. 

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The 1925 repairs involved taking down the enormous iron cap and shortening the chimney by 45 feet. In the modern image you can see the reduced height and the rather odd modern cap.

Tulketh Mill today Pic: Wikimedia
Tulketh Mill today Pic: Wikimedia

Mill chimneys, why so tall?

Why were mill chimneys so tall? The main reason was to create as much ‘draw’ as possible for the steam engine boiler. This drew in more oxygen through the fire and created more power. There was also a need to prevent smoke from reaching the ground before it could be dissipated. Finally, tall chimneys became a status symbol with a bigger chimney being more impressive.

Preston Town Hall repairs, 1910

Preston Town Hall under repair Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Town Hall under repair Pic: Preston Digital Archive

G Reed and Sons repaired Preston Town Hall in 1910. The Town Hall was built in 1867 and burned down in 1947. The 1910 repairs included gilding, slating, plumbing and painting woodwork. The building was designed by George Gilbert Scott who was a renowned Gothic revival architect best known for churches and cathedrals. He did, however, design important civic buildings. The Town Hall was built by local builders, Cooper and Tullis.

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St Walburge’s Church

St Walburge's steeple under repair Pic: Preston Digital Archive
St Walburge’s steeple under repair Pic: Preston Digital Archive

St Walburge’s opened in 1854 and was enlarged in 1873. It is situated in the Maudlands area of Preston. The spire of St Walburge’s always seems to have been in danger. The spire – which is the third tallest in the United Kingdom, and the tallest on a parish church – is made of limestone with an ironwork top. 

The church was threatened with closure in 2007. However due to its architectural interest a stay of seven years was given. In 2014 a foundation was established to raise funds and maintain the building. The spire was repaired by G Reed in 1908 and more extensively in 1924/1925. Harrison Myers Architect and surveyor for Preston complimented G Reed on his magnificent scaffolding for this job. 

The spire was also inspected by Fred Dibnah in 2000 for the series Fred Dibnah’s Magnificent Monuments; it was one of his last jobs.

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