900 years ago, religion dominated the lives of medieval Prestonians. Much land in the area was owned by the parish church and the church had almost three times the wealth of the lay people. Preston is of course an abbreviation of “Priest’s Town”. Additionally, land was owned by the monasteries at Cockersand, Whalley, and Sawley. Before science, religion played a big part in everyday lives. Frequent disasters and crop failures were attributed to the wrath of God.Advertisement
The main buildings in Preston were the parish church, the friary, and the leper hospital. The hospital was run by Franciscan friars or Grey Friars. Friars were mendicant in that they travelled, preached, and looked after the sick; they were not tied to monasteries but lived in a friary.
Leprosy had emerged in England by the 4th century and was widespread by the 11th century. Leprosaria or leper hospitals were set up by the church to serve local communities. Preston’s leper hospital was thought to have been close to the present St Walburge’s Church near Maudlands. However, much in the area has been destroyed by railway works. The name Maudlands is derived from St Mary Magdalene to whom the leper hospital was dedicated. The chapel and hospital survived in a ruinous state until its dissolution in 1548.
Leper hospitals were not as bleak as often thought. There was a warden, chapel, and chaplain, with nursing carried out by ecclesiastical brothers and sisters. Lepers could also go outside within the grounds, however they had a strict regime of celibacy. There was no state aid, with the leprosaria being funded by donations and alms from the local community.
The friary was thought to have been larger than the leper hospital and chapel, however little is known about the actual building. The earliest reference comes from a grant to take wood from Fulwood for building, around 1260, which is the date usually given for its founding. Bequests were often made by the rich, and some of these survive. For example, a cow and a calf were left by William Clifton in 1501. In return, the friars said prayers for Williams’s soul.
There is little information about the buildings however, an excavation was carried out in 2007, off Marsh Lane, where the friary cemetery was discovered and excavated. Subsequently, bones were removed for analysis. The skeletons were from men, women, and children. There was an indication of joint disease, so possibly there was a hospice on infirmary on the site.
The first mention of a church on the current Church Street site dates from 1094. However, the lands here, and along the Ribble were granted to St Wilfrid in 670. Hence the First Church was dedicated to St Wilfrid. Early Saxon churches comprised a wooden tower and it is possible that the first church on the site was one of these. Saxon churches were added on to piecemeal and by the 16th century, the original church had been rebuilt.
The church was rebuilt again in the 1850s and that is the present building.
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