During the Covid pandemic the National Archives temporarily suspended its £3.50 per item charge for downloading from its site. The suspension, which is still in place despite the end of lockdown, opens up thousands of documents relating to Preston history for free download. Apologies to those who are already aware of the offer, but since it could disappear at any time I thought I would flag it up here.
The most valuable items include hundreds of wills of people from Preston and the surrounding townships (either full or abstracts) and a large number of property documents. I have examined several of the wills in detail: some of them are very lengthy and contain a wealth of information – Thomas Winckley’s 1795 will runs to 24 closely written pages – others are much briefer. The Preston wills date from 1622 to 1857.
I cannot vouch for the usefulness of the other records, but a quick sampling does suggest that there is a treasure trove for local and family historians. There are the 1500 Admiralty records for men from the Preston area who enlisted in the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines between 1771 and 1925. An example of the sort of information to be found among the files is the 1853 record for 18-year-old Royal Marine James Adams of Preston, which records, ‘Face and body marked exceedingly by the small pox’.
Scores of Preston records can be found for Royal Naval Reserve Ratings, and First World War Mercantile Marine Medal awards. These date from 1888 to 1958 and include such interesting snippets as prize money awards. There are lots more military records
A handful of photographs of Preston in the 1920s from the Dixon Scott collection can be downloaded. These include one of the Tram Bridge showing buildings on the south bank of the Ribble and an evocative image of the Serpentine Pond in Moor Park.
Then there are the detailed service records of 19 Preston women who served in the Women’s (later Queen Mary’s) Army Auxiliary Corps. These cover the period from 1917 to 1920. An example is the record for Mrs Ada Bown, born Topping, of 25 Castleton Road, Deepdale, Preston. Before enlisting, in early 1918, she worked as a waitress at Hawkins’ Greenbank Mills for eight years, and at the Park Hotel. The details include the state of her general health and her personal cleanliness.
To access all the Preston or other township records, go to the National Archives website (https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/). Register for a National Archives account (quick and easy) and then click on the Advanced Search box. Enter ‘Preston Lancashire’ (or, for example, ‘Walton-le-Dale, Lancashire’) in the ‘All of these words’ box and click search. On the results page click ‘available for download’ and the result should be 2,435 Preston records as shown below (ignore the ones that relate to persons named Preston from outside the area). You can download ten items a day and up to 100 items in a 30-day period.
Hopefully, the National Archives will keep the free downloads available for a while longer.