On this day … 5 January 1881

Front cover of booklet titled 'Images of a Port'. Reminiscences of Preston's dockland

The Preston Guardian reported that the Corporation had decided to purchase the Ribble Navigation Company and take charge of the building of Preston Dock. It was a decision Preston had cause to regret, for the dock was to prove a financial burden for the town until its eventual closure. The long history of the development of Preston Dock, as tortuous as the old course of the Ribble, has been covered in great detail in James Barron’s A history of the Ribble Navigation.

For a more personal, and deeply moving account of Preston’s dockland history, a booklet hidden in the depths of the UCLan website reveals a lost world of lives lived around Preston Dock:

IMAGES OF A PORT: Life and Times on Preston Dock by The Preston Dock Community History Group published by the Lancashire Polytechnic Community History Project in 1987.

This extract from the opening chapter ‘Through the eyes of a child’ gives a flavour of the contents:

In the early years of the century the river still had a country feel to it, with leafy lanes and woodland stretching from Powis Road to Rivers Way and with vast expanses of sand churned up by the dredgers which were used to keep the river deep enough for ships to pass along.

The sandy areas were very popular with local people and so reminiscent of the seaside were they that they were known as Little Blackpool. Robert Anderton recalls that he and his friends spent much of their spare time there.

We used to go down and do a lot of walking together and camping out. When we had our holidays we used to go down onto Little Blackpool with a tent and take a loaf and something to eat – a bit of bacon or something like that. We used to fry up; we had billy-cans with tea in. We used to have a week’s holiday there in a tent. It was all marsh, you see. It was like a river side beyond the docks. We used to collect eggs – duck eggs and all that sort of thing.

The pools left by the dredgers provided opportunities to ‘tread for flat fish’, which the boys took home to eat.

Robert Anderton moved with his family to Clyde Street, opposite the dock gates, in 1912 when he was three years old.

The 40-page booklet is packed with many more reminiscences and dozens of evocative photographs. It is a superb example of collaborative local history research.

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