On this day … 15 March 1862

The Preston Guardian reported that a crowd of 2,000 witnessed the partial demolition of the old town hall. The reshaping of the market place district by the corporation, begun with the removal of a block of ancient houses, was gathering momentum, leading to the demolition of scores of shops, inns and private dwellings, to be replaced by the range of public buildings, including a grandiose new town hall (itself replaced by Crystal House), that now dominate the area.

There had been a town hall on the site for centuries, probably since about the time of the borough’s establishment in the twelfth century. But there is no description of the building before Richard Kuerden’s topographical tour round the town in the 1680s, and the survey of the town of similar date (see map). Kuerden writes:

In the midle of the Burrough is placed an ample antient and yet well beautifyed gylde or town hall or toll bothe, to which is annexed, at the end thereof, a counsel chamber for the capitall burgesses or jurors at their court days, to retire for consultation, or secretly to retire themselves from the comon burgesses or the publiq root of people, as occasion shall require.

He adds:

Under this hall are ranged two rows of butchers shopps on either side, and row at either end, where victualls are exposed dayly for the use of man, excepting Sundays, as also weekly on the public market dayes (&c.)

So the town hall at that date occupied the first floor of the building, with the ground floor given over to butchers’ shops, which gave the adjoining streets their names: Broad Shambles, which later became Old Shambles when the butchers later transferred to a New Shambles, off the Market Place, and Narrow Shambles, which disappeared when the town hall was later remodelled, and a guild hall was built adjoining the town hall in time for the 1762 guild.

The town hall collapsed in 1780, when according to Hardwick’s History of Preston:

The roof, and a portion of the walls of this edifice, fell to the ground, on the 3rd of June, 1780. The corporation and burgesses resolved to entirely re-build the structure. They ordered that “the Chimney Piece, with the Town’s Arms upon the same,” should be “well dressed and fixed up again as the Chimney Piece for the said intended new Town Hall.” “The old Cupola, which stood upon the old Town Hall,” was likewise “to be well dressed and repaired, and fixed up again upon the new Town Hall.” This cupola was removed in 1814, and the present one substituted.

Plan of Preston town hall in the 1840s
Preston Town Hall in the 1840s. National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/view/231280359

It was part of this second town hall that the crowd of 2,000 witnessed being demolished in 1862. It had to go, it was decided, because it was ‘a mean edifice for so populous and wealthy a borough’. Its eventual replacement, after some delay when councillors dithered on discovering the cost, was the splendidly Victorian town hall, designed by Gilbert Scott, which burned down in 1947.

Plan of Preston town hall in the 1890ss
Preston Town Hall in the 1890s. National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/view/231280560

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