On this day … 30 March 1864

The Preston Guardian reported that work had started on the completion of the tower and the addition of the steeple at St Walburge’s Church. The foundation stone for the church had been laid on Whit Monday 1850 and the church opened in August 1854, at which time only part of the tower had been completed. The nearby Talbot Schools had already opened, in 1852.

St Walburge's RC Church, Preston
St Walburge’s, with the magnificent steeple completed in 1867: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/4571813660/

Yet, if the Ordnance Survey is to be believed, the building of the church and the schools was completed several years earlier, certainly before 21 February 1849. That is the date of publication on the first OS map of the town.

The reason for the dating anomaly is that towns like Preston were growing so rapidly in the middle of the nineteenth century that the surveyors simply could not keep pace and the Ordnance Survey was constantly playing catch up with its published maps, adding detail in an ad hoc fashion to later printings. Unfortunately, nowhere on this and other maps is it made clear what has been added later.

This applied particularly to the railway mania that was sweeping the country in the middle of the century, much of the development taking place after the surveyors had completed their work in Preston. The Ordnance Survey did not return to the town for a second detailed survey until near the end of the century, but rail lines and stations appear on maps bearing a date years before their completion.

Map showing St Walburge's RC Church, Preston, in the 1850s WP
Section of Preston Sheet 11. Source: https://maps.nls.uk/view/231280341

Preston is lucky in having a wonderful plan of the town, mapped at sixty inches to the mile. The sheets have been put on line by the National Library of Scotland, and the library adds the following information about the sheet on which St Walburge’s appears: ‘Preston Sheet 11. Surveyed: 1847, Published: 1849. (Railway revision to c. 1856). Reprinted: 1882’.

The railway revision accounts for the appearance of the nearby Maudland Bridge station, which opened in 1856 (see 18 March post). But it does not account for the church and schools, and begs the question, what other features on the map have been inserted at a later date than the 1849 publication date on the map?

Their appearance on a map is no guarantee of their actual physical presence at that date, and can lead unsuspecting historians astray. This is the case with Stephenson Terrace in Deepdale (the subject of tomorrow’s post), which is shown completed on the 1849 map, although construction had only started in that year, long after the Ordnance Survey had completed its original mapping of the town. The nearby Deepdale railway station, opened in 1856, is also included.

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