On this day … 2 April 1853

The Preston Guardian reported that the council had agreed to the sale of the obelisk on the Market Place for £2. The treasurer told the councillors, according to the report in the rival Preston Chronicle, that he had been instructed by the mayor to remove the obelisk and had put the job out to tender, but:

He had received tenders of only very small sums, one person saying that he would not give anything for it, but would clear it away for the material. He had had a conversation with another gentleman, who had offered to give the same price as the highest; but, in addition, would pave the site after the removal of the materials.

In the end, it had been sold for £2, but one of the councillors argued that it should have been sold by public auction. The mayor was having none of that. If they had an auction, they would have to employ an auctioneer, and instead of receiving £2 for it, they would in all probability have £2 to pay for taking it down.

According to the Preston historian Charles Hardwick, the obelisk had been erected in 1782, replacing one erected earlier in that century, where the ancient market cross previously stood. The earlier obelisk ‘some years ago, lately fell, or was taken down.’

It was bought by a Mr Threlfall, who, according to Hardwick, used the stones ‘in the construction of a gateway and other fancy erections at his house’ at Hollowforth in Woodplumpton. They were later reclaimed and a restored obelisk was unveiled in 1979 by the late queen as the opening event in the celebrations marking the 800th anniversary of the granting of the town’s first royal charter in 1179.

Painting of Preston Market Place and the obelisk
William Physick’s painting of the Market Place: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/4567233242/

The removal of the obelisk was part of the council’s clearance plans for the Market Place that included the removal of the ancient fish stones and the seventeenth-century houses that then stood where Crystal House is today. The obelisk and the seventeenth-century houses to its right can be seen in the watercolour painted by William Physick in 1851, and the layout of the Market Place at that date is shown on the map..

1840s map of Preston Market Place
The Market Place in the 1840s. Source: https://maps.nls.uk/view/231280359

The Preston Chronicle, in its editorial on the proposed demolition of those houses, which it described as ‘dilapidated lumber’ had this to say:

The antiquated pile of rubbish that now disgraces the south side of our Market-place is to follow in the wake of the Obelisk and the Fishstones. The council on Thursday condemned it, without even a remonstrance from any member of that body. Those, therefore, who admire antiquity without utility will have to lament over the removal of this memorial of the Stuart era, to make way for structures more adapted to the requirements of this great community, and more worthy of the central site it occupies.

Such a Philistine editorial by the Chronicle would have shocked and dismayed the Preston historian Anthony Hewitson, whose writings have preserved so much of the history of the town, and who would a few years later buy the paper and become its editor, devoting hundreds of its column inches to describing the people and places of Preston’s past.

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