On this day … 9 May 1891

The Preston Guardian reported that the Preston High School for Girls had moved to new premises – the house of the late Thomas Miller, at No 5 Winckley Square. The girls didn’t have to move far. Their previous and first home had been at 1a Chapel Street, on the corner of the square, where they had moved in in 1878. The school stayed at No 5 until declining numbers forced it to close

The reason for the decline was the opening of the Preston Park School in Moor Park Avenue in 1907. The fee-paying High School could not compete, which was a reversal of the situation a few years earlier, when the High School could post ‘no vacancies’ on its door and the boys’ grammar school round the corner, on Cross Street, was struggling to find pupils under its unpopular headmaster, the Rev Alfred Beaven Beaven.

When the High School closed a few years later the Park School took over the building and used it for their first-year girls, known as ‘Winkles’, before they moved to the big school on Moor Park Avenue.

Both schools enjoyed the house’s splendid accommodation. Its first resident, Thomas Miller, probably Preston’s wealthiest individual as principal shareholder in the Horrocks textile empire, had furnished it in style, and headmistresses of both schools, naturally, chose to make their home there.

The Millers had spared no expense in fitting out their home, with all the amenities that a wealthy Victorian family expected, including a private gymnasium. The Preston historian Nigel Morgan commented on the size of the gym when he was being shown round the building which he had been commissioned to survey. He assumed it must have been added when the building was taken over as a school, but was informed that, no, Mr Miller had had it installed for his boys.

The Park School closed in 1969

Number Five Winckley Square Preston - covered in ivy
Preston Fire Brigade seen removing ivy from the building in 1938: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/4293788811/

This is just a small slice of the history of No 5 Winckley Square. Susan Douglass has uncovered so much material in her ‘A House Through Time’ investigation of the property that her popular account that she prepared of its story for the Friends of Winckley Square had to be extended to three talks last year, and each one sold out.

They are being repeated over the next two months, and it will probably be a good idea to book early (or you can, if you want to risk being disappointed, pay on the door):

Here’s a flavour:

A golden nugget of information in a 150-year-old newspaper article after a frustratingly long search; a chance discovery of an unknown document in Lancashire Archives; one sentence in an obscure e-book; a family photograph album viewed in a dusty ante-room in the Harris Library. These are the sources which helped reveal the stories of long-dead occupants of those rooms. However, it’s the stories of the inhabitants, stories of real people, their trials and tribulations which bring the building to life. All will be revealed across the three talks.

The first talk is on Tuesday, 6 June at 7pm at the Central Methodist Church in Lune Street. Talk 2 is on Tuesday 20 June and Talk 3 on Tuesday 18 July.

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