A Blue plaque was unveiled outside 7 Ribblesdale Place on 2nd November for Avice Margaret Pimblett who was a woman of ‘Preston firsts’: first woman Town Councillor, first woman Alderman and first woman Mayor. The ‘Representation of the People’ Act in 1918 changed the lives of many women. For the first time women could vote if they were over 30 and met a property qualification. Avice’s local social activity over many years was recognised by the voters of the Fishwick Ward and she became the first female councillor in 1920. Her public service was recognised by her peers when she became the first woman mayor in 1933. It is sad that her husband died in 1938 before, in the same year, she was awarded an OBE for her public service to Preston. She served on Preston’s Town Council for over 40 years and retired in 1961. Two years later she died at the age of 83. She had a major impact on the lives of Prestonians, concerning herself particularly with women and children’s social, educational and welfare issues … Susan Douglass researched Avice’s story which had been forgotten over time. You will be able to read Avice’s whole story on the Friends of Winckley Square Website soon. www.winckleysquarepreston.org
Over the course of two hundred years the Pedder family rose to prominence in Preston, founding its first bank and entering the ranks of the gentry. They owned several properties in Lancashire, including Whittingham Hall, Haighton Hall and Larbreck Hall. The main branch of the family faced ruin when the bank collapsed in 1861, but fortunes were salvaged and the family entered the 20th century with their privileges intact.
The ancestor of the banking Pedders was a Thomas Pedder who arrived in the town in the middle of 17th century and set himself up as an innkeeper. The inventory of his goods at his death provides a detailed description of the interior of an inn at this period. It is just one of the small treasures to be found among the family’s wills.
The Victorian scientist John Tyndall was one of the pioneers of climate science. He was the second person to demonstrate the greenhouse effect (the first was an American woman, Eunice Foote, but, unsurprisingly, her work received much less attention at the time). He had a long and distinguished career as one of Britain’s leading scientists.
As the author of a recent article entitled John Tyndall: the forgotten co-founder of climate science notes, the neglect until fairly recently of such an interesting character as Tyndall is remarkable given ‘… the existence of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the Tyndall National Institute and the Pic Tyndall summit on the Matterhorn in the Alps. There are even several Mount Tyndalls, Tyndall glaciers and Tyndall craters on the Moon and Mars’. Tyndall was one of that group of British mountaineers who ticked off first ascents of many of famous peaks in the Alps. He completed the first solo ascent of Monte Rosa, at 4,634 metres the second highest mountain in the Alps after Mont Blanc, carrying only a ham sandwich and a flask of tea.
Today there is a burgeoning interest in Tyndall, not only as a scientist but also as poet and mountaineer. His collected correspondence, which contains about 8000 letters in total, is being transcribed for The John Tyndall Correspondence Project, which was initiated by Prof Bernard Lightman at York University and now involves scholars from five countries who are working on a 19-volume edition, The Correspondence of John Tyndall (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016–). His poetry has been collected and was published in 2020 as The Poetry of John Tyndall.
Early stimulus for his scientific studies was provided by his attendance at lectures at the Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge in Cannon Street, Preston, while he was living in the town. His stay in Preston in the early 1840s (during which he was witness to the Lune Street Riot and the shooting dead of four strikers) and subsequent visits to friends in the town supplied inspiration for his poetry, resulting in a number produced after an idyllic stay in Goosnargh, where he was ‘beguiled’ by the innkeeper’s daughter and enjoyed a local delicacy named ‘snap and rattle’. Inspiration for another of his poem’s was hearing High Mass at St Wilfrid’s Church, in which he describes being moved emotionally by the ceremony, while rejecting it intellectually. These poems were first published in the Preston Chronicle, along with several contributions on a variety of subjects.
His time in Preston is commemorated by the blue plaque in Corporation Street and the John Tyndall Institute for Nuclear Research at UCLan. The plaque incorporates a UCLan logo and Tyndall has clearly been recruited as part of the university’s creation story, which traces its foundation back to the institution in Avenham. Surprisingly, a search of the UCLan website yields not a single mention of John Tyndall.
During the Covid pandemic the National Archives temporarily suspended its £3.50 per item charge for downloading from its site. The suspension, which is still in place despite the end of lockdown, opens up thousands of documents relating to Preston history for free download. Apologies to those who are already aware of the offer, but since it could disappear at any time I thought I would flag it up here.
The most valuable items include hundreds of wills of people from Preston and the surrounding townships (either full or abstracts) and a large number of property documents. I have examined several of the wills in detail: some of them are very lengthy and contain a wealth of information – Thomas Winckley’s 1795 will runs to 24 closely written pages – others are much briefer. The Preston wills date from 1622 to 1857.
I cannot vouch for the usefulness of the other records, but a quick sampling does suggest that there is a treasure trove for local and family historians. There are the 1500 Admiralty records for men from the Preston area who enlisted in the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines between 1771 and 1925. An example of the sort of information to be found among the files is the 1853 record for 18-year-old Royal Marine James Adams of Preston, which records, ‘Face and body marked exceedingly by the small pox’.
Scores of Preston records can be found for Royal Naval Reserve Ratings, and First World War Mercantile Marine Medal awards. These date from 1888 to 1958 and include such interesting snippets as prize money awards. There are lots more military records
A handful of photographs of Preston in the 1920s from the Dixon Scott collection can be downloaded. These include one of the Tram Bridge showing buildings on the south bank of the Ribble and an evocative image of the Serpentine Pond in Moor Park.
Then there are the detailed service records of 19 Preston women who served in the Women’s (later Queen Mary’s) Army Auxiliary Corps. These cover the period from 1917 to 1920. An example is the record for Mrs Ada Bown, born Topping, of 25 Castleton Road, Deepdale, Preston. Before enlisting, in early 1918, she worked as a waitress at Hawkins’ Greenbank Mills for eight years, and at the Park Hotel. The details include the state of her general health and her personal cleanliness.
To access all the Preston or other township records, go to the National Archives website (https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/). Register for a National Archives account (quick and easy) and then click on the Advanced Search box. Enter ‘Preston Lancashire’ (or, for example, ‘Walton-le-Dale, Lancashire’) in the ‘All of these words’ box and click search. On the results page click ‘available for download’ and the result should be 2,435 Preston records as shown below (ignore the ones that relate to persons named Preston from outside the area). You can download ten items a day and up to 100 items in a 30-day period.
Hopefully, the National Archives will keep the free downloads available for a while longer.
I was sorting through the papers that F. S. Moxon deposited at Lancashire Archives after he had published his short pamphlet, A brief history of Pedder & Co. Preston Old Bank, 1776-1861, gathering material for an article on the 18th-century Pedders. Amongst the papers I came across a letter Mrs Lettice Pedder sent to Moxon in 1952. Mrs Pedder was the daughter-in-law of Arthur Edward Pedder, whose father’s death led to the collapse of the family bank in 1861. She included the following information:
A. E. Pedder. the following as told to me by his son Guy, my husband. At Eton reputed to be one of richest boys in Pop etc. When he left went on “Grand Tour” and was in India? when news of the Bank came to him. Hurried home to find himself penniless with mother and two sisters to support. He became a clerk in a bank. When Eton boys and masters heard of his ill luck, they sent round the hats, boys giving him an income for next 5-6 years and master[s?] bought him a small house in Highgate!! He tried unavailingly to repay both in later years, but met the reply that all had dispersed and no one would accept a penny!! (How wonderful!)
Wikipedia describes ‘Pop’ thus:
Pop: officially known as ‘Eton Society’, a society comprising the most popular, well-regarded confident and able senior boys. It is a driving ambition of many capable Eton schoolboys to be elected to Pop, and many high-performers who are refused entry to this society consider their careers at Eton a failure. Boris Johnson was a member of Pop, whilst David Cameron … failed to be elected … Pop is the oldest self-electing society at Eton. … Members of Pop wear white and black houndstooth-checked trousers, a starched stick-up collar and white bow-tie, and are entitled to wear flamboyant waistcoats, often of their own design. Historically, only members of Pop were entitled to furl their umbrellas or sit on the wall on the Long Walk, in front of the main building. Notable ex-members of Pop include Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (unlike his younger brother Prince Harry, who failed to be elected). 1
Despite this early setback, Arthur prospered later in life. He married the daughter of a Yorkshire vicar, had several children, bought Brandiston Hall in Norfolk and spent many years living in retirement on ‘private means’.
Moxton did not include Mrs Pedder’s information in his short history, nor the information she supplied that Guy Pedder blamed their relative Richard Newsham for not coming to the rescue when the bank collapsed, as Mrs Pedder recalled, ‘Guy always said that the Bank could have been saved if Newsham had stood by, he was rich and could have done so, but wouldn’t!’
By the time Moxon came to write his account of the bank he was living in a nursing home at Stonyhurst and had clearly run out of steam, as he makes clear in a typewritten note that he attached to the end of his pamphlet in which he reveals that ill health had restricted his researches, that he was now over 80 ‘and instead of the larger work which I had originally intended, I have had to reduce it to the present “Brief History”. I will leave my notes with Mr Sharpe France [county archivist], who will be pleased to give access to them on application by anyone interested – but please to not bother me for my only interest now is bird-watching (the feathered kind).’
I have been contacted by Chris Donaldson, a lecturer at Lancashire University, seeking information about the Preston historian Peter Whittle. Chris believes that Whittle might have been the source for a mistaken dating on the blue plaque above Cafe Nero on Friargate. The plaque, commissioned by Preston & South Ribble Civic Trust, commemorates Benjamin Franklin’s visit to the town and his stay at a house that stood on the site. It gives the year of his stay as 1775, and this is the date that Chris believes to be mistaken.
Franklin was in Preston in November 1771 on his way back from a visit to the philosopher David Hume in Edinburgh. His son-in-law Richard Bache was staying with his family who lived in Preston, and Franklin’s visit allowed him to meet his son-in-law for the first time. It was the Bache family who lived at the house on Friargate. In the following summer, Franklin was again staying with the Bache family.
Those two visits are supported by evidence: the 1775 date on the blue plaque isn’t.
Whittle’s description of a 1775 visit in his History of Preston is the earliest source for that date that Chris has found (and is probably the source for the date given for the second visit in the histories of the town by Hardwick and Hewitson). It appears on page 47 of the first edition of Whittle’s history:
It may not be deemed totally irrelevant to remark here, that in the beginning of November, 1771, the celebrated transatlantic philosopher, Benjamin Franklin, L.L.D. and F.R.S. paid a visit to this town, at the house of Mrs. Beche, a lady well known amongst the higher circles of society. This great statesman was in this country on behalf of the American Provinces, and probably when he was under some apprehensions for his personal safety, a short time before the war broke out. Whilst on this visit, that illustrious genius and elegant writer amused his leisure hours by forming, with his own hands, one of those simple instruments of music now common as a toy, composed of rude pieces of wood, of various lengths, linked upon a string, and kept apart by the intervention of small corks. With this instrument, which was recently presented to Mr. Taylor, of this town, the individual who was destined to become one of the founders of a mighty state, amused the infant mind of Mrs. Hodson, a niece to the lady we have just mentioned. It will be known to those who are thus versed with the philosophical researches of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, that his attention was directed to this apparently trifling toy before he entered upon that series of experiments with glasses, which finally led him to complete the sweet toned musical instrument he so appropriately called the harmonica. He also paid a second visit in the year 1775. It is proper to observe that Mr. Richard Beche married Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s only daughter. The will which he (Dr. Franklin) made previous to his death, in April, 1790, states his leaving both books, and shares in the Library Company of Philadelphia, to his grandsons, viz. Benjamin Franklin Beche, and William Beche; confiding that these two would permit their other brothers and sisters to share in the use of them.
It is clear that Franklin made only two visits to Preston. The question is whether the second visit was in 1772 or in 1775 as asserted by Whittle, and copied on the blue plaque. A simple explanation would seem to be that the 1775 date in the above extract is a misprint. It would be very easy for the printer to misread Whittle’s handwritten ‘2’ as a ‘5’. I wonder if the mistake is repeated in the second edition of Whittle’s history?
When Sir James Allan Park, the recorder of Preston, laid the foundation stone of St Peter’s Church (now the University of Central Lancashire Arts Centre) on a summer’s day in 1822 on land donated by his son, also named James Allan, he can hardly have expected the ceremony to have sparked an angry article in the Manchester Guardian in which he was accused of ‘unparalleled humbug’ and his son of property speculation.
The charges may have been politically motivated. If, however, the Parks and their relatives had instead been accused of profiting from West Indian slaveholding, they would probably have not seen it as a charge worthy of noticing. For the thing that shocks today is that they and their contemporaries would have felt perfectly justified in owning slaves on the sugar plantations, and would have happily accepted the generous compensation they received when those slaves were freed in 1833.
One of the most rewarding aspects of local history research is the way in which close study of often-overlooked detail can transform the accepted view of a period or a person, confounding the established orthodoxies. It shows that historical study should be fluid, not fixed: more fractal than broad brush. This continuing revisionism is fuelled by the ever-increasing sources that are being revealed and made widely available, thanks to the internet. A case in point is the character of the 19th-century Preston MP Robert Townley Parker, who has been portrayed as a Catholic-hating bigot. New material is now suggesting he was possibly deserving of a far more rounded portrait. I wrote the following article for the Lancashire Local History Federation‘s’ latest newsletter, which gives some indication of the complexity of his character:
I’ve recently started working on a shortish biography of the 19th-century Preston MP Robert Townley Parker, which I thought was going to be a straightforward account of a ‘Church and State’ Tory and his hostility to the town’s Catholics. This would have aligned him with the virulently anti-papist position of the town’s Anglican clergy, led by the vicar, the Rev John Owen Parr. And this was the view I had taken from the many references to Townley Parker in Nigel Morgan’s Lancaster University MPhil thesis on politics in Preston in the first half of the 19th-century.
The right wing, identified from 1835 to 1852 with the bigoted Protestant squire of Cuerden Hall, Robert Townley Parker, exploited the sectarian and anti-Irish animosities of the lower orders … the Tories resorted to the 19th century equivalent of race riots: they attacked the Irish, … possibly with the connivance of Robert Townley Parker, the Tory candidate … Townley Parker denied that he was a violent Orangeman: he was not ‘one who would flog alive all Roman Catholics’.
But when I started gathering material it soon became clear that Townley Parker was a far more interesting and complex character. This in no way diminishes Nigel’s contribution to historical research, it is simply that sources not available when he was writing have now become available. Indeed, the people working on the next section of the History of Parliament project were delighted to discover Nigel’s thesis, and his work will be incorporated in the section on the Preston constituency.
Although a formidable opponent of any attempts to weaken the Church of England establishment, Townley Parker was a lifelong friend of many Catholics and supported many of that church’s Lancashire projects. For example, in 1814, at the end of a European tour, he and his companion were granted an audience with Pope Pius VII, when Townley Parker would have just turned 20. He included among his friends the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Manning, and the Catholic bishop of Liverpool, who was a welcome guest at Townley Parker’s home, Cuerden Hall. He saw to it that priests were provided for Catholics in the Preston House of Correction and in the county asylum, with their stipends paid by the county. When he decided not to contest his seat again a delegation of the town’s leading Catholics visited him at Cuerden Hall and tried to persuade him to change his mind.
Politically, Townley Parker was an unlikely candidate for Preston, which was becoming increasingly industrial. He was a prominent member of the county’s landed gentry, living on his rents and rigorously enforcing the game laws, both in court and on his estate, where an armed battle between his gamekeepers and a gang of poachers left one poacher dead and several badly injured.
He was a staunch opponent of Free Trade and firmly resistant to many aspects of electoral reform, including the ballot, at a time when Preston was the scene of mass protests against the Corn Laws and for electoral reform. Why did he persist in supporting measures unpopular in the town? In his defence he followed Edmund Burke in arguing that as MP he was a representative of his constituency, not its delegate:
I could have given my vote [in line with the town’s Anti Corn Law Association] … for the sake of popularity it would perhaps have been the most expedient conduct; but in so doing I must either have disguised my real sentiments … or have acknowledged myself the Delegate of the Electors of Preston, and have abandoned all the feelings on an independent Member of Parliament. [Emphasis in original].
Later he expressed himself more forcibly, ‘I will either enjoy a seat in parliament unshackled, the independent representative of independent electors, or I must decline accepting it.’
Two public statues in Preston give a clear indication of Townley Parker’s political views. When subscriptions were sought for a statue of Sir Robert Peel, he subscribed on the understanding that it was made clear that his subscription was for Peel the man, not Peel the politician who had split his party. Yet when the former prime minister the Earl of Derby died Townley Parker showed his support for Derby’s politics by leading the fund raising for a statue and was instrumental in ensuring it was sited prominently in Preston and not in Lancaster, the other suggested site.
At the very end of his long life, in 1878, looking back on his political career, he said he was still unconvinced of the benefits of the century’s parliamentary reforms. On Free Trade, he was still an opponent, arguing it was those countries that had maintained tariffs that had prospered at Britain’s expense. He would probably have supported Joseph Chamberlain’s Imperial Preference tariffs.
There was clearly much more to Townley Parker than a superficial account of his career would suggest. I plan to compare and contrast the careers of Townley Parker and his contemporary the social reformer Joseph Livesey, which I believe might help illuminate the politics of Preston for much of the 19th century. However, I blundered badly and blushingly in my early researches on Livesey, and had to be reined in by the Preston historian Steve Harrison. To avoid more embarrassment I would like make contact with anyone who could suggest avenues to explore or who would be willing to point out the grosser errors in anything I put on line.
The last post dealt with the scandalous secret third marriage of the 19th-century vicar of Preston, the Rev John Owen Parr, to one of his servants. His public life was often as controversial as his private one. He was an arch Tory and a virulent opponent of Roman Catholics outside the Church of England and of Anglo-Catholics within the church. He mobilised his parish clergy to support his position, ensuring that they instructed their congregations how to vote on matters both political and religious. He was also an eloquent and forceful campaigner for improvements in the working conditions of mill workers, and in support of the temperance movement.
John Owen Parr (1798-1877), the vicar of Preston for 37 years from 1840 until his death, led a seemingly conventional life as a Victorian Church of England minister: he instructed his parish clergy to ensure their congregations voted Tory at every election, he was a virulent opponent of Catholics, both Roman and Anglo-, and he routinely set the bailiffs on anyone of whatever faith who objected to paying him his tithes and Easter dues.
But behind the closed doors of the vicarage he was hiding what was for Victorian Preston a shameful secret that when revealed created a major scandal in the town and laid bare the hypocrisy that he had presumably hoped to keep hidden.