“Frailty! thy name is Lancashire!”

Primrose League badges

How to explain the continued electoral success of the Conservative party in Lancashire in the second half of the 19th century despite a widening franchise that gave working-class men the vote? The results prompted one Liberal commentator to complain, “Frailty! thy name is Lancashire!” One possible explanation is the superior organisation of the Conservatives at grass roots level when throughout Lancashire and the rest of the country the party’s mobilising force was the now almost forgotten Primrose League. The league recognised that the working-class defiance of earlier in the century had given way to a deference to their betters that could bring the working class into the Tory fold. The focus here is on the league’s operation in Preston (consistently loyal to the Tories from 1865 to 1906) and nationally, but it operated successfully in all corners of the county.

Preston and the Primrose League

Preston History Library additions

I’ve added more titles to the Preston History Library. They include: Alan Crosby’s article on using surnames to trace migration into Preston in the fourteenth century; David Hindle’s history of music halls in Preston; Andrew Hobbs’s history of Preston newspapers in the last half of the nineteenth century; and Zoe Lawson’s article on shops and shopkeepers in the working-class districts of Victorian Preston.

Also of Preston relevance are two articles on the ever-interesting Lancashire Past website:

Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire

The Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire has a vast archive of articles dating back to its foundation in 1848, many of great value to students of Preston history. Simply putting ‘Preston’ into the search box on the society’s website yields more than 500 articles relating to the history of the town. Top of the list of results is Michael Mullett’s superb article on divided loyalties in Preston from the Restoration to the Glorious Revolution. His article and four more from the first page of search results have been added to the Preston History Library with the permission of the present editor, Dr Bertie Dockerill, to give a flavour of what can be found on the society’s site.

Five articles from the Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire journal

All change in 14th-century Preston

In the middle of the 14th century the Black Death reached Preston and killed up to 3,000 people in the parish, (although the accuracy of this figure is open to question). The first cases were recorded at the beginning of September 1349, the last in early January 1350. It took just three months for this brutal plague to carry off as much as half the population of the town.

No less brutal was the sacking and burning of Preston by marauding Scots led by Robert the Bruce in 1322, one of several such raids the county was suffering at that time. And brutal indeed was the Little Ice Age that descended on Europe at the beginning of the century, wrecking harvests and issuing in years of recurring famines, the worst of which came in 1315. Not surprising then that Barbara Tuchman should write in her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, that, ‘A physical chill settled on the 14th century at its very start, initiating the miseries to come.’

The calamities probably accounted for the major changes in Preston society by the end of the century

Ellen — a working-class biography

Gravestone of Ellen Moulding and her family
Time’s slowly erasing the memory of the Moulding family

There are numerous biographies of ‘the great and the good’ of Preston in the various histories of the town. What is lacking are the stories of ordinary members of the working class who had no one to chronicle their lives. Family historians are expert at uncovering these lost histories, and a particularly good example is the biography that Peter Moulding has written of his great-great-grandmother, Ellen Moulding.

Ellen Moulding’s biography

Preston History Library additions

Three more titles added to the Preston History Library. A history of Preston Parish Church by Tom Smith and two histories of Goosnargh: a fairly weighty one by Henry Fishwick and a very readable one by Richard Cookson.

Mr Cookson was headmaster of Goosnargh School from 1832 to 1873, at a time when teachers were poorly paid. He supplemented his income by becoming Registrar of Births and Deaths for the district and running a farm, and still found time to write books.

He married late in life after a very long courtship when he and his bride were in or approaching their eighties, the marriage delayed, if I remember rightly, by opposition from his wife’s family, who thought he was after her (their) money. There was, again if I remember rightly, an ugly squabble over the will after his wife died.

Preston History Library

Preston History Library

Avenham Institution, Preston
The Institution for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge at Avenham — just one of the superb line drawings to be found in Charles Hardwick’s History of Preston, one of the books added to the library.

I’ve just started building a Preston History on-line library to bring together in one place the ever-growing out-of-copyright books and articles relating to the history of the town that are appearing on the internet. It’s very much a work in progress and so feedback that can iron out any access problems would be gratefully received, before more titles are added. The aim is to provide material that can be viewed on line, printed, downloaded and searched.

Preston History Library

Poverty and privilege in 1860s Preston

Ground plan of Ashton Park, the Preston home of Edward Pedder in the 19th century
Ashton Park on the 1 in 500 Ordnance Survey plan of Preston in the 1890s. The red rectangle represents the footprint of a house in Back Hope Street, in one of which Tim Pedder, his wife and six children lived.

Few places better illustrated Disraeli’s ‘Two Nations’ than Preston during the cotton famine of the 1860s. After the Lancashire writer Edwin Waugh visited Preston in 1862 to report on the famine and the plight of the town’s destitute poor he recorded that the town, ‘… has seen many a black day [but] it has never seen so much wealth and so much bitter poverty together as now’, and he contrasted life for the leisured classes strolling on Avenham Terrace with that of the poor folk in the courts and alleys off the main streets ‘who have hardly a whole nail left to scratch themselves with’.

This ‘Two Nations’ verdict on Preston is clearly substantiated by an examination of the lives of two men who shared the same surname, but little else. Timothy Pedder, an unemployed bargeman born in Thurnham, near Lancaster, died of starvation in ‘a cold, gloomy-looking little hovel’ in Back Hope Street, Preston, and was buried on 13 January 1862. He lived in the town for only a few years. Edward Pedder, a partner in the Preston Old Bank and a member of a family long-established in the town, lived in style at Ashton Park. He died on 21 March 1861, just three weeks before his bank collapsed. Edward was exposed as a swindler and the shamed family fled Preston. A great deal can be discovered about the Preston Pedders, very little about the Thurnham ones. Tim Pedder’s life would have gone almost totally unrecorded if it were not for the fact that Edwin Waugh visited his family shortly after his death.

See: Poverty and privilege in 1860s Preston

Contributed articles

portrait of Abbot John Gerard Eaves

When David Eaves, of Clitheroe, was researching his family history he came across a manuscript of a memoir written by John Gerrard Eaves, who became a Benedictine monk and rose to become Abbot of Fort Augustus Abbey at Loch Ness before becoming vicar-general of Sweden. The memoir contains an account of the Southworth and Eaves families of Lancashire, and of Saint John Southworth. The abbot, who was born in Bamber Bridge, had many relatives and friends in the Preston area. David published it as a booklet a few years ago, which has now been republished here: https://prestonhistory.com/sources-2/abbot-john-gerard-eaves-o-s-b-1909-1975/

This website aims to provide a platform for similar articles. All contributions considered.

Edwin Waugh’s portrait of Preston

The Lancashire writer Edwin Waugh visited Preston in the 1860s and recorded his impressions in a book, Home-Life of the Lancashire Factory Folk During the Cotton Famine. He was shown round the town by charity workers. One of them recounted the following sad tale:

In the course of his round, this visitor called upon a certain destitute family which was under his care, and he found the husband sitting alone in the house, pale and silent. His wife had been ‘brought to bed’ two or three days before; and the visitor inquired how she was getting on. ‘She’s very ill,’ said the husband. ‘And the child,’ continued the visitor, ‘how is it?’ ‘It’s dead,’ replied the man; ‘it died yesterday.’ He then rose, and walked slowly into the next room, returning with a basket in his hands, in which the dead child was decently laid out. ‘That’s all that’s left of it now,’ said the poor fellow. Then, putting the basket upon the floor, he sat down in front of it, with his head between his hands, looking silently at the corpse.

Waugh’s book contains dozens of similar distressing accounts that reveal what life could be like for the working class in Victorian Preston. Waugh’s verdict on the plight of the town’s poor was that Preston ‘… has seen many a black day [but] it has never seen so much wealth and so much bitter poverty together as now.’

The Preston sections of his book are here

Map of places Edwin Waugh visited in Preston Lancashire UK in 1862
The places Edwin Waugh visiited in 1862