A disturbing view of Victorian Preston — 4


  • The dense, lengthy paragraphs of the original have been broken up for improved readability.
  • The map sections that illustrate the route are taken from the Ordnance Survey six-inch map first published in 1849, with some later additions such as, for example, St Walburge’s Church opened in 1854.
  • Spellings have not been corrected, except for proper names, to avoid sprinkling the text with the ‘sics’ beloved of pedantic scholars.
  • Words now rarely found are defined on their first appearance.
  • Images of the various places and streets mentioned can usually be found in either the Preston Digital Archive or the Red Rose Collection.
  • For detailed histories of any of the public houses mentioned see Preston’s Inns, Taverns and Beerhouses.

Section of 1st edition six inch ordnance survey map of Preston, Lancashire UK

Another day we step out along FISHERGATE to view the cemetery. This is situate at a sufficient distance from the town. Fishergate, after passing the Town-hall, is called CHURCH-STREET, and contains the fine rebuilt PARISH CHURCH, a handsome edifice with a tower and spire, but surrounded by miserable dwellings and incongruities, a vendor of “fresh barm,” “leeches kept by Mrs. Barnes,” “funeral palls kept,” and a botanist’s herbarium. And at the end of an adjacent site, called GRAYSTOCKS YARD and ST. JOHN’S PLACE, there are a series of ruinous privies, and a pit of huge dimensions, which appears to serve the whole of the churchyard district.

After passing the BULL INN AND ROYAL HOTEL, and the RED LION facing it, with THE OLD BANK next door,—a quaint building, with brick pilasters, — Church-street resolves itself into a poorer district, in which the three gold balls of the pawnbrokers are pretty frequent signs. As the roads and paths are badly kept and swept, we are surprised to pass the office of the Board of Health here.

Presently we come to a new INDEPENDENT CHAPEL, in GRIMSHAW STREET. This is a detached building in the Early Decorated style. There are three doorways in the western facade, with a large five-light window over them, a tower on one side and the base of another on the opposite side. The long sides, for the convenience of the galleries, are lighted by double rows of Domestic Decorated windows, which present a striking contrast to the cathedral-like west-end. The details are, however, good.

After this we see a brick factory-looking building, which turns out to be the GRIMSHAW SCHOOL, erected in 1836, enlarged in 1845; but what takes our attention more is the spectacle of a man on a factory roof, at the end of the street, shovelling out soot into the road. If the Board of Health permit of this manner of disposing of the surplus soot from engine chimneys, the streets are never likely to be clean.

After this there is QUEEN STREET, with courts out of it; the DRUID’S ARMS; then BREWERY STREET, MALT STREET, HOP STREET, VAT STREET—all running out of DUKE STREET EAST. There is no privacy to these houses, as the doors stand open for ventilation, and the tenants of the upper floors must cross the lower rooms to reach the staircases to them.

Then there is a sprinkling of rag and bone stores, old brass and copper stores, a small shop where “herb, ginger, bitter, and nettle-beer” are sold; then more rag-shops, and we are out upon the LONDON ROAD — wide and airy, and where there is really breathing room. A paper-maker’s waggon is grinding along, full of rags, bound for Withneld [Withnell] Fold]; and the Preston barracks [PRESTON PRISON]—said to be models internally, but externally presenting a serio-comic castellated appearance—are soon in sight.

Section of 1st edition six inch ordnance survey map of Preston, Lancashire UK
This is the district ten years before The Builder’s visit: Skeffington Road was shortly to be opened into the second field passed Richmond Row. By the time of the next edition of the Ordnance Survey, thirty years after the visit, virtually all the open space had been built over.

But we turn out of the road before long at NEW HALL LANE, in which there are more mills, and more unhealthy houses for the operatives. The streets running off at right angles have double names: thus, FREDERICK STREET is called THOMAS STREET on the opposite side of the way. A new row of houses is building, which are curiously propped up in the rear; and on inspection it appears that they are run up so thin and slight, that until the floors and roofs are on to bind them together, they cannot stand by themselves, but must be supported. Another street, called GREEN STREET EAST on one side, and ELIZABETH STREET on the other, has clothes hanging across the road and a gasometer at the end of it.

More mills, and more mud; a row of houses, with a man weaving in a cellar in one of them; a great stagnant swamp, with a brick-yard in it, and a square dung-heap; an isolated row of houses in SKEFFINGTON ROAD, with pools of drainage spread before them; more mills, more mud, more dwellings propped up while building, with five feet of drainage water in the cellars and a foul ditch in the rear; then a length of blighted trees, blighted hedges, and foul ditches, on either side of the coal-ash road; cows grazing in fields where there are stagnant pools and the grass is tinged with an unearthly green by the soakage of too much town percolations; more ditches, and more stagnant pools in low-lying fields.

Section of 1st edition six inch ordnance survey map of Preston, Lancashire UK
This again is the district ten years before The Builder’s visit: The new (now old) cemetery stretched from the road to cover the letters ‘BBLE’ in the word Ribbleton. By the time of the next edition of the Ordnance Survey, most of the open space had been built over, although there were still open fields east of Acregate Lane.

Then it is that we count funerals in front of us, funerals behind us, funerals keeping pace with us; mourners dressed in black are passing along the black footways; the hedges, ditches, and sheep in the fields, are all black; the smoke blowing from the factories and hovering over the roads, now eddying, now descending in flakes, is also black; and it becomes difficult to shake off the impression that we are being carried to the grave ourselves.

A tombstone mason has a yard by the road side, with a dung-heap in the centre and a haystack at the side, against which some slabs are leaning carved with crucifixes, with considerable feeling, which are facing the cocks upon the midden. The gable end of the mason’s house is tarred black, and the whole prospect wears a funereal aspect.

At last, after passing a vacant plot with a board notifying that it is building land to let, we come to a group of ecclesiastical domestic buildings and the cemetery gates. We take the former to be the superintendent’s lodge, but we are mistaken. It is the HESKETH ARMS AND CEMETERY HOTEL! For a hotel to be close to the lodge and entrance-gates of a spacious cemetery of fifty acres, with three chapels in it, is an innovation for which we were not prepared.

On entering the gates another innovation meets the eye. This is a stagnant pool of drainage from the lodge and retiring place for ladies, cut into a meandering shape to resemble a small lake. A notice-board declares that “Every person who shall play at any game or sport, or let off firearms, shall forfeit a sum not exceeding 5l.” The tendency to indulge in such practices in such a place can be accounted for in two ways: first, by the want of proper recreative grounds; and secondly, by the proximity of the Cemetery Hotel.

The cemetery buildings are exceedingly good. The ROMAN CATHOLIC CHAPEL has a neat little tower, looking, perhaps, a trifle too much like a miniature village church; and the spire of the PROTESTANT CHAPEL is almost double the height of the tower; but there is a pretty bell-turret to the DISSENTER’S CHAPEL, and rich metal crestings to them all. Many of the tombstones are of an excellent character; and the general effect, aided by the abundance of green trees, is more than usually appropriate and pleasing.

Our task would not be complete without an examination of THE RESERVOIRS. The farm-houses on the route show the infectious nature of the bad example set in the town, as they have ditches full of black foecal matter round them; and one of them has the addition of a lake of the same material close to the door: while RIBBLETON MOOR, likewise on the route, is undrained and swampy. The reservoirs are in good order, except that there is a weed and a fungus-like leaf growing in all the crevices of the stone bottoms—probably on account of their not having been cleaned of late years.

Facing Preston, on our return, the town presents a most curious aspect,—not a house, tower, or spire is visible; but in their places there are countless jets of dense smoke darting up in the sky, rocket fashion, and these diffusing into heavy clouds cast a threatening aspect over the landscape as of a coming storm.

We take a different route back to the town [RIBBLETON LANE?]; but there are the same pools lying in the farm-yards, the same moisture in the ditches, more dung-meers, more brick-kilns and waste places, and tracts of privy stuff, the same proximity of piggeries and dwellings. And so we get back to Preston through WIGNALL STREET, in which the road is yet unmade, and through which the filth from the houses flows down past the entrance of a beautiful new church (ST. LUKE’S), and round a corner site facing the west end of it, where there is A NEW SCHOOL, designed by Mr. Carter. A house opposite the church and school and the roads around NAPIER’S MILLS do their best to spoil the effect of both with their disgraceful negligence.

We learn that the school is intended by the incumbent of St. Luke’s, the Rev. Mr. Winlaw, for the Sunday education of grown-up people, and is only part of a scheme which includes the erection of another school and of the establishment of suitable playgrounds for the young. The absence of the latter, as noticed in the foregoing remarks, leads to much mischief: it is a great feat with the boys to throw over the church spire, and hence hundreds of quarries are broken; and the factory windows are destroyed by the same agency.

We wish the reverend gentleman all success in his great endeavour. With better health and a better education other careers would open for the Preston operatives, who now have but the choice of entering the factory or the army. The enlisting sergeant will tell that there are more recruits to be had in Preston than in any other town in the kingdom; but they are so weak with their tea and bread diet that it takes two years to feed them up to be soldiers. Under their present conditions, the men of Preston are old at forty; at forty-five they are “auld and done.” If our well-meant words have any effect, the rising generation may last a little longer.


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