Counting Catholics in 19th-century Preston

A heat map of the census of Preston Catholics in 1820
A heat map showing the distribution of Catholics in Preston based on Joseph Dunn’s 1820 census. The map is Baines’s map of 1825 – the closest in time to the census, when Preston was rapidly changing. The figures are the number of Catholics living in individual streets. The slight wavy distortion in the map is due to georeferencing it to the first OS survey of the town to allow records in a database to be mapped.

A census of the Catholic population of Preston in 1820 suggests that there was a sectarian divide in the town with Catholics clustering in the Friargate area and largely absent from the Church Street area, possibly the result of the hostility the congregation had faced from the 17th century onwards.

The evidence for this view is taken from a wonderful resource prepared by De La Salle Brother Rory Higgins, and put on line with the help of the Catholic Family History Society. It gives free access to a vast quarry of information on some 275,000 Catholics and their supporters living in England between 1607 and 1840 (and beyond). [1]

Listed for the Preston area are 10,233 records dating from 1669 to 1892. The records include the two censuses of Catholics in Preston in 1810 and 1820, organised by the St Wilfrid’s parish priest Joseph Dunn, and transcribed and published by Margaret Purcell. [2]

The subject of this article is the 1820 Preston census and the mapping it allows of the homes of the town’s Catholics. The 1820 census contains the names of 5,185 Catholics in the town and identifies the streets in which 5,157 of them lived, leaving just 28 individuals whose location is not identified, 19 of whom were members of three families. The 1810 census identifies some 3,524 individuals, but provides a street address for just 522 of them, and so is of much less use in mapping the town. Fulwood was included in the 1820 census, but is not included in the above total because no addresses were given. Fulwood does not appear to have been included in the 1810 survey. Joseph Dunn did not include himself or his fellow Catholic clergymen in either census.

The national census returns for Preston give a total population in 1811 of 17,065 and 24,627 for 1821, which means Catholics made up roughly a fifth of the population.

In introducing his database, which he named for his mother, Br Higgins cannot resist supplying a nicely revisionist overview of England’s post-Reformation religious history:

The question could be asked why not call … [it a] database of papists rather than a database of Catholics because it was the name ‘Papist’ which was applied to the returns? This is a good question.

As we know, the victors write the history. If so, is this the reason why the dissolution of the monasteries is so called rather than the stealing from men and woman religious as well as the people of England who gave to the monasteries? Is this the reason why Glorious Revolution of 1688 is so called rather than the invasion of the Dutch, or even the use of such adjectives as Bloody Mary or Good Queen Bess? While, Mary burned between 300-400 Protestants, after the Northern Rebellion 1569-70, under Elizabeth far more were executed.

The decision was made that the database would have the name that those listed in the database called themselves, that is Catholic, rather than a name such as Papists, which was applied to them by forces that were not always supportive. [3]

Most of the records contained in the database for Preston before Fr Dunn’s censuses are just such ‘papist’ records, prepared by authorities frequently hostile to the town’s Catholic citizens, and frequently prepared with the intention of exacting heavy fines from them or for surveillance. Fr Dunn’s records, by contrast, were prepared by Catholics for Catholics.

I do not know why Fr Dunn conducted his censuses. Nor do I know how accurate the figures are, given that they are based on a transcription of a transcription. When libraries and archives reopen I will investigate further.

Around the time that Fr Dunn was conducting his 1820 census four business directories were published for the town, two in 1818 (Rogerson and Pigot), a third in 1821 (Whittle, included in his history of the town) and a fourth in 1825 (Baines). [4] To accompany the last, there is a map of the town in 1825, which has been used here as it best freezes the rapidly changing landscape at the closest point in time to the 1820 census. Together, the census, the directories and the map provide a basis examining the distribution and make-up of Preston’s Catholic population in the 1820s. There are, of course, the inevitable discrepancies between the various sources, but I think the overall picture is fairly accurate.

My Excel file for the directories can be downloaded here: Preston trade directories
And for the two Dunn censuses here: Dunn Catholic censuses

The most useful are the directories prepared by Rogerson and Baines because they include street numbers as well as names, which makes it possible to marry up a number of the individuals in the censuses with those in the directories to obtain their occupations. Of course, there are some slight discrepancies in the numbering. At the time, it would have been usual to address a letter to, for example, the Crown and Thistle, Friargate, rather than to 56 or 57 Friargate, the pub’s address given in Baines and Rogerson, or to 63 Friargate as it was recorded later by the Ordnance Survey. It could, of course, have shifted premises over time, keeping its name as it moved: by the time of Fr Dunn’s census it had even changed its name from the earlier Rose and Crown (see

The censuses raise some interesting questions which can probably never be answered, such as, why was it noted in 1820 against both the Dobson family of 7 Tithebarn Street, and the Dickinsons, of 13 Bishopgate, that ‘this family ought to be called upon’. And what story lies behind the note against the names of the teenaged Alice and Mary Bamber, of 11 Peter Street, that ‘Parents are Protestants’? Perhaps this says something about the purpose of the census.

Another interesting question, and possibly answerable, is raised by the presence in the census list of the immensely rich John Dalton (he developed much of late 18th-century Lancaster) and his family in 1810, and their absence from the 1820 list. In 1810, the census lists John Dalton, his wife Mary and their daughters Mary, Lucy, Elizabeth and Bridget living in Winckley Place, as Winckley Square was then styled. The family relationships are not given in the census list. Also listed are John Dalton’s servants: Thomas Nicholson, Richard Rodginson, Mary Robertson, Rosella Roddice, Ann Ratcliff and Jane Watson.

Marian Roberts, in her history of Winckley Square, quotes the 19th-century Preston historian Anthony Hewitson, writing about the building of the first houses in the square in the first decade of the 19th century:

‘… Mr Dalton of Thurnham Hall, who then lived at Avenham House, Preston, built the large square house for his town residence, where he dwelt many years.’ … In the 1960s the house was demolished and in its stead we now have the Tax Office [now HM Revenue and Customs], Charles House, which is the most unfortunate intrusion into the Square. [5]

At least one member of the family was living in the square in 1821, according to Marian Roberts, who quotes from the diary of Agnes Addison, another resident in the square, in which amongst visits to neighbours is recorded one in February 1821 to Miss Dalton. [6]

The curious fact is that not only is John Dalton, who would have been one of the most prominent Catholics in the town, not listed in Fr Dunn’s 1820 census, but of the four business directories he is listed only in Rogerson’s of 1818, where his addresses are given as 4, Winckley Place and Thurnham Hall. He is not recorded by Peter Whittle in 1821, nor by Baines in 1825. It is unlikely that both Peter Whittle, who was a fellow resident of Preston and a fellow Catholic, and Fr Dunn would have accidentally omitted Dalton from their lists.

His removal from the town, along with that of other prominent residents such as the Stanleys and the Winckleys, possibly witnesses that Preston at the opening of the 19th century was no longer the resort for county society but had given itself wholeheartedly to manufacture, with the landed class being replaced by merchants and members of the professions. (See Brian Lewis’s The Middlemost and the Milltowns. [7])

John Dalton is something of an outlier amongst the town’s Catholic population, both socially and geographically. The map above shows the distribution of Catholics in the town in 1820 when there is only one Catholic, Margaret Sagar, recorded in Winckley Square: contrast the dense populations in the Friargate and Frenchwood districts to the north west and south east.

The social composition of the town’s Catholics can be gathered somewhat roughly but probably accurately by matching names and addresses in the Dunn 1820 census with those in the directories.

By including only adults from the census by setting an arbitrary age limit of over 16 and by excluding doubtful and ambiguous matches 116 individuals in the directories were identified as Catholics (see table at bottom of the page). The town’s Catholic priests were also excluded. The directories give trades and occupations different titles: here they have been standardised for ease of comparison.

The Rogerson directory is alone in including the details of weavers. Given the date, these would have been handloom weavers and the directory lists 239 of them. They are the largest occupational group in the table..

I think it is clear from the table in which small tradesmen and handloom weavers predominate that Dalton would have been socially isolated in the congregation at St Wilfrid’s (opened 1793) and especially so in the recently reopened St Mary’s Chapel in Friargate, which within a few decades was to become the favoured place of worship for Irish immigrants.

The closest to Dalton in the social hierarchy would have been the attorneys James Blanchard and Joseph Bushell and the cotton merchant William Talbot. The directories show that all had homes close to one another on Fishergate, with Blanchard having an office round the corner in Winckley Street and Bushell one in Chapel Street. Talbot lived in one of the elegant houses built as Fishergate Terrace, between Winckley Street and Chapel Street, a few doors away from Fr Dunn’s presbytery on the same block at the corner of Chapel Street.

Fr Joseph Dunn, priest at St Wilfrid's Preston
Image reproduced by permission of the Parish Priest at St Wilfrid’s

Fr Dunn (above) might have been a neighbour of Blanchard and Talbot but their relationship was far from neighbourly. Dunn did not take kindly to having his actions questioned:

Dunn consistently fought to maintain the Preston mission under the control of himself and his fellow priests. This resulted in clashes with some of his wealthier parishioners. Between 1816 and at least the mid-1820s Dunn resisted the attempts of a party of laymen led by James Blanchard, attorney, and William Talbot, cotton merchant, to build a third chapel, which would be under lay rather than priestly control, and to replace the priests as trustees of St. Wilfrid’s. At the same time various members of the church hierarchy expressed concern at the independence and financial laxity of Dunn and his colleagues. [8]

Nor was he receptive to the ‘view from the pew’:

Dunn’s best-documented attempt at paternalism was in the building of his schools in Fox Street. He had two stated aims: to train up the Catholic children in the fold and to indoctrinate subordination to king and country. [9]

The proximity of the prominent Catholics, with the town’s Catholic clergy moving from their previous presbytery in Friargate to their new one at the corner of Fishergate and Chapel Street, was facilitated by the development of Fishergate and Winckley Square. Work started on the Fishergate Terrace in 1786, St Wilfrid’s Church opened in 1793 and the first house in Winckley Square was built in 1799. Possibly middle-class Catholics and their clergy were feeling the gravitational pull of the Winckley Square district. [10]

There are also a couple of ‘gentlemen’ in the table, Thomas Smithies in Friargate and Thomas Banks in Hill Street, but by this date the term had become generously flexible, accommodating a wide range of social gradations. The term was also self-defining for those listed in the directories: it is unlikely a canvasser would deny someone the right to style themselves ‘gentleman’. So it is difficult to be sure of their social status.

There is, as shown in the map above, a suggestion of a sectarian divide in the numbers of Catholics living in the three principal streets in the town: Friargate 408; Fishergate 114; and Church Street 89. The marked divide is between Friargate and Church Street, since both contained a similar mix of shops and, at their lower ends, terraces of smaller houses. The Frenchwood area, newly developed at the beginning of the century, would not be influenced by traditional sectarian groupings.

There were approximately 180 houses in Friargate with 53 (29%) occupied by Catholics and roughly 150 houses in Church Street with 15 (10%) occupied by Catholics.

It is possible that this division was a result of the troubles the Catholic population of the town faced throughout the 18th century when Catholics were forced to ‘lie under ye Bushel’. A Catholic chapel was opened just off Friargate in the early years of that century and it would have made sense for Catholics to gradually move into the area to swell an existing Catholic community, for mutual support in what was often a hostile environment.

The half century in which Fr Dunn served his Catholic congregation in Preston was an interlude of peace for that community, he, as noted above, was a firm supporter of King and Country: no question of doubtful papist loyalty, then. In 1768, shortly before Fr Dunn arrived in Preston, the priest at St Mary’s Chapel in Friargate had to flee for his life when a Whig mob attacked and plundered his church. Fr Dunn died in 1827 two years before Peel and Wellington ‘betrayed’ the Tories in forcing through Catholic emancipation. Their action ignited anti-papist hostility from the town’s Anglican and Nonconformist clergy (see Lewis’s The Middlemost and the Milltowns) , and including from the town’s Tory MP Robert Townley Parker.

And finally, the census shows that the Winckley Square area was not an exclusively middle-class enclave. Five of the 33 Catholics identified as weavers in the table above lived in Mount Street, half of the number of weavers listed in that street by Rogerson. The Dunn 1820 census listed 117 Catholics living in the street, which meant they probably occupied a half or more of the houses in the street, judging by the houses on the 1840s Ordnance Survey map. This means that a working-class community, largely Catholic and including a handloom weaving colony, was established in the Fishergate/Winckley district: before Winckley Square itself was developed to judge by Shakeshaft’s map of 1810.

Table 1: The names, addresses and occupations of Catholics in Preston in 1820 identified in the trade directories for the town at that period

Street Surname First names Trade/occupation
Fishergate Blanchard James attorney
Fishergate Bushell Joseph attorney
Friargate Duckett Richard auctioneer
Mount Pleasant Ellis Thomas auctioneer
Nile Street Dent William bailiff
Theatre Street Easterby Isabella blacksmith
Friargate Sharrock Mary bookseller
Friargate Whittle Peter bookseller
Back Lane Welsh Robert bricklayer
Fishergate Atkinson James bricklayer
Ribbleton Lane Shakeshaft John brickmaker
Shambles Clayton James butcher
Shambles Clayton William butcher
Snow Hill Shepherd Thomas butcher
Fishergate Wilson George cabinetmaker
Heatley Street Myerscough John carrier
Clark Yard Myerscough Rowland carter
Bolton Street Shannon Martin chairmaker
Mount Street Whittam Joseph clerk
Marsh End Bolton James coal merchant
Fishergate Platt Alice confectioners
Avenham Street Sumner Thomas corn merchant
Church Street Tipping Thomas corn merchant
Fishergate Tomlinson John corn merchant
Fishergate Talbot William cotton merchant
Fylde Street Smith John cowkeeper
Market Place Arrowsmith Richard draper
Friargate Taylor John druggist
Leeming Street Thompson Mary dyer
Friargate Holmes Robert engineer
Cold Bath Street Hardman William engineman
Leeming Street Thompson James engraver
Spring Gardens Bamber Hugh flagger and slater
High Street Waterworth John gardener
Friargate Smithies Thomas gentleman
Hill Street Banks Thomas gentleman
Friargate Brown John glazier
Church Street Holmes William grocer
Friargate Chorley James grocer
Friargate Wilkinson James grocer
Friargate Carter Thomas grocer
Spring Gardens Wilcock John grocer
Spring Gardens Swindlehurst Thomas horsebreaker
Fishergate Wilcock James joiner
Fox Street Parker John joiner
Friargate Brown John joiner
Friargate Carter James joiner
Friargate Goodier Joseph joiner
King Street Whiteside George joiner
Mount Street Greaves Thomas joiner
Mount Street Westhead George joiner
Pleasant Street Johnson John joiner
Bridge Street Smith James labourer
Water Street Johnson John letter carrier
Fishergate Teebay Lawrence liquor merchant
Back Lane Richardson John machine maker
Back Lane Noble Edward maltster
King Street Worthington Thomas manufacturer
Church Street Caton Ellen milliner
Market Place Rigby Ann milliner
Back Lane Mather James millwright
Friargate Barnes James overlooker
Cannon Street Smith Henry plasterer
Snow Hill Osbaldeston John plasterer
Nile Street Smith John postman
Fylde Street Smith William potato merchant
Church Street Snape Thomas saddler
Church Street Snape Thomas saddler
Duke Street Winstanley William shoemaker
Friargate Dickinson James shoemaker
Hope Street Wilson Thomas shoemaker
Patten Street Green William shoemaker
Stanley Street Melling Joseph shoemaker
Back Lane Taylor James shopkeeper
Bolton Street Eccles John shopkeeper
Fishergate Seed Robert shopkeeper
Friargate Barton John shopkeeper
Friargate Richardson John shopkeeper
Fylde Street Eccles James shopkeeper
High Street Rigby Mary shopkeeper
High Street Smith Thomas shopkeeper
King Street Hartley John shopkeeper
Paradise Street Marsh James shopkeeper
Snow Hill Seed Richard shopkeeper
Friargate Rose John shuttlemaker
Friargate Melling Joseph sizers
Vicar Street Higginson William slater
Fishergate Macneal Isabella smallware dealer
Bolton Street Eccles Matthew spinner
Bowran Street Mayor Richard spinner
Canal Street Singleton William spinner
Duke Street Morley James spinner
Duke Street Slater John spinner
Friargate Houghton William spinner
Stanley Street Livesey Thomas spinner
Nile Street Dent Mary staymaker
Friargate Holmes Ellen straw bonnet maker
Friargate Barton Hugh tailor
Friargate Dodds Joseph tailor
Friargate Stephenson John tailor
Friargate Wareing Thomas tailor
Hill Street Whittle Peter tailor
Hope Street Sharrock Ralph tailor
Walker Street Caton William tailor
Church Street Jackson William tallow chandler
Molyneux Square Thornton Ellen tallow chandler
Fishergate Higginson Thomas thread manufacturer
Friargate Gradwell James threadmaker
Back Lane Townson John victualler
Church Street Dobson William victualler
Friargate Nixon Robert victualler
Friargate Taylor John victualler
High Street Preston Robert victualler
Lune Street Ainsworth John victualler
Market Place Rigby Mary victualler
Molyneux Square Howard Dorothy victualler
Moor Lane Swarbrick Adam victualler
Shambles Chew Joseph victualler
Friargate Gregson Henry warehouseman
Friargate Winstanley Edward watchmakers
Friargate Orrell John watchmakers
Back Charlotte Street Harrison John weaver
Back Charlotte Street Holderness George weaver
Back Charlotte Street Holderness William weaver
Back Charlotte Street Holland Patrick weaver
Back Charlotte Street Walmsley James weaver
Back Lane Fox John weaver
Bridge Street Lancaster George weaver
Bridge Street Lawrenson John weaver
Bridge Street Walmsley James weaver
Bridge Street Walmsley James weaver
Charlotte Street Glover Joseph weaver
Charlotte Street Sharrock John weaver
Charlotte Street Wareing George weaver
Charlotte Street Wareing George weaver
Dale Street Livesey William weaver
Friargate Wilding Robert weaver
High Street Butler James weaver
High Street Houghton Edward weaver
High Street Parker James weaver
High Street Whittle Robert weaver
High Street Woods Thomas weaver
King Street Acres John weaver
King Street Woodruff Henry weaver
Lill’s Court Wiggans Thomas weaver
Moor Lane Ainsworth John weaver
Mount Street Banks Philip weaver
Mount Street Kay George weaver
Mount Street Mason Richard weaver
Mount Street Proctor James weaver
Mount Street Sudell William weaver
Queen Street Lee Thomas weaver
Vicar Street Park John weaver
Walker Street Butler Robert weaver
Water Lane End Hill John wheelwright
King Street Kenyon Joseph writer
[1] Rory Higgins, ‘The Margaret Higgins Database of Catholics in England and Their Friends : 1607-1840’, Catholic Family History Society, 2017,
[2] Joseph Dunn, Census of the Catholic Congregation of Preston 1810 and 1820., ed. Margaret Purcell (Blackpool: Ancestral Data, 1993).
[3] Higgins, ‘Higgins Database’, 5.
[4] Lancashire General Directory for 1818. Part First, Comprising Blackburn with Accrington, Church, Clitheroe, Darwen and Whalley; Bolton with Astley Bridge, Breightmet, Burnden, Chowbent, Dean Church and Leigh; and Preston with Chorley and Walton, and the Suburbs of Each Town (Manchester: T. Rogerson, 1818); Pigot’s Commercial Directory of Merchants, Manufacturers and Tradesmen (Manchester: Pigot & Co, 1818); Peter Whittle, The History of the Borough of Preston (Preston: Whittle, 1821); Edward Baines, History, Directory, and Gazetteer, of the County Palatine of Lancaster: With a Variety of Commercial & Statistical Information … Illustrated by Maps and Plans, vol. 2 (W. Wales & Company, 1825).
[5] Marian Roberts, ‘The Story of Winckley Square 2nd Edition’, Issuu, n.d., 10–11,–_cropped.
[6] Roberts, 21.
[7] Brian Lewis, The Middlemost and the Milltowns: Bourgeois Culture and Politics in Early Industrial England (Stanford University Press, 2001).
[8] Lewis, 185.
[9] Lewis, 184.
[10] Whittle, The History of the Borough of Preston, 22, 309; Roberts, ‘The Story of Winckley Square 2nd Edition’, 7.

3 thoughts on “Counting Catholics in 19th-century Preston

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s