Domesday Preston

A pre-1300 ‘street map’ of Preston before the bridging of the Ribble at Walton-le-Dale in the 14th century. Present street names are shown in italics

The Domesday landscape of Preston

Domesday in 1086 gives the first documentary indication of the boundaries of the township of Preston, naming Broughton to the north, Ashton to the west and Fishwick and Grimsargh to the east (Ribbleton is not mentioned in Domesday). [1] The Ribble supplied the southern boundary. Topographic elements help fix these boundaries with Swill Brook marking the boundary between Preston and Fishwick, and Eaves Brook and Savick Brook possibly marking the boundary with Broughton. An ancient ditch running from Savick Brook to Moor Brook would seem to have marked the boundary between Ashton and Preston. The first mention of Ribbleton does not occur until 1200 and it is possible that at the time of Domesday the land that was to become Ribbleton formed part of Preston township or was shared between Preston, Grimsargh and Fishwick, to be carved out as a separate township/manor in the 12th century. [2]

Within these boundaries there is no documentary evidence for any buildings in the township at this time. The parish church was almost certainly established sometime earlier (the Old English name of the township is rendered as ‘the priest’s manor’ [3]), although the documentary evidence is ambiguous and there is no written reference until 1096. It is not mentioned in Domesday. [4] Also, although it is likely to have occupied its present location, it could have been sited elsewhere in the township. In spite of this lack of documentary evidence it is clear from Domesday that Preston was the principal township of the hundred of Amounderness and as such there would have been a sizeable settlement, probably along the present Church Street and Fishergate. [5] The settlement might also have possessed fishery rights on the Ribble; Domesday gives Penwortham half a fishery and the likeliest possessor of the other half would be Preston. [6]

Place names offer some clues to settlement patterns but these are difficult to interpret. At present, the definitive guide to Lancashire place names remains Ekwall, although a new and more comprehensive account down to field name level is forthcoming from John Insley, a native of Preston. [7] Useful additional material is supplied by Geoffrey Leech. [8] Dating from place names is problematic since words persist. Thus Friargate denotes the street of the friars: the name-element ‘gate’ is Old Norse, but the friars did not arrive in town until the 13th century, long after the Vikings had left or been assimilated. This means that Churchgate, Fishergate and Broadgate (original name of the present Fishergate Hill) cannot be confidently assigned to pre-Norman times based on names alone. Although the name evidence is inconclusive, it is quite likely that the above streets were well established at the time of Domesday. There would have been a network of roads and pathways both within the township and linking to neighbouring settlements, even though there is no documentary evidence for their existence at this time.

Preston stands above the lowest crossing point of the Ribble, providing a north-south route that has probably been used for thousands of years. The first traces of this major highway are found with a road at the Roman settlement at Walton-le-Dale, aligned to head north through Preston to join the road from Ribchester into the Fylde at the present Watling Street Road in Fulwood. It is not known whether the Romans built a bridge across the Ribble or simply relied on ford and ferry.

Bridging the Ribble at Preston presented challenging engineering problems to early bridge builders because of the destructive power of the river in flood. The first Penwortham bridge collapsed in 1756 a year after its construction [9] and floods frequently blocked the way to the bridge at Walton and caused the Ribble to change its course, leaving the bridge high and dry. [10] In addition, a crossing at Walton-le-Dale would have to contend with steep escarpments at both the northern and southern edges of the Ribble flood plain and would have involved an additional crossing of the River Darwen. The inclines of the present London Road to the north and Chorley road to the south of the Walton bridge have been eased by considerable excavation: in the 11th century these roads would have presented a far more serious challenge to wheeled traffic than the much gentler slopes encountered either side of the Ribble at Penwortham.

These difficulties could have led to the abandonment of the Walton crossing and the Roman road at some point after the departure of the Romans, in favour of the Penwortham crossing lower down the river; VCH suggests the Walton bridge was of post-Conquest date. [11] This would account for the siting of a Norman castle at Penwortham rather than Walton: the Normans would have wanted to dominate the major crossing point of the Ribble. [12] There were several fords across the Ribble at Penwortham up until the mid-19th century and a free ferry was already established there from at least the early 14th century. [13] There does not appear to be any evidence of fords or ferry at Walton.

The first reference found to a Ribble bridge at Preston is in a footnote to Whitaker’s History of Manchester which describes the boundary of the Forest of Lancaster taken from a transcription of a document purporting to be of 1225 among the Kuerden manuscripts at Manchester:

This forest is described in an old boundary-record as two in name and one in effect, beginning at the bridge of the Ribble, going to Steop-clough, betwixt Ribchester and Hadersal, — betwixt Chippin and Gosnaig,— to the water of Lond or Laund, — by the demesne of Hornby, — to the water of the Lone or Lune, — and the current of the Ken or Kent, down the Kent to the sea, along the coast of the sea to the foot of the Wire — and the Ribble, and up the Ribble to Ribble-bridge. — A verdict of 9 Hen. III. p. 237. of Kuerden, folio, a MS. in the library at Manchester Arch. A. 18, 5, and a rude, ill-arranged, and half-illegible Common-place-book for the Antiquities of Lancashire. [14]

The dating would accord with the perambulations of the royal forest carried out in 1225, but the Lancashire perambulation, as set out in Cunliffe Shaw accurately citing the Close roll for 1228 p100, does not describe the boundary of the forest, rather stating that the whole forest should be disafforested with the exception of named areas, such as Fulwood and Quernmore, the bounds of which are carefully delineated. There is no mention of a Ribble bridge. [15]

The boundary described by Whitaker reads as a shortened version of the mid-14th-century perambulation set out in Cunliffe Shaw, which details the ‘Metes of the forest of Amoundernesse and Lonesdale’; this description matches the phrase ‘two in name and one in effect’ in Whitaker. The boundary set out in the 14th-century perambulation opens with, ‘In beginning at the bridge of Ribble in ascending unto Sigropclogh between Ribblechastre and Hodersale …’ [16] This renders the Whitaker dating somewhat dubious.

If the 1225 reference to a Ribble bridge is a mistake a stronger case can be made for dating the first post-Roman crossing of the river at Walton to after 1302. The course of bridge building and repair at Walton in the 14th century is set out in VCH:

In answer to their petition pontage for five years was granted in 1302 to the bailiffs and good men of ‘Walton-in-la-Dale’ for building and repairing the bridges of Ribble and Derwent, to be collected from goods intended ‘for sale passing over or under them.’ A similar grant for two years was made to the commonalty of Blackburnshire in 1339 for the repair of Ribble Bridge. Again in 1400 pontage was granted for three years, renewed in 1403 for a similar period, for the repair of Ribble Bridge and for the construction of a stone bridge by the old one which had been broken by floods and ice. [17]

Bridging the Ribble and Derwent rivers and constructing a causeway of half a mile in length between them above the flood plain would have been an extremely ambitious undertaking for the Walton manor at this time. But the lordship of the manor had recently been acquired by John de Langton by marriage to the daughter of the previous lord of the manor in 1293 or 1294, and Langton had ambitious plans for his new manor. In 1301 the manor obtained permission to hold a weekly market and an annual three-day fair; such commercial ventures would have been of little value if most customers were bypassing Walton and crossing the Ribble at Penwortham. This would account for the decision to seek revenues to fund the building of the Darwen and Ribble bridges to bring custom to the market. [18] The bridges, unlike the market and fair, have remained in place down to the present (not without many setbacks). [19]

In the absence of a Walton crossing the main route north would most likely have been to the west of Preston. Mary Higham describes the route as the ‘Preston western bypass of the pre-Conquest era’. [20] This possibility is supported by the presence of another castle at Tulketh, just across the Ribble from the Penwortham castle. [21] Kim Travis in a detailed history of Tulketh Hall has examined the documentary evidence for a castle at Tulketh. The charters issued by King David I of Scotland, who occupied much of northern England in the 12th century, find him issuing a charter from ‘ “The new castle” of Tulketh’ in c.1141. [22] As Travis points out, it is unclear whether this was the first castle on the site or a replacement for an earlier structure. There is no record of a castle defending a Walton crossing of the Ribble. If the route north kept to the westerly edge of the Preston township it would have followed the ancient ditch marking the boundary between the township and Ashton. [23] Heading north would have entailed crossing a number of small streams which flow eastwards to the Ribble. These are still flowing but are now hidden underground in culverts. At the north-western corner of the township road builders would have faced the problem of crossing the steep sided valley of the Savick Brook; if they chose a more easterly crossing they would also have to have crossed the equally steep sided Eaves Brook.

There are reasons to believe the route north favoured the more westerly crossing. One is references to a Broughton bridge in early 14th-century documents:

Charter. Robert son of Adam de Prestoun, has granted to Albric, his son, … six ridges (seliones) of his land lying together in the New field near the highway which leads to Broghtonbrygges, with his assart near Broghtonbrigges … Dated at Prestoun 6 May, a. r. v. Edward son of King Edward. (1312.) [24]

Quit-claim. William son of William de Wygan, has released to Albric son of Robert son of Adam de Prestoun, all his right and claim in all that cleared ground (assartum) next Droghtoun Brygge, which formerly belonged to Benedict the clerk, grantor’s great-grandfather, in the town of Prestoun. …Dated at Prestoun on Sunday after the feast of St. Augustine, a. r. v. Edward son of King Edward. (28 May, 1312.) [25]

Droghton in the second document is clearly a mistranscription for Broghton

These two documents establish that in 1312 there was a Broughton bridge, quite likely over Savick Brook on the boundary between the townships of Preston and Broughton, and a highway on the western edge of Preston leading to that bridge. A good bridging point would have been near that used by the present bridge across Savick Brook on Woodplumpton Road. Broughton bridge would most likely have been in use before the Walton bridge was built and the highway mentioned could therefore have been the major route north between the Penwortham crossing and the Broughton bridge. There is a reminder of one of the possible links to this route from the town in the street name ‘Old Lancaster Lane’ which is still attached to a stretch of road at the bottom of Aqueduct Street (see map above).

There is some evidence for another road heading to the north-eastern corner of the Preston township, which is referred to as an ancient wain gate (wagon road) in the first half of the 14th century. [26] A pedestal of a stone cross marked on the first edition of the 6 inch Ordnance Survey and field boundaries on Lang’s 18th-century plan of Preston suggest this wain gate could have followed the present Holme Slack Lane. [27]

A major uncertainty about the Domesday landscape of Preston arises from the difficulty in dating the establishment of the forest of Fulwood, part of the extensive royal Forest of Lancaster. If the Fulwood forest was in place in 1086 then the northern boundary of Preston township would have been some distance south of the Savick Brook/Eaves Brook boundary. However, there is no mention of the Fulwood forest in Domesday and the treatment of the Forest of Lancaster in VCH suggests a slow development with different parts of the forest enclosed in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. [28] It seems likely that Fulwood was enclosed after 1086. The ‘Preston’ section of the forest was possibly slotted into the road network described above with Eaves Brook and Savick Brook as the northerly boundary, Holme Slack Lane and a tributary of Deepdale Brook to the east, Deepdale/Moor Brook to the south and the ancient Ashton ditch to the west.

To contact email: Preston History

[1] William Farrer and J. Brownbill, eds., The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vol. 1 (London: Constable, 1912), 288.
[2] William Farrer and J. Brownbill, eds., The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vol. 7 (London: Constable, 1912), 105.
[3] Eilert Ekwall, The Place-Names of Lancashire (Manchester University Press, 1922), 146.
[4] David Hunt, A History of Preston, 2nd ed. (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2009), 30.
[5] Roy Millward, Lancashire: An Illustrated Essay on the History of the Landscape (Hodder, 1955), 71.
[6] Farrer and Brownbill, VCH Vol 1, 1:287.
[7] Ekwall, The Place-Names of Lancashire.
[8] Geoffrey Leech, ‘The Unique Heritage of Place-Names in North West England’, in Text, Language and Interpretation: Essays in Honour of Keiko Ikegami (Tokyo: Eihoosha, 2007), 42–61,
[9] Farrer and Brownbill, VCH Vol 7, 7:78.
[10] David Hunt, A History of Walton-le-Dale and Bamber Bridge (Lancaster: Carnegie, 1997), 43.
[11] Farrer and Brownbill, VCH Vol 7, 7:72, fn 3.
[12] Alan Crosby, Penwortham in the Past (Preston: Carnegie, 1988), 20.
[13] Ibid., 43–45.
[14] John Whitaker, The History of Manchester: In Four Books, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (London: J. Murray, 1773), 188–89,
[15] R. Cunliffe Shaw, The Royal Forest of Lancaster (Preston: Guardian Press, 1956), 106–7.
[16] Ibid., 169.
[17] William Farrer and J. Brownbill, eds., The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vol. 6 (London: Constable, 1912), 289.
[18] Ibid., 6:291.
[19] Hunt, Walton-le-Dale, 42–45.
[20] Alan Crosby, Leading the Way: A History of Lancashire’s Roads (Lancashire County Books, 1998), 42.
[21] Crosby, Penwortham in the Past, 31–32.
[22] G. W. S. Barrow, ed., The Charters of King David I: The Written Acts of David I King of Scots, 1124-53 and of His Son Henry Earl of Northumberland, 1139-52 (Boydell Press, 1999), 111,
[23] Shaw, The Royal Forest of Lancaster, 156–57.
[24] James Mills and M. J. McEnery, eds., Calendar of the Gormanston Register, from the Original in the Possession of the Right Honourable the Viscount of Gormanston (Dublin, printed at the University Press, for the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1916), 106.
[25] Ibid., 121.
[26] Shaw, The Royal Forest of Lancaster, 170.
[27] ‘DDK/1549/6a Lang & Porter’s Survey Plan of Preston’, Lancashire Archives Catalogue, 1774,
[28] William Farrer and J. Brownbill, eds., The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vol. 2 (London: Constable, 1908), 437.