John Noble — Preston’s Catholic radical

Obituary for John Noble Preston Lancashire  UK 1865
Fig 1. John Noble’s short obituary in the Preston Chronicle. [1]

John Noble, by religion Catholic by politics a radical, was a worthy opponent in the early 19th century of the arch-Tory Preston MP and leading member of the Orange Order Robert Townley Parker: the man whose tolerance extended just so far as to declare that he was not ‘one who would flog alive all Roman Catholics’. [2] When Parker lost his seat in Parliament it was Noble who organised a parade of thousands through Preston to celebrate the defeat.

One of Noble’s principal allies in radical politics was the social reformer and temperance advocate Joseph Livesey. A somewhat strange alliance since while Livesey was fulminating against the demon drink Noble was busy promoting the brewing trade in the town as its major supplier of malted barley (see: Barley, beer and the Lancaster Canal).

Noble was born in Penwortham in about 1797 and by his early twenties was living in Preston, where he had married his wife Margery (born Noblett, also in about 1797) in 1818 at the parish church [3] and where they soon had the first of their four children, Sarah born about 1821 and Agnes born about 1823. The other two children followed a few years later, Mary Ann about 1831 and William about 1833. (Dates of birth are based on census returns).

Combining involvement in the Preston brewing industry with farming at Broughton for his livelihood, Noble found time to play an active part in the radical politics of early 19th-century Preston.

His principal business enterprise was the Maudland Maltkilns on the present site of the UCLan campus at the original Preston terminus of the Lancaster Canal. Noble was probably operating the enterprise by 1825, for in that year he was listed as a maltster living at 7 Maudland Road next to the malt kilns in Baines’s directory of Preston. [4] Other directories list maltsters named Noble (Edward and Martin) operating in Preston in 1818 at Spittal’s Moss and in Back Lane. [5]

He was farming in Broughton a few years later when he was winning many prizes for his farming. He was described as of Broughton, but his farm has not been identified. At the same time he owned or was renting other agricultural holdings in the district as when in 1834 an auction was advertised for four closes of just over 13 acres in Cadley of what was formerly one field called Peter Field belonging to Mr John Noble maltster. [6] Two years later, ‘Mr John Noble and his undertenants’ had the Corporation’s Deepdale Farm near the Workhouse, near the present Burrow Road. [7]

The radical nature of his politics is shown by the following report:

Mr [Feargus] O’Connor, accompanied by several of his partisans, went to the Black-a-Moor’s Head, Chadwick’s Orchard, where an immense concourse of people were waiting to receive him … Mr John Noble, being moved to the chair, opened the proceedings by a brief address laudatory of Mr O’Connor’s political character. [8]

The area of Chadwick’s Orchard outside the Black-a-Moor’s Head was, as Nigel Morgan pointed out, ‘the Radical meeting ground’ at that time. [9] Feargus O’Connor was a leading Chartist and advocate of universal manhood suffrage.

Little is known about Noble’s Catholicism, but he was an active member of Broughton’s Catholic community to judge by an 1841 report on the Broughton Catholic Charitable Society, ‘Mr John Noble was elected to the office of president for the ensuing year. We are informed that the society is in a very prosperous condition, numbering upwards of 430 members.’ [10]

The Preston Chronicle reported that in 1832 Noble was serving on a committee ‘to choose a testimonial to retiring Preston MP John Wood’. One of his fellow committee members was Joseph Livesey (later Preston Chronicle reports of Corporation affairs show them as frequently serving on the same committees). Wood would have been popular with the town’s Catholics. When he was first elected to represent the town in 1826 Wood’s defeated opponent was the ‘No Popery’ candidate Robert Smith Barrie. Wood presented numerous petitions to Parliament for the repeal of the Test Acts that penalised Catholics and Nonconformists and voted for Catholic emancipation. [11]

Following the reform of local government with the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 ‘John Noble, of Broughton, Maltster’ was elected councillor for St George’s Ward in 1836 and then elected as one of the twelve new aldermen. [12] His farming activities were not being neglected for in the same year he won two guineas at the Preston Agricultural Society meeting held at the Bull Inn ‘for the best Brood Mare’. [13]

His support for radicalism was evident two years later:

One of those who attended the ‘great Radical Demonstration’ of 6th November 1838 was John Noble, a maltster and one of the first aldermen (ejected from the Council at the first opportunity) who had led a long campaign of ‘the freemen’ in defence of their rights of pasturage on the moor against Corporation enclosure. [14]

Noble was ejected as alderman at the instigation of the Tories, ‘[John] Armstrong was … almost certainly the person responsible for arranging that alderman John Noble should be ousted from the council (by not being re-elected alderman) because he had supported the Chartists and the freemen’. John Armstrong, a councillor and a president of the Operative Conservative Association, was a man ‘nearly universally feared’. [15] The Operative Conservative Association was used by Robert Townley Parker, twice Tory MP for the town, to ensure electoral success. Nigel Morgan summarised Preston politics at this period thus:

The left wing of Preston politics was appropriated by an alliance of anti-Corn Law and Roman Catholic leaders. 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, and quickly established a well-knit web of political connections through the Operative Conservative Association. [16]

Moves in 1839 to sell off all the Corporation property met strong resistance from Noble, who ‘objected that as the town and the wants of the inhabitants were increasing rapidly the immediate advantage of such sales of land especially of the Moor “was at the expense of disregarding posterity” …’ [17]

The following year brought more evidence of Noble’s farming skills. At the annual meeting of the Preston Agricultural Society prizes included ‘To Mr John Noble, of Broughton, for the best two years old colt’. [18] At the Garstang Agricultural Society’s annual meeting: ‘For the Best Two Years old Colt or Filly — Three Sovereigns — Mr John Noble, Broughton.’ [19] And at the Leyland Agricultural and Horticultural Association annual show prizes included ‘To Mr John Noble, Broughton, for the best carriage horses, under three years old.’ [20]

The 1841 census provides a description of the Noble household in Maudland Road (this census rounded adult ages, in fact John and Margery were both 44, Sarah 19 and Mary 15) [21]:

John Noble40maltster
Margery Noble40none given
Sarah Noble20none given
Mary Noble15none given
William8none given
Wm Noblett35male servant

Later census returns reveal that William Noblett was the brother of John Noble’s wife. I think William’s description as male servant is misleading and that, rather, he was helping his brother-in-law in the operation of the malt kilns. What is unusual, given the family’s social status, is that there was no domestic servant.

1841 was a pivotal year for John Noble in that, at the age of 44, he was preparing a new life for his family, beginning with giving up his Broughton farm, as the following report of the annual meeting of the Goosnargh Agricultural Society in October of that year records, when the chairman:

… concluded by proposing the health of “Mr John Noble, as a good farmer.” Mr Noble, in acknowledging the compliment, observed that he had always been best pleased with farming, and although he had given up his farm to devote his attention to his other business, he still felt pleased to meet agriculturalists.’ [22]

Auction notice sale of household goods and stock-in-trade of John Noble Preston Lancashire UK 1842
Fig 2. Preston Chronicle 1842 notice of auction of John Noble’s household goods

Within a few months he was he was selling up everything. First came an advertisement in April 1842 for the sale of household furniture and stock in trade ‘at the House of Mr. John Noble, malster, Maudlands, in Preston’. [23] Then ‘John Noble maltster’ put up for auction items including a canal boat ‘now lying in the canal, near to the Canal Factory, Preston. [24] And, finally, he put up his house and business for auction. [25] By October Noble and his family had emigrated to America, as the following report of the annual meeting of the Goosnargh Agricultural Society (and his Chronicle obituary above) make clear:

Mr E. Sidgreaves proposed the health of Mr John Noble, who, while he lived amongst them, was a zealous friend of agriculture, and a member of the society. He wished him success in his farming pursuits in the distant land to which he had gone, a wish in which he was sure he was joined by all who knew Mr Noble. (Cheers.) [26]

Lancaster Canal and Maudland district of Preston Lancashire UK on Ordnance Survey map of 1840s
Fig 3. John Noble’s Maudland Maltkilns enterprise, and the house he occupied before his move to America. Figure based on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey.

The auction of his property would seem to have been unsuccessful, for two years later attempts were being made to dispose of the property with first an auction [27] and then an offer to let: ‘Two newly erected malt kilns, in or near to Canal Street … with a newly erected malt tower, stable, cart shed, and other conveniences … late in the occupation of Mr John Noble, Maltster’. [28]

Fig 4. The Bridge Inn on Maudland Road. Image taken from Stephen Halliwell’s encyclopaedic website devoted to Preston’s public houses, which has a complete history of the Bridge Inn:

Noble was not abroad for long for in 1845 he was back in Preston living again in Maudland Road across the road at the Bridge Inn, to judge from the notice of an auction ‘at the house of Mr. John Noble, the Bridge Inn, Maudland Road, in Preston’. [29] He might have been back in town early the previous year as he was most likely the John Noble who subscribed a pound to the Preston Anti-Corn-Law Association. [30]

Back in Preston, Noble resumed his public life. In 1846 he was appointed one of the town’s improvement commissioners, he was chairman of the police commissioners, and Mr John Noble, innkeeper, was nominated for election as a Preston Poor Law Guardian. [31] When Robert Townley Parker was defeated in the 1847 Parliamentary election it was John Noble who organised the procession comprising ‘many thousand persons’ through the town to celebrate the success of Parker’s opponents. [32]

He also resumed his farming activities and continued his malting business, for at the Royal North Lancashire Agricultural Seed Corn Exhibition of 1850 in Preston there was awarded to ‘Mr. John Noble, maltster of this town, £3, for the best 30 bushels of seed barley’. [33]

It seemed he malting business was being carried on at its former scale, with large imports of barley to judge by the following news item:

Vessel dismasted — The sloop Chamberlain, of this port, the property of Mr Thomas Smith, ship carpenter, had to anchor inside Taylor’s Bank, near the Mersey, on Thursday week, with loss of mast, and was aground at low water. The crew were all saved. She was laden with barley, for Mr John Noble. She was towed by a Liverpool tug to Lytham, and by the steamer Alice to Preston, on Monday last. [34]

At the 1851 census the Noble family was listed at 13 Maudland Road, which was the address of the Bridge Inn. John Noble’s birthplace is recorded as Permywotham, Lancashire, and his wife’s name is recorded as Mary rather than Margery. [35]

John Noblehead54maltster and victuallerPermywotham
Mary Noblewife54wifeWarton
Sarah Nobledaughter29barmaidPreston
Mary Ann Nobledaughter25barmaidPreston
William Nobleson18millwright apprenticePreston
Mary Askewservant17servant of all workPreston
William Shorrockcarter [?]45carterPreston
William Noblettbrother-in-law40agricultural labourerWarton

By this time, Noble seems to have been withdrawing from public life for the Chronicle records no further mention of any involvement in political activity, although his supporters attempted to recruit him in their campaign against the cottonocracy – without his consent, and possibly even his knowledge. In the election for St Peter’s ward in 1852 it looked as if the sitting members George Smith and Hugh Dawson would be returned uncontested. Opponents then put up Noble and John Bryning against them, a role which apparently neither had sought. This scared the cotton lords: ‘… many of the “cottonocracy” … now began to stir, probably thinking that the ward, which has within its boundaries half the mills in the town, ought to continue to have as heretofore its whole six representative members of the staple trade.’ The cotton lords won. [36]

In 1856 Mr John Noble, maltster, of Maudland-road, ‘the working man’s friend’ was put up for councillor for St Peter’s ward, although he did not personally take part in the contest. He was not successful. [37]

He continued with his farming activities and with his malting enterprise. In the awards for ‘Gentlemen’s Stock’ at the Goosnargh Agricultural Show in 1853 John Noble won second prize for dairy cow. [38] The following year he won first prize for a heifer calf. [39] And in 1857 John Noble won the prize for a colt or filly for road or field and ‘humorously responded’ to the toast to the successful competitors. [40]

In 1857 a court case showed that Noble was still trading as a maltster at the Maudlands site, ‘Mr John Noble, maltster, who stated that on Monday, the 30th of March, he found that his counting-house at Maudlands had been entered through the roof on the previous night …’ [41]

Mao showing Jump's Farm Broughton Preston Lancashire UK in 1840s
Fig 5. First edition of the Ordnance Survey showing Jump’s Farm in the 1840s.

In his final years, Noble settled in Broughton (or what became part of Fulwood following boundary changes), farming 60 acres at Jump’s Farm, which was at the junction of Garstang Road and Sharoe Green Lane. The 1861 census supplied the following. It is worth noting that the Nobles did not employ a domestic servant, unusual for a family of their social status at this time. They hadn’t at the time of the 1841 census either (see above) [42]:

John NobleHead64farmer and maltsterPenwortham
Margery NobleWife64farmer’s wifeWarton
Mary Ann NobleDaughter30farmer’s daughterPreston
William NobleSon28farmer’s sonPreston
Thomas KellettServant28farmer’s servantSalwick.

In 1861 John Hoghton, the census enumerator for the district containing the Maudland Maltkilns, provided the following description for John Noble’s former Maudland home, ‘No. 8 Maudland Road styled “Maudland Cottage” is the best private House in this district’. The occupier was shown as the bookkeeper for Messrs Matthew Brown and Son Maltsters, presumably now operating the four malt kilns recorded at the site. Hoghton’s scathing criticism of the rest of the housing in the district suggests that Maudland Cottage did not face much competition. (see: Victorian Preston’s ‘worst slum’). [43]

Two years later Noble was preparing to give up farming and Jump’s Farm ‘now in the occupation of Mr. John Noble, as tenant thereof’ was offered to let. [44] And shortly after an auction was advertised ‘at the house of Mr John Noble, near the Black Bull Inn, Broughton’ of all his farming stock. [45]

John Noble died in 1865, when, according to the Chronicle obituary above, he was back living at the Bridge Inn.

1 Preston Chronicle, p4 col 6, 30 December 1865, British Library Newspapers,
2 Nigel Morgan, ‘Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: Chapter 6.4’ (MLitt thesis, Lancaster University, 1980), Emphasis added.
3 ‘Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk Project’, n.d.,
4 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).
5Lancashire 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).
6 Preston Chronicle, p1 col 3, 15 March 1834, British Library Newspapers,
7 Preston Chronicle, p1, col 2, 12 March 1836, British Library Newspapers,
8 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 5, 22 July 1837, British Library Newspapers,
9 Nigel Morgan, ‘Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: Chapter 4.1’ (MLitt thesis, Lancaster University, 1980),
10 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 2, 5 June 1841, British Library Newspapers,
11 ‘Wood, John (1789-1856), of Edge Hill, Liverpool, Lancs.; Scoreby, Yorks. and Tanfield Court, Inner Temple, Mdx. | History of Parliament Online’, n.d.,
12 Preston Chronicle, p3 cols 1 and 4, 2 January 1836, British Library Newspapers,
13 Preston Chronicle, p2 col 2, 15 October 1836, British Library Newspapers,
14 Nigel Morgan, ‘Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: Chapter 3.2’ (MLitt thesis, Lancaster University, 1980),
15 Nigel Morgan, ‘Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: Chapter 4.3’ (MLitt thesis, Lancaster University, 1980),
16 Morgan, ‘Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: Chapter 6.4’.
17 Nigel Morgan, ‘Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: Chapter 5.4’ (MLitt thesis, Lancaster University, 1980),
18 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 3, 10 October 1840, British Library Newspapers,
19 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 3, 24 October 1840, British Library Newspapers,
20 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 4, 31 October 1840, British Library Newspapers,
21 1841 England Census, database on-line. Images reproduced by, HO.107/499/1, folio 41, pp.31–2 (Ancestry, n.d.),
22 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 4, 9 October 1841, British Library Newspapers,
23 Preston Chronicle, p1 col 3, 23 April 1842, British Library Newspapers,
24 Preston Chronicle, p1 col 4, 7 May 1842, British Library Newspapers,
25 Preston Chronicle, p2 col 1, 22 October 1842, British Library Newspapers,
26 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 4, 15 October 1842, British Library Newspapers,
27 Preston Chronicle, p1, col 5, 8 June 1844, British Library Newspapers,
28 Preston Chronicle, p1 col 4, 16 November 1844, British Library Newspapers,
29 Preston Chronicle, p1 col 4, 23 August 1845, British Library Newspapers,
30 Preston Chronicle, p3 col 6, 9 March 1844, British Library Newspapers,
31 Preston Chronicle, p8, col 1, 9 May 1846, British Library Newspapers,;Preston Chronicle, p7 col 1, 6 June 1846, British Library Newspapers,; Preston Chronicle, p2 col 6, 4 April 1846, British Library Newspapers,
32 Preston Chronicle, p6 col 1, 7 August 1847, British Library Newspapers,
33 Preston Chronicle, p4 col 4, 16 March 1850, British Library Newspapers,
34 Preston Chronicle, p4, col 5, 26 October 1850, British Library Newspapers,
35 1851 Census England Wales and Scotland, database on-line. Images reproduced by, HO.107/2266, folio 394, p.20,
36 Preston Chronicle, p6, col 3, 6 November 1852, British Library Newspapers,
37 Preston Chronicle, p1 col 2, 1 November 1856, British Library Newspapers,
38 Preston Chronicle, p6 col 3, 1 October 1853, British Library Newspapers,
39 Preston Chronicle, p6 col 2, 30 September 1854, British Library Newspapers,
40 Preston Chronicle, p4 col 2, 12 September 1857, British Library Newspapers,
41 Preston Chronicle, p5 col 2, 18 April 1857, British Library Newspapers,
42 1861 Census England Wales and Scotland, database on-line. Images reproduced by, RG9/3143, folio 83, p.3,
43 1861 England Census, Database On-Line. Images reproduced by, RG 9/3131, folio 60, p.7,
44 Preston Chronicle, P1 col 5, 22 August 1863, British Library Newspapers,
45 Preston Chronicle, P1 col 6, 19 September 1863, British Library Newspapers,

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