Platford Dales — a medieval Preston field

A section of a reconstruction of Lang's 1774 plan of Preston Lancashire
Fig. 1. A section of a reconstruction of Lang’s 1774 plan of Preston

The plan above based on Lang’s 1774 map of Preston captures the field pattern of part of the landscape north of the town on the eve of the industrialisation that was to cover the area in houses and factories in the course of the next century. The names of the fields allow for a tentative reconstruction of the landscape in previous centuries, stretching back to Norman times. The fields on the map are enclosures of one of Preston’s large medieval town fields: Platford Dales. There are two important buildings missing from the map: Preston’s first cotton mill, to be built in the next few years, pointing forward to the rapid expansion of the industry that was to transform the town, and Preston Hall, demolished some years earlier, pointing back to the town’s medieval origins. They were both located at the bottom end of Moor Lane, near the junction with Friargate.

Full size pdf of above plan

Related articles:
Domesday Preston
Preston’s pre-industrial landscape – introduction
Fulwood Forest
Preston Moor
1685 plan of Preston
1774 plan of Preston
A 13-th century ‘new field’ south of Ribbleton Lane

Sections of the 17th-century Towneley Hall plans of Preston, Lancashire
Fig. 2 Sections of the 17th-century Towneley Hall plans of Preston. Image courtesy of Lancashire Archives

Preston Hall features in the above rough plans, found among a collection of plans at Towneley Hall in the 1950s. They date to the 1680s. It is notable that the only named building in the DDX194/39 section is Preston Hall. The town hall is not named and Patten House, which is generally regarded as the principal residence in the town at this period, and the parish church are not shown, let alone named. The measurements in the other two sections are in chain links with each chain link measuring 7.92 inches; there are 100 links to the chain of 66 feet. The reconstruction below is based on DDX194/10 and DDX194/7.

Plan showing location of Preston Hall in Preston Lancashire, the home of the Preston family
Fig. 3. Plan showing location of Preston Hall, the home of the Preston family

Preston Hall was the home of the Prestons of Preston, major landowners in the town from the mid-13th century until near the end of the 17th century. Most of their land holdings appear to have been to the west of their house (discussed in a separate article). The land to the east of the Preston family lands, extending from the burgage plots on the north of the town to the southern edge of Preston Moor and bounded on the east by Tithebarn Street and Salter Lane (the present North Road), would seem to mark the extent of the Platford Dales town field, although the exact boundaries are unclear.

The boundary between the Preston family lands and Platford Dales in the figure below, based on the Lang map, is speculative. It is unclear how the Preston family acquired their land in the town. Possibly they carved their land bordering Platford Dales out of an earlier and larger town field

Possible extent of the medieval Platford Dales town field in Preston Lancashire, with the suggested incursion by the Preston family
Fig. 4. Possible extent of the medieval Platford Dales town field, with the suggested incursion by the Preston family

By the time of Lang’s map the whole area had been enclosed and was shortly to be built over, but the various field names incorporating the words ‘dale’ or ‘dales’ help to establish the boundaries of the medieval Platford Dales. The OED describes this word as the ‘northern phonetic variant of dole’, used in the sense of a ‘portion or share of land; spec. a share of a common field, or portion of an undivided field indicated by landmarks but not divided off’. It was applied in this form to communal agricultural as late as the 19th century in Kentmere in Cumbria:

At the date of the Tithe Commutation (in 1836) in the huge ancient ecclesiastical parish of Kendal, several townships still had unenclosed individual arable strips where one man’s holding was intermixed with those of other farms. One such was Kentmere where small strip fields called dales (meaning ‘a share’ as in dole) and dalts were still shown as unenclosed. Today they form a part of larger fields, but they are still visible as lynchets (terraces) along the valley side. The terrain did not allow for long strips except on the valley floor where at least some of the strips ( ing, fit/feet are distinguishing field names) were meadow doles … [emphasis added]. [1]

One of the other elements in the name, ‘ford’, suggests a stream crossing. This stream could be Moor Brook, or more likely the anonymous stream now culverted below Walker Street. The element ‘plat’ could follow OED and refer to an ‘area of land’. Thus Platford would denote the ford linking the ‘plats’ of Platford Dales. However, plat could also refer to a stream or ditch crossing, following the EDD definition ‘A small foot-bridge over a stream or gutter’, found to occur in North-East Lancashire and Cheshire. [2] This would make Platford Dales the town field with a ford and a foot bridge. Both uses of the word plat occur in the court leet records [3]

As the open town field was gradually enclosed, ‘dale’ attached itself to the names of the enclosures. These included the various Platford Dales, as well as the Merry Dale Field in the above figure. The name Platford Dale would appear to be the original name given to the town field.

It appears in a deed recorded in the Cockersand Cartulary that the editor dates to between roughly 1230 and 1255, in which William, son of Richard Cross, gives William de Kirkham, the priest, ‘all his land within the town of Preston and without, and in the town-fields of Preston’. This land included, ’three perches of land in Platford-dale between land of Richard son of Ughtred, and land which belonged to [the hospital of] St. Mary Magdalene of Preston; half an acre of land in Platford-dale, between land of Robert son of Alexander, and Adam son of Siward’s land’.

Several more references dating from the same period are found in the calendar of the collection of medieval deeds relating to the Preston family (Gormanston Register). These deeds, as well as the Cockersand one, probably date from before the carving out of Preston Moor from Fulwood Forest in 1252.

Robert son of Alexander, has granted to Robert the tailor (cissor) of Preston, his heirs or assigns, a certain part of his land in the territory of Preston, viz. all his land lying in breadth between the land of Richard son of Mabbe and that of William son of Adam, and commencing at the land of St. Wilfrid’s church in Platfordale, it extends in length, to the land of grantee.

Does this suggest that the strips in the field ran in a westerly direction, given that the Preston family lands bordered Moor Lane to the west and ‘the land of St. Wilfrid’s church in Platfordale’ could be the Vicarage Croft on Fig. 4 alongside Salter Lane to the east? This would make sense given that the land slopes from east to west and the strips would thus follow the lie of the land.

Adam son of Geoffrey de Quitighaym [Whittingham], has granted to Robert the tailor (cissor) of Preston, and his heirs or assigns, all grantor’s land lying at the northern extremity of Platford on Morplot, in the territory of Preston.

If the ‘Morplot’ was an example of the early assarting in Fulwood Forest (possibly in the area that later came to be named Charnock Fold) it could suggest that Platford Dales extended to the Moor Brook. In the early 13th century the town seems to have been bringing into cultivation as much land as possible, pushing to its boundary with Fulwood Forest and opening a new field between Ribbleton Lane and New Hall Lane before the end of the century (south of Ribbleton Lane).

Other deeds confuse rather than clarify the boundary of Platford Dales:

William Cugkilpenny has granted to Robert son of Roger son of Award de Preston, a perch of land in the territory of Preston, viz. that lying between the land of Robert de Loxissun on the eastern side, and that of Rowdulf son of Ralph, on the western side, and extending in length from the highway as far as Platfordale.

Which highway is meant?

The Gormanston Register records suggest that enclosure by agreement was taking place as early as the 13th century. What is unknown is how the shares in the town field were originally allocated and how the Prestons acquired their land. By the time of the Lang map the whole area was enclosed, but it is uncertain at what period the field boundaries on that map were drawn and to what extent they had been reshaped over time. For example, a lease of 1680 records that Thomas Winkley gent. and his wife Frances leased to Sarah Hodgkinson, spinster, a close called the Round Platfordale. [4] And the court leet for October 1673 presents Mrs Elizabeth Hodgkinson for ‘not scowring her ditch at ye side of ye round? platt forth dale in Slater lane’. This name does not occur on the Lang map. Some help can be found in the court leet records:

January 1653/4
29. William Curtis shall scowre his ditch and paire his Copp on his own side, att the end of the Vicaridge crofte, and forbeare to encroach with his ditch on the lane leading to Plattfordale, that the way may bee sufficient for Carte and carriage, before the xxvth of this instant Aprill, in paine of vjs. viijd.

The ‘lane leading to Plattfordale’ later became High Street, roughly where Ringway is now. See Fig. 5 below. It is unclear which lane is intended in the record below:

February 1670/1
53. It appeareth by Informacon upon oath that ye right and Ancient high way unto a close or pcell of Land now in ye possession of Willm Wearden ye oldr called by ye name of round? Crowne Lyeth through a close of Land called ye platfordale nere unto ye Salter lane and outring in at a yate there wch said platfordale is now in ye possession of Margery Blackhurst widdowe wee therefore find and prsent that ye suffer ye said Willm Wearden and his Assignes to passe and repasse wch his and theire Carts and draughts through ye said platfordale unto ye said Rowid? Crowne.

The field named Crown presumably got its name because it sits at the crest of Moor Lane. This field name provided the name for the present Crown Street:

October 1707
11. Thomas Woodburne for not opening & Scouring his ditch that leads to the Crown on the East side of the Moor Lane whereby the highway is very much Damaged & not passable without great difficulty to the great trouble & inconvenience of all such yt have a right to pass that way upon Acct of occupying their Lands and we so amerce him in vjs. viijd. if the same be not done in ten days time.

This ‘liitle lane’ in the record below would be the present Cragg Row and Sandy Lane would be the name given to Moor Lane for this stretch.

February 1669/ 70
45. James Helme yt he set a yate and stoopes at ye side of ye Sandy lane at ye end of a little lane leading to sevrall mens Lands called ye Crownes? to stopp cattle and swine from trespassing in ye said Lands by runing upp ye said lane at or before ye xvth of Aprill next upon paine of vjs. viijd.

A few years later the little lane has been named Crowne Lane:

February 1681/2
54. Ye occupyers of Crowne lane yt they sett a yate at ye lane end west to ye Moore lane before ye 25th March next upon paine of vjs. viijd. apiece & ye pinders to give notice to ye occupyers & in pticular their names.

And by the 18th century the crest of Moor Lane has been given the name Sandy Hill:

February 1713/14
14. The Supvisors for not repairing the way between the Watery Lane End & Tulketh Hall & the way at the Moor yate at the bottom of the Sandy Hill, if not done before the 24th of June next we Amerce them in the Sum of Forty Shillings.

References to Salter Lane in the court leet records suggest that the land on both sides of the lane was enclosed by the 17th century. There are dozens of presentments in the court leet records in the 17th and 18th centuries against individual owners of crofts in Salter Lane.

The survey of the town in the 1680s enables a reconstruction of part of the Platford Dales landscape in the 17th century. The 1680s survey was chiefly concerned with town properties and their owners or occupiers. It provided only haziest indications of field boundaries, although some of these are useful as in the figure below based on a section from the reconstruction of the 1685 survey.

Some of the field lanes that later became busy streets, shown on the reconstruction of the 1685 survey of Preston Lancashire
Fig. 5. Some of the field lanes that later became busy streets, shown on the reconstruction of the 1685 survey of Preston
Fig. 6 The area of Platford Dales on the modern Open Street map

[1] M. A. Atkin, ‘Field Names and Field Shapes in NW England’, Contrebis – Journal of the Lancaster Archaeological and Historical Society 20 (1995): 20.
[2] ‘EDD English Dialect Dictionary Online’,
[3] David Berry, trans., ‘Preston Court Leet Records’,
[4] ‘DDPR/143/19 Round Platfordale Lease’, Lancashire Archives Catalogue, 1 December 1680.

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