"... 'Proud Preston', it has been called, formerly a 'priest's town', with much antique lore associated with it, a town upon which royal charters have been bestowed in rich largesse, no less than fourteen of them being counted up between the time of Henry II, and that of George IV. Preston is surrounded with a country of fair landscapes, above which it is lifted somewhat. It has several public parklands, and through a beautiful cultivated space of this kind on the south the tidal Ribble flows on its way to the spacious docks, where vessels may arrive and depart by a waterway which widens out along twelve miles, to a broad sand-margined estuary and the further sea. Of the streets of the town Fishergate is the most important and is not without picturesque features. There you come upon the Town Hall, a grand building, towered and spired, with its arcaded front, traceried windows, sculptured enrichments, and other architectural expressions of the Gothic kind. Overlooking the market place you have a building of classic mould, massive and imposing, known as the Harris Institute, and dedicated to 'Literature, Arts and Sciences.'
Once in every twenty years Preston breaks out into special festivity in celebration of its 'Guild Merchant', a very ancient institution, with its enrolments of free burgesses, who had the monopoly of trading in the town to the exclusion of 'foreigners', with other privileges, which were jealously guarded even to the end of the seventeenth century. With the growth of the years the 'Guild Merchant' became obsolete as an active organisation, but the celebration was retained in festive form. Of one of these functions held more than a century ago it was said by a local poet that,
Feasting and dancing, and music and noise,
Are the soul of a Build and the chief of its joys.
The last celebration was in 1882, the ceremonies continued for a week, with processions of trade and friendly societies and other pageantry.
Whatever may have been the tastes and tendencies of 'Proud Preston' in the old days, the most marked feature of the present time is its devotion to trade and manufactures. Its population numbered at the last census over 111,000 within the parliamentary borough. It is largely industrial; it has iron and shipbuilding works, and spinning mills and weaving sheds. With the cotton trade it had a very early association. It was here that Richard Arkwright was born and worked as a barber, and here he set up and exhibited his first 'spinning engine'. The first cotton mill in Preston was erected in 1777 and has been succeeded by many others, as the visitor will perceive as he approaches the town, the tall chimney shafts being in evidence there among the towers and spires.
In the Preston district they spin and weave in large quantities, the spindles being in number about 1,700,000 and the looms about 52,000. the fabrics are numerous and not to be particularised within convenient limits, but there is a certain leaning to goods of the cambric, muslin, and jacconette kinds, together with a production of shirtings of the Indian and China orders. They weave less, but spin more in Preston than they do in Blackburn, but in their manufacturing aspects there is much in common. The towns are linked together by eleven miles of road, which traverses a beautiful country, mainly of pasture land and well wooded - a road too, which, for a considerable length of it, gives you views along the valley of the Ribble, and across Longridge Fell to Pendle Hill.
Source: John Mortimer, "Industrial Lancashire: Some Manufacturing Towns and Their Surroundings." pp105-108 (Palmer, Howe & Co., 1897)
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