Midge Walkers

Walk  No. 112

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New Year’s Day Walk 2018

It has become the practice, for the last few years, to carry out an urban walk around the changing face of Preston, which has produced many interesting and educational revelations. This year’s walk started with the 16 participants and Henry the greyhound, meeting at the site of the Stagecoach bus garage at Selbourne St in Frenchwood at 11 a.m. Here we heard how the former Ribble Motor Company grew from very small beginnings in 1919 to become the largest operator of buses and coaches in the North West. Its bright red livery was instantly recognisable through the region until May 1989 when it was purchased by Stagecoach Holdings. Turning right into Manchester Rd to its junction with Frenchwood Ave., the head offices of the company occupied a prime site having been built there in 1937.  Continuing to London Rd., we crossed into Ashleigh St and Brockholes View to turn into Ephraim St to hear the start of a story concerning the life of “John Gregson,” born in 1882 at No 5, sadly lost his father at the age of 6 and his mother at 12 and as the second youngest child was probably brought up by his elder brother. In the early 1900’s, John had joined the army and was a member of the 4th Royal Lancashire Regiment and served in India.

Regaining London Rd., and turning up Clitheroe St. into Clara St where No 16 had been the first home that John and his wife Catherine acquired in 1908. By now he had become a conductor on the newly electrified trams and quickly progressed to a driver, also playing in the tramways band. As a reservist, he would have been among the first to be called up for war service and in 1915 was promoted to Sergeant for gallantry following the capture of a machine gun post, for which he was also awarded a month’s leave. Returning to the battlefields, and leaving his wife and three children, sadly John was killed in action in June the same year at the age of 33 and was buried at the military Cemetery in Ypres, Belgium.

Returning to Brocholes View and continuing left to Fishwick Rd., we followed a path to emerge on to New Hall Lane opposite the giant Horrocks Centenary Mill. As the name implies, this was built in 1895 to celebrate 100 years of cotton manufacture within the town. With the ultimate demise of the industry, the mill became a warehouse until being bought by a local entrepreneur Mr Ayub Bux. Within the building a remnant of the textile industry still exists by way of denim production, which accounts for approx. 50% of the national output of jeans. The building also contains 180 residential flats and communal facilities.

Further progress to St Mary’s St. brought us to the redundant Anglican Church dating back to 1836. It ceased its religious activities in 1996 and was converted to a conservation centre for the Museum of Lancashire in 2006. No 28 had been a public house dating back to 1851 and housed stables and a brew-house amongst its assets. It closed around 1990. A little further brought us to a disused Wesleyan Chapel and school building, dating back to 1866 and now used by a printing company.

Turning left at Ribbleton Lane, brought us to the front H.M. Prison. The site dates back to 1790, having been rebuilt between 1840-95 and used by the military between 1939-48. As a men’s Category B prison, built to house 750 occupants, in 2001 it had the distinction of being reported as the most overcrowded site in England and Wales. Crossing in to Church St., we paused at Cotton Court, a name shared by the street and a building dating back to 1851. Originally built as a spinning mill for Thomas Ainsworth & Sons and in 1875 became an iron and wire works for James Starkie & Son. Following refurbishment, it now operates as a business centre. Adjacent to this we viewed the facia of what had been the Preston Livery and Carriage Company where the original horse drawn trams were housed and beyond that Ye Old Blue Bell public house dating back to at least 1716 and over time had been the site of at least two murders.

Following the route to the main Parish Church we learned that evidence of a church on the site could be traced to 1094. During the interim many changes had taken place, including a total rebuild in 1853-55 and in the 1960’s the internal galleries removed. In 2003 the church became known as the Minster Church of St John. The tower houses a total of 12 bells. Moving down the right-hand side of the church, along Stoneygate, a blue plaque signifies the existence of a “Cockpit”. Originally erected by Lord Derby in 1790 as a sporting establishment until after the abolition of the sport, it was hired for meetings, dances and provided a platform for political and religious events, which included Joseph Livesey of the Temperance Movement along with the Mormon church, who due to the number of converts were forced to seek larger premises. It tumbled down in 1884. At the bottom of the path, built in 1728, Arkwright House, named after Richard Arkwright, built and developed a mechanical spinning machine which was patented in 1769. Historians place the building as one of the birthplaces of the Industrial revolution. Renovated in 1979 the premises are now owned by Age Concern.

Around the corner, in Shepherd St., we viewed the building, formerly used by the charity set up to house homeless children in the town. Established in 1876 by Joshua Williamson, a Preston grocer, subsequently supported by public subscriptions and donations and the creation of a firewood business, Shepherd St Mission expanded into other local buildings in Laurel St, Berry St and Oxford St. Turning to regain Manchester Rd we past the site of St Saviours Church having been built in 1868 was demolished in 1971, and crossed Queen St, to cut through towards Larkhill Rd. where we turned left to view Lark Hill House. Built in 1797, the former home of Samuel Horrocks, cotton manufacturer and later Mayor and Member of Parliament for Preston. Lark Hill Convent Grammar School operated from 1919 to 1978 when it became Cardinal Newman College now accommodating 3,500 students. Returning to Manchester Rd and re-crossing, we followed St Austin’s Place to arrive at the front of the former St Augustine of Canterbury R.C. Church established in 1838.The church remained busy through to the 1970’s and when dry rot was discovered in 1984, closed immediately and was demolished in 2004 with the exception of the facia which was incorporated in a rebuild providing expansion for the College.

Continuing along the road and turning into Clarendon St., the Mosque of Jamea Masjid occupies the corner site. This is apparently the longest established and largest mosque in the town with its main prayer room capable of accommodating up to 900 worshippers. Passing into Oxford St and the Shepherd St Mission building previously mentioned, we soon regained our starting point and as it had now started to rain, felt that our timing couldn’t have been better.

This was a shorter walk without obstacles or inclines, but packed with points of interest aimed at improving the knowledge of our local surroundings.

Thanks to all who attended and for the appreciative comments received.