Friday, 22 July 2011

Preston Curiosities

I've had a couple of days off work with Miss Franny this week and to celebrate I caught a horrendous cold and sneezed my way through the night and most of yesterday.

This didn't stop Miss Franny from allowing me to take her out to Preston for a look round though - she's made of sterner stuff than to allow a simple cold to keep her in. Even when it's mine...

Ages since I was in Preston though. I worked at Preston College for 12 years and used to go down to the town centre at least once a week, preferably when the market was filled with junk stalls!

The above photo is the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

I took the camera with me to take my mind off coughs and other violent expulsions and left Miss Franny going round the shops whilst I went off to find ... er... these shops...

This is the Miller Arcade, a Victorian shopping arcade based on the Burlington Arcade in London. It is, as can be seen from the photos, a little quieter than I remember the Burlington Arcade being!

Outside the main entrance, offset to each side is a matching pair of oblong spaces, surrounded by railings and what appears to be an entrance arch.

No one seems to admit to this but they remind me very much of entrances to underground toilets, lots of which used to exist. The provision of public toilets these days is a dying art, helped along by the main use of them these days seeming to be the sale and intake of drugs, with any poor unfortunate who just happens along at the wrong moment to wash the stones being at substantial risk.

Anyway, if anyone can confirm whether these oblongs were once staircases leading down to palaces of relief, please add a comment!

This is Stoneygate, looking back towards the centre of town. Preston had several gates, and a few streets are still named appropriately: Friargate and Fishergate etc.

This was once the most pleasant approach to Preston, having come from the bridge over the River Ribble. Of course that was contested at times in the past - Preston has hosted not one but two battles... One on the Civil War and one when the Scots came down, only to be defeated and then hunted down ferociously - there's enough to devote a future entry to these at some time.

Somewhere near Stoneygate as remembered by this "Near this site" blue placque, the Cock Pit was where Joseph Livesey first drew up the public pledge and started the Temperance Movement. He said "I can't be doin' wi' all this drunkeness when we're tryin' to concentrate so as we can bet on which bird'll rip t'other to shreds..."

Also very close to here is the Arkwright House. The white portion of the building shown was the house of Richard Arkwright. Born in 1732 he kick-started the Industrial Revolution by inventing a spinning and carding machine that produced a thread from raw cotton. Cottage industries became replaced by large mills, with housing being built around the mills to house the workers. Not everyone was overjoyed at this.

It was a time of unbelievable change for the English way of life. We now live through another similar age of great change. I remember being shown around the engineering department of a large college in 1986 being shown lots of empty rooms with computerised equipment whilst the Head of Engineering pointed out each one saying, "This one will do the work of a hundred men..." Those hundred men today are all out of work and it doesn't stop. Self-scan tills, computers where you can self-register a visit to the doctors or check-in at the airport. People won't be necessary at all in the future and the chances to meet someone else and share a conversation is doomed to become a dying art. I'd predict, because I see the beginnings of it already, that people will become more and more isolated and distrust anyone else, becoming either fearful or aggressive. I don't want to be around to see it and in that I'm sure I'm echoing every other generation since Richard Arkwright's time if not before.

The Industrial Revolution caused lots of resistance against machinery, long hours and exploitation. Those who found themselves out of work were put into the workhouses, to be separated from their wives and husbands and set to work on a diet of thin greasy leavings.

Workhouses were meant to be harsh - they were meant to give people an incentive to work as they were the last resort of starving families. There's no easy answer to this because our less harsh regime today means lots of out-of-work families get more in benefits than some workers could ever hope to earn.

In Preston, mill owners acquired mini arsenals of weapons and ammunition to defend their factories from smashers and machine wreckers.

In 1842 there was a strike by workers after wages were cut by 25%. A crowd gathered and was opposed by a troop of militia. Sam Horrocks read the Riot Act but was hit by a flung stone. The troopers levelled their guns and fired over the heads of the crowd. Thinking they were firing blanks because no one had been hit, the noisy crowd advanced. With the next volley five fell dead. The sculpture commemorating the event outside the Corn Exchange is close to the exact spot but the protagonists are facing the wrong way - they were the other way about.

Lively place, Preston...

Large versions of the photos: Harris Museum, Miller Arcade (ext), Miller Arcade (int), railed area, Stoneygate, blue placque, Arkwright House, riot sculpture

Other photos from the day included in this North West set.

1 comment:

  1. The oblong spaces were toilets (rather nice ones according to my friend!) and have not been completely filled in, just covered over.

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