The name Preston derives from the city’s original named of Priest Town. In the 12th century the village of Preston officially became a town. A tradition founded in the 12th century that is still carried out today is the Guild Merchant. The right to hold a Guild Merchant was conferred upon the Burgess of Preston by a Charter of 1179. The Guild Merchant is carried out every twenty years, with next due to be held in 2012.
Preston was the location for two significant wars in the 17th and 18th Century. One of the decisive battles won in Preston was during the English Civil War in 1643. The people of Preston supported the King, but in February 1643 Preston was captured by the parliamentarians. This did not last long and was re-captured by royalists in March 1643. Again this did not last long and the royalists were forced to withdraw from Preston in April 1643. The civil war ended in 1646 and the King was captured. In 1648 a Scottish army tried to restore him to his throne. They marched into Lancashire but they were met by an English army to the East of Preston and they were routed.
The Battle of Preston was the second significant battle to take place in the town. In 1715 a Scottish army marched into Preston and wanted to restore James II back to the throne. Many of the Preston people were sympathetic as James II was a Catholic and Preston was a stronghold for Catholicism. The English army soon marched to Preston. They set fire to the outskirts of the town but there was no widespread damage. This led to the first English attack on Preston was driven back. English reinforcements arrived and the Scots surrendered.
The 19th century saw a transformation in Preston from a small market town to a much larger industrial one. Richard Arkwright’s water frame, which was invented in Preston, brought many cotton mills to Northern England. During the 19th Century industry in Preston was dominated by cotton. By 1835 there were 40 cotton mills. There was industrial unrest in the early 19th Century with demonstrations in 1808 and 1818. The more oppressive side to industrialisation was seen in 1842, when a group of cotton workers demonstrated against the poor conditions in the town’s mills. The Riot act was read and armed troops corralled the demonstrators in front of the Corn Exchange on Lune Street. There were four demonstrators killed. A commemorative sculpture now stands where the demonstrators were killed.
In the 1950s and 60s the cotton industry continued to decline and virtually ceased. The dock also declined and closed all together in 1981. The situation deteriorated in the late 1970s as firms such as British Leyland began making people redundant. Furthermore the Courtalds factory closed in 1979 with the loss of nearly 3,000 jobs.
Preston in the 21st Century
In the 21st Century Preston is a modern city undergoing massive re-development. Preston has a population of around 129,500 people. Preston is famous for Preston North End F.C at Deepdale, which is the oldest continually-used professional football venue in the world. Preston has become a regional shopping centre for Northwest England with huge regeneration in the town centre planned. Preston has the 6th largest university in the country and currently has over 33,000 students at the University of Central Lancashire. In 2002 Preston was granted City Status by Her Majesty the Queen and is the 50th city in England.