Industrial city and administrative headquarters of Lancashire, northwest England, on the River Ribble, 34 km/21 mi south of Lancaster, at the highest navigable point of the Irish Sea estuary; population (2001) 184,800. Industries include textiles, chemicals, electrical goods, aircraft, plastics, and engineering; it is also an agricultural market centre. Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists at Preston in 1648. It is the birthplace of Richard Arkwright, inventor of cotton-spinning machinery, and was a centre of the cotton industry in the 18th century.
Location The main part of the town is on high ground above the river floodplain, which is used partly for parks and sports grounds. On the north side of the town there is the extensive former Town Moor. Part of the river floodplain is used for industries and also for the Preston Docks, whose freight trade with Ireland is significant. A fine communications centre, Preston suffered for many years from acute traffic congestion on its roads, especially during summer when thousands of motorists passed through it to Blackpool, but the M6 motorway to the east of the town with its spur to Blackpool alleviated its problems.
Features There are numerous churches, and Preston's skyline is dominated by the fine slender spire of St Walburge's, over 92 m/302 ft high and designed by Joseph Hansom (perhaps more famous for his cabs). The town centre has been rebuilt and includes a shopping precinct. Preston has spread beyond its previous boundaries into adjacent urban districts, notably Fulwood and Walton (south of the Ribble).
History Preston grew up near the site of a Roman fort. It was originally a market town, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book; in 1179 it was given the first of its various royal charters by Henry II. Apart from the right to hold regular markets, a fair was established by a charter of 1179, which now takes place every 20 years. From its original, but long since obsolete, relation with the rights of traders and burgesses it became known as the Preston Guild. A Royalist town, Preston was the site of one of Cromwell's victories in 1648; the town was equally unfortunate in its Jacobite sympathies later, when the ‘Old Pretender’, James Edward Stuart, was proclaimed king in its market square.
There are few visual traces of Preston's early history, as even the mansions of its nobility were swamped by early industrialization. Cotton was for many decades the mainstay of the industrial life of Preston; the first cotton spinning mill was established in 1777, and by 1835 there were 40 factories spinning cotton. There was also wool and linen weaving. In 1939 rayon manufacture began; Preston is home to the largest rayon factory in Europe. It is known in Lancashire as ‘Proud Preston’ and its central position partly accounts for its choice as the administrative centre for Lancashire. Although much of the 19th-century housing has been cleared, the town centre and the former dock areas have been redeveloped recently.
Preston was made a city in 2002 after winning a national contest to mark the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.