We followed the two oldest streets in the city, Fishergate then Friargate, then walked down Marsh Lane past an old trade sign to the sites of Ladywell and the Franciscan Friary which was demolished in 1539. Following this we visited the site of St Mary Magdalen’s leper hospital and chapel where bells still ring on Christmas Eve. Outside St Walburge’s I told how its dedication resulted from a priest curing a servant girl’s broken knee by rubbing it with St Walpurga’s oil on Walpurgis Night (!).
At the site of the Holy Trinity Church on Trinity Square I told the story of Bannister Doll. I’d first come across her in a ‘game’ at primary school that involved speaking her name three times with one’s hand on the banister then racing her ghost from the top to the bottom of the stairs. The sad ‘truth’ behind the legend is that Dolly Bannister was a teenage girl who was flogged to death by her father after he discovered she was pregnant. Afterward it was revealed she was raped. She was buried in the graveyard at Holy Trinity Church. Her vengeful ghost is said to haunt Ladywell Street and Snow Hill.
Another legend was the Black Dog of Preston who was able to howl even though she was headless and was viewed as an omen of death. She haunted Gallows Hill where twelve Jacobite rebels were hanged after the uprisings in 1715 and is also associated with Maudlands.
An ongoing theme was culverted watercourses such as Swill Brook, which formed the boundary of Preston and Fishwick and the river Syke which can be traced from Syke Hill down Syke Street under Winckley Square and to the Ribble. I also mentioned the vanished well at Main Sprit Weind, the springs curing eye ailments on New Hall Lane and baths that gave their name to Cold Bath Street and Spa Road.
Industrialisation formed another important thread. We visited Arkwright House, where Richard Arkwright invented the water frame: a machine that was central to the transition from spinning and weaving as a household business trade to the modern factory system. Neighbours reported hearing ‘the devil’s bagpipes’, an eerie prelude to the rise of the ‘dark Satanic mills’ that dominated Preston’s skyline and populace for over a century.
With the end of industrialisation the walk came to an end. I said a little about the hidden history of urban areas and people who lived there being as important as that of recognised sacred sites (albeit more difficult to find!). I was very pleased that ten people showed up and look forward to developing this walk in the future.
*With thanks to Aidan Turner-Bishop who led a folkloric walk last year from which I learnt much of this information and gained clues toward further research. Also to David Hunt for his History of Preston, which I’ve also drawn upon for this walk and Heather Crook for her article on the bells at St Mary’s in Preston Magazine.
Blog Post by Lorna Smithers