Preston was established as a port at the head of the estuary of the River Ribble. It became important from Roman times as a river crossing and rich from the weaving of wool in the Middle Ages.

Preston had first been represented in Parliament in 1295. Unlike most boroughs, the right to vote in parliamentary elections had been granted to all inhabitants of Preston. Although Lord Derby, a supporter of the Whigs, controlled one of the seats, the other MP was often someone freely elected by the people of Preston. This created the possibility of Radical candidates being victorious.

John Horrocks established the first cotton mill in Preston in 1786. The first railway in the town was built in 1803 to connect the southern and northern sections of the Lancaster Canal. This was followed by a short railway between the quarries of Longridge to Preston.

In 1830, Henry 'Orator' Hunt, the most prominent Radical in England, was elected to represent Preston. In the House of Commons, Hunt often spoke on the subject of radical reform. However, Hunt was opposed the 1832 Reform Act as it did not grant the vote to working class males. Instead he proposed what he called the Preston-type of universal suffrage, "a franchise which excluded all paupers and criminals but otherwise recognized the principle of an equality of political rights that all who paid taxes should have the vote."

Cotton factories in Preston in 1835
Cotton factories in Preston in 1835

In 1838 the National Union Railway linked Preston to London, Liverpool and Manchester. These lines were eventually obtained by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. This increased economic activity and between 1801 and 1901, the population of Preston increased from 14,000 to 115,000.

Primary Sources

(1) Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)

Preston is a fine town, but not like Liverpool or Manchester. Here's no manufacture; the town is full of attorneys, proctors, and notaries. The people are gay here; it has by that obtained the name of Proud Preston.