Nikolaus Pevsner, in the North Lancashire edition of the The Buildings of England (1969), said this about the area around Winckely Square:
At Preston a really enjoyable perambulation … can be made. It is to explore the streets around Winckley Square. Preston is lucky to have a square, not only so large, but also on such attractively undulating terrain. To have this quarter so near the centre is the rarest of advantages.
Lancashire Parks in the 18th Century
Lancashire has a strong Georgian heritage: this period saw the development of the ports in Lancaster, Liverpool and Preston; the canals which connected them to the coal mines; the growing spinning and weaving industries. The 18th century also saw the creation of Lancashire’s many beautiful parks in the new English Landscape style, built by ambitious owners who were keen to surround their stately home with a landscape in the latest fashion. Croxteth (Liverpool), Astley (Chorley), Towneley (Burnley) and Lathom (Ormskirk) are just a few of the attractive parks which ornament the County Palatine – and which survive. Some retain earlier features, which the owner may have wished to save from the axe when their older, unfashionable garden was destroyed
Preston was the Social Centre of Lancashire. Wealthy landowning families had country seats and a home in Preston. Lord Derby had a mansion, Patten House, on Church Street. Fishergate & Church Street contained a large number of substantial properties. Preston had been identified as the wealthiest borough in Lancashire as early as 1343 in the reign of Edward III. It was here that the wealthy congregated.
Avenham Walk – Origins
The long avenue of trees was a favourite feature. In Stuart England it brought the owner and visitor straight to the front door, often via the carriage courtyard, and was a wonderful, grand approach. The most frequently planted species were lime, elm, oak, beech and sycamore, all but the last being native to Britain. Avenham Walk is an avenue of lime trees. The Walk dates back to 1696, in the reign of William III.
In the archives of Preston Corporation, now the City Council, a document records that in 1696 the municipal authorities entered into negotiations with Alderman Lemon (an ancestor of Thomas Winckley) for the purchase of land to form a promenade.
There was a reluctance by the Corporation to spend money on roads and sanitation but Peter Borsay’s ‘The Eighteenth-Century Town’ makes it clear that walks were being laid out in many towns for the purpose of ‘personal display’. He suggests that the use of Borough capital into such projects was common at the time.
Hewitson reports that in 1697 a Deed of Conveyance was signed with this description:
All that little close or parcel of land lying and being in or upon Aenam alias Avenham, commonly called or known by the name of Aenam Walk … containing by estimation about half-an-acre of land. Hewitson: History of Preston 1883 p320
The sum of £15 was paid. In 1698 approval was given for it to be planted with lime trees and a gravelled walk formed with seats for the use of the inhabitants. The Corporation requested that those responsible ‘get the work at Aenam Walk finished as cheap as they can.’
Promenaders started in Fishergate; they then crossed Syke Fields to reach Avenham Walk. Repairs were noted in 1707 and again in 1736; one entry records that
The ladies, who took great advantage of the walk, subscribed £10 towards repairing it, and this sum was supplemented by £10, voted by the Corporation.
It was clearly a much appreciated place. In Georgian society the promenade was a place to see and be seen. This custom was widespread in London and was spreading into the provincial towns and spas such as Bath, Cheltenham and Buxton.
Extending Avenham Walk
Avenham Walk was extended several times. Originally 150 yards long and 16 yards wide (137 m x 14.5 m) it was widened on its east side on land belonging to Dr. Bushell (the street name is Bushell Place). In 1844 it was widened on its west side where a retaining wall was built in front of The Colonnade. A year later it was lengthened with 2 lower terraces in the direction of Frenchwood and the river valley. It was noted in 1882 that the lime trees, estimated at over 190 years old, were in need of attention as several of them showed signs of dilapidation and decay. Even so, the writer William Pollard, in his ‘A Handbook and guide to Preston’, affirmed that few towns possessed such a beautiful prospect.
A Promising Opportunity
The popularity of this promenade is easy to understand. It is situated on a ridge, and this leads to the stunning prospect over the valley of the Ribble, a great amphitheatre of turf dipping down to the river.
In fine weather the promenade was continued along the river bank, as shown in this painting by Jenkinson. It is no coincidence that the land between Fishergate and Avenham Walk was seen by William Cross and his colleagues as a promising opportunity, a fitting place for Preston’s society and their elegant houses.
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The Walk remained a Preston institution long after it had been the preserve of high society. This image shows a view of the river and the Old Tram Bridge. Beyond is the Old Tram Road leading to Walton Summit, a 10 miles (16 Km) round trip with horse drawn wagons, to the connection with the canal network. It was short-lived. The railways in the late 1830s made it redundant.
Avenham Walk (also known as Top Walks) remains popular. It now provides a much more limited view over the Ribble because of the amount of tree cover. It still offers a fine view of the Avenham Institute building to the north.
By Elaine Taylor