Preston: From Textiles to Missiles (5 of 6)

Preston: from Textiles to Missiles – Blog 5 of 6 in this series about business in the Northwest of England.

Once described by Karl Marx as ‘the next St. Petersburg’, the City of Preston has a proud history as a bastion of the textile industry and a hotbed of innovation, dissent and rebellion. In Roman times, the road from Carlisle to Manchester passed within 3/4 mile of what is now the centre of Preston and this helped to establish a permanent settlement there. Situated as it is, almost exactly half-way between Edinburgh and London, it was the site of several major battles in the disputes that surrounded the formation of the United Kingdom, including the English Civil War (1648) and the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

Since the 13th century, textiles have been a major part of the Preston economy, with local people creating a thriving cottage industry for wool. This was boosted by the arrival of Flemish weavers in the 14th century, culminating in a massive boom during the industrial revolution, largely due to the widespread use of Richard Arkwright’s Water Frame, a spinning machine designed in Preston. The city (then a town) was the scene of a number of trenchant worker’s strikes during this period of prosperity. One such strike, in 1842, resulted in the deaths of four workers who were shot by soldiers.

After the First World War, the textile industry in Britain collapsed, and so did the economy of Preston. Some relief came from the growth of new industries in the manufacture and engineering of electrical goods, and production and weaving of man-made fibres at the Courtauld’s factory, but it was limited and short-lived. By 1981, the factories were closed and the town was firmly in decline again. Service and weapons manufacturing industries have provided something of a revival in recent years and, as part of the Queen’s jubilee celebrations in 2002, Preston was awarded city status.Preston_bus_station_

Nowadays, the single largest employer in the Preston area is BAE systems, which operates two high-technology development sites to either side of the city, as well as two large offices within its limits. Other notable companies include The Carphone Warehouse (now part of Best Buy Europe), Skiddle, an event ticketing company, Goss Graphic Systems, a US-based company that exports printing presses, and a host of companies in the financial sector, including insurance, consultancy and debt collection firms.

Preston’s transport networks are some of the best in the region. It is bounded by four motorways (M6, M55, M61 and M65) as well as being a major stop on the West Coast main line, with direct connections to fifteen major UK cities. This has attracted major haulage and distribution companies, including James Hall and Freightlink Solutions, both with large operations in the city. The city’s docks are now rarely used for transport but have been extensively redeveloped and now host a large number of commercial, leisure and residential properties.

In the retail sector, Preston has two shopping centres (Fishergate and St. Georges), plus a third specialist range of shops at the Miller Arcade. The two main shopping streets are Fishergate and Friargate, which together account for a large proportion of Preston’s economy. Further redevelopment has been difficult to achieve in Preston so far, with even the recent award of city status largely failing to attract viable investment. Many of the large residential developments are standing empty, with a high rate of repossession, though this is expected to improve in light of the recent turnaround in the global economy.

For now, businesses well suited to Preston might well be those in the retail, distribution and financial sectors, though like the Northwest as a whole, its economy is stabilising and diversifying into more technology and knowledge driven businesses as the global economy rights itself after the most recent financial crisis.

Pointers

  • Since the 13th century, textiles have been a major part of the Preston economy
  • After the First World War the textile industry in Britain collapsed, and so did the economy of Preston
  • Service and weapons manufacturing industries have provided something of a revival in recent years and, as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 2002, Preston was awarded city status
  • Today, the single largest employer in the Preston area is BAE systems
  • Preston’s transport networks are some of the best in the region and this has attracted major haulage and distribution companies to the city
  • In the retail sector, Preston has two shopping centres plus a third specialist range of shops at the Miller Arcade
  • Further redevelopment has been difficult to achieve, with even the recent award of city status largely failing to attract viable investment
  • Many of the large residential developments are standing empty, with a high rate of repossession, though this is expected to improve in light of the recent turnaround in the global economy
  • For now, businesses well suited to Preston are those in the retail, distribution and financial sectors
  • However, like the Northwest as a whole, its economy is stabilising and diversifying into more technology and knowledge driven businesses

Apr 14, 2015