Thursday, 16 August 2012

Thursday Tour of NW England - Once in a Preston Guild

Preston is my home town, where I lived for the first 18 years of my life, and where my parents continued to live for the rest of their lives. I could write a lengthy blog about Preston, which was raised to city status 10 years ago, but as 2012 is the year of the Preston Guild celebrations, I’ll concentrate on this long-standing tradition. It’s the only Guild still celebrated in the UK and is therefore unique.

The 2012 Guild Logo
This picture file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

First the background to the Guild:
King Henry II granted Preston the right to have a Guild Merchant in 1179 and gave the town its first royal charter.
The Guild was an organisation of traders, craftsmen and merchants. Only its members could carry out a craft or business in the town and it updated its membership lists from time to time to ensure that people weren’t falsely claiming the right to trade in the town. Anybody who claimed to be a member of the Guild had to swear loyalty to the Mayor and the Guild Merchant. He would then be admitted or re-admitted.
It was accepted that this confirmation or renewal of membership was only needed only once in a generation and, as a result, from 1542, the Preston Guild Merchant ‘ceremony’ took place every 20 years.

Traditionally, traders and craftsmen held processions to demonstrate the power of the Guild. They wore colourful costumes and carried banners and emblems of their trades. These displays gradually became more and more elaborate.
There was also a civic procession at the start of every Guild, with the Guild Mayor and members of the Corporation wearing their robes of office, accompanied by trumpeters, mace bearers and sergeants in traditional costume.
The rarity of the celebration, and the fact that large numbers of people congregated in Preston for the occasion, made the Guild a special opportunity for feasting, processions, and great social gathering.

By the end of the 18th century, there was free trade in the town, but the Guild celebration survived, as it had become a prestigious social occasion. During the 19th century, the Guild celebration was widened to become a celebration for the whole town, and churches and schools started to hold their own processions. In 1922, the schools held a pageant in the large park in the town centres, and this tradition has continued ever since (I took part in one of these, in 1952!). More recently, the multicultural nature of the town has also been celebrated.

Now the Guild draws thousands of visitors to Preston, to see the processions and take part in all the other events that take place – concerts, plays, exhibitions, food and drink festivals, sports, activities in the parks, a fun fair, and firework displays, to name but a few.

The expression ‘Once in a Preston Guild’, meaning ‘infrequently’, has become common especially in North West England. Since 1542, the only time the 20 year tradition was broken was in 1942 because of the Second World War. Instead, the Guild celebration was held in 1952 and, of course, in each succeeding 20th year since then, at the end of August/beginning of September.

And this is me (arrowed), taking part in the church procession in the 1952 Guild. I was so proud of my frilly, white organdie dress and my pink rosebud headdress!


  1. Thanks. I love reading your tour of England posts.

  2. Thanks, Donna, I'm so pleased you;re enjoying my 'tour'!

  3. I think Glasgow has a similar Guild history that one of my friends loked into some years ago. What a cute photo - and it's great to have these old photos of social history.