Preston and the communications revolution

Preston Telephone Exchange 1918 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Few people know that the electrical communications revolution began in the 19th century. In the 1870s, the wealthy could telegraph New York to book a hotel, then hop on a steamer and be there in 14 days. Liverpool was the nearest home port for steam services to New York.


Preston had a telephone line to Manchester in 1882, in time for Guild celebrations. The Victorian Internet began with the first transatlantic cable, installed in the 1860s

Telegraph lines followed the railways and Preston was connected in 1844. As a result, railway time became the national standard. Large cities had up to six telegraph circuits.

Another form of communication was the newspaper. This reached its height in the 1880s. Preston had no less than 50 periodicals and newspapers, some of very short duration. For example, The Empire Journal lasted less than a year. In addition, the end of taxes on printed matter led to an explosion in publications.

The Preston Diaries

The Preston Chronicle 1812 – 1894 Photo:
The Preston Chronicle 1812 – 1894 Photo:

The Preston Journal was one of the first local newspapers. Later this merged with The Preston Chronicle, in 1812. The Chronicle was a liberal newspaper and had closed in 1894.

Perhaps the oldest newspaper was The Preston Guardian, started by reformer Joseph Livesey in 1844. It closed in 1964. Livesey was a teetotaler and anti-Corn Law campaigner.

After the end of the knowledge tax in 1855, the Guardian appeared weekly. It was a liberal progressive newspaper that had gone offline in the mid-1960s.

Preston Guardian 1900 Photo: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Guardian 1900 Photo: Preston Digital Archive

The Guardian was aimed at a broad, predominantly male audience. The document covered fictional stories as well as history and politics. There are also periodicals for women.

Latest fashions for 1895, Weldon's Ladies Journal Pic: Jstor
Latest fashions for 1895, Weldon’s Ladies Journal Pic: Jstor

Telegraph companies in Preston

Prior to 1870, two telegraph companies operated in Preston. The Electric Telegraph Company and The English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company. They both had offices in Preston and were founded in the 1840s.

Telegraph message receipts Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Receipts of telegraphic messages; cost depended on distance sent Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Prior to this period, the railways were the exclusive users of the telegraph network. However, enterprising companies have opened the system to the public. The Electric Telegraph Company also laid submarine cables to the Isle of Man. In 1870 the telegraph network was nationalized, under the management of the Post Office and remained so until 1982, when domestic telegrams ended.

Commercial Uses of the Pic Telegraph: Cambridge University Press
Commercial Uses of the Pic Telegraph: Cambridge University Press

The telegraph was mainly used by businesses. Other pioneering communications based in Preston include one of the first roll on roll off ferry services to operate in Britain.

Passenger Services from Preston Docks

MV Bardic Ferry Pic: Dover Ferry Photo Forum
MV Bardic Ferry Pic: Dover Ferry Photo Forum

Shortly after World War II, Preston Docks was booming. The grandiose Atlantic Steam Navigation Company began operating passenger services from Preston in 1948. It was a ro-ro car ferry service to Northern Ireland. The first boats were based on World War II landing craft, originally used to land troops and vehicles.

In 1957, custom-built car ferries crisscrossed the Irish Sea. However, the Preston ferry was dependent on the tides and required tugs to dock at Preston. Consequently, the service ended in 1972. Larger ferries could not dock at Preston and the cost of dredging increased.

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