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The arts and style thrive in Preston

PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 December 2016

Members of Preston Musical Comedy Society; Dave Thomas, Chloe Thompson, Tim Dodd, Holly Weston and Peter Abbott

Members of Preston Musical Comedy Society; Dave Thomas, Chloe Thompson, Tim Dodd, Holly Weston and Peter Abbott


Mairead Mahon spends a day in Preston and finds there is plenty to make a song and dance about.

Simon Rigby Simon Rigby

‘Preston is a pretty place, with an abundance of gentry and is commonly called Proud Preston.’ So said an historian in the 18th Century as he passed through. It still has plenty to be proud of and its modern-day ‘gentry’ are making sure that’s just the way it’s going to stay.

One of these is Simon Rigby, who hails from a local farming family and who is making sure, by means of a magnificent restoration programme, that the Guild Hall and Charter Theatre is going to be the cultural hub of the city. Two years ago, it seemed that its glory days were behind it; a breath away from suffering the indignity of being boarded up. That is when Simon, who used to cycle past it as a boy, stepped in. It cost him just £1 but it was the most expensive pound he’s ever spent!

‘It certainly was as we are still losing more than £100,000 a month but, let’s look on the bright side - we do have a 999-year lease so, hopefully, we might start to see a profit by then,’ he laughs.

Simon is a shrewd businessman but there is no doubt that as a proud Prestonian, his heart was engaged in the decision too. ‘Look, I’m a Preston lad and I want our city to thrive and this is going to be a haven for leisure and for the arts. As well as food and entertainment, we also provide a home for ventures such as Curious Minds, which is funded by the Arts Council. Community use of the building is important and the people of Preston are right behind us,’ says Simon.

Martin Furber Martin Furber

It isn’t the only Preston landmark to be undergoing a transformation. One of the finest examples of a Georgian square in England is being renovated and new exclusive businesses are moving into the elegant buildings.

One of them is the bespoke jewellers, Strongfields. Owned by Martin Furber, who has been a jeweller in Preston for many years, Winckley Square has provided the perfect, sophisticated setting. Martin, who makes jewellery for clients from all over the UK, combines centuries old techniques with bang up to the minute procedures, such as 3D prints of items in nylon before going on to the final stage of making them in precious metals. There are only a handful of jewellers who use this innovative technique and it’s one of the reasons clients flock to him.

‘Preston folk are keen on heritage. As well as designing completely new pieces, I’m often asked to reset family pieces, so that they carry on being worn by younger generations. Preston men are pretty keen on their jewellery too but then, we are a sartorial lot,’ laughs Martin.

An occasional visitor to Winckley Square was Charles Dickens and, with his reputation for being dapper, no doubt he would have appreciated Martin’s fabulous pieces. We don’t know if he ever went around the corner to Halewood’s bookshop but as it was established in 1867, three years before his death, it’s not out of the question. It is the sort of place where you might expect to be met by Mr Pickwick but instead it is run by a representative of the seventh generation, Michael Halewood.

Michael Halewood Michael Halewood

‘Books are never going to go out of fashion and I can say that with confidence as students are still frequent customers,’ says Michael, who has a regular spot on local radio to discuss all things books and whose stock includes everything from local history to maps and sought after first editions, including Harry Potter.

Brian Beck of European Fine Arts and Antiques doesn’t have a radio spot but he is a first port of call when television shows such as Antique Roadtrip come to town. No wonder, as his Victorian shop is stuffed full of treasures: from a wine cooler associated with Nelson to David Beckham’s boots. However, at the moment, the piece that is drawing eyes from all over the world is George Formby’s motor bike, beautifully restored and complete with unusual foot brake - a feature that meant he didn’t risk damaging his hands.

One musician who can see the sense of that, is John North, one of the owners of The Music Cellar. John is also a brass band conductor so knows a thing or two about all things brass. Mind you, everyone who works in the shop, which has been trading for over 30 years, is an expert in one instrument or another. That’s a good thing too, because as John points out, Preston is pretty well known for its love of music with some of its musical organisations reaching back to the 19th Century. There are plenty of new ones too, including the Preston Musical Comedy Show Choir who, since their formation in 2013, have appeared with Russell Watson, Katherine Jenkins and Aled Jones. That’s something to shout about!

Furniture man sits tight

Furniture artist Robert Scott may not have decades of history behind him but, as a local boy, Preston is where he decided to base himself.

Mind you, his unique organically inspired furniture is popular everywhere, including America, where they are becoming very collectible. Robert began life as an aircraft fitter - that’s where, he says, he got his eye for detail. It has certainly stood him in good stead, as his unique pieces are exhibited at various galleries around the country. So, any plans to move away, maybe to London?

‘I am moving to a new studio but it will still be in Preston. Why not? It’s well served by transport networks and besides, it’s buzzing here- there’s plenty of good timber yards around too,’ laughs Robert.

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