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History of Garstang

Garstang is a small market town, which grew up where Lancashire’s great north-south main road crosses the Wyre. The town stands on the River Wyre, the Lancaster canal, and the West Coast mainline railway and is 10 miles south of Lancaster and 11 miles north of Preston.

Being on the Great North West Highway between London and Edinburgh, Garstang was in the 18th century an important staging post for mail and passenger coaches, with thirteen public houses and taverns at one time in the town.

During the 19th century Garstang was famous for its cattle and Cheese Fairs when some 3000 head of cattle were brought down from the north each November for sale.

Cattle Fair in Garstang Market Place

The history of Garstang goes back thousands of years with Neolithic and bronze Age artefacts found in the area.

The name Garstang may have sprung from the Saxon word “Gaerstung” meaning common land or meadowland. The Doomsday Book describes it as ‘Cherestanc’.

In 1310 Edward II first granted the Market Charter to the town.

Mr. John Greenhow, head of the Garstang Fire Brigade with the Charter rescued from the Town Hall fire on 4th February 1939

In the centre of the Market Place stands the Market Cross, which is probably the most famous landmark in Garstang. It was first erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

The base is medieval in date and comprises a flight of three steps which are octagonal in plan. On the centre of the base is the square socket stone. It has undecorated panels on each face and a moulded top. The shaft is a circular tapering Doric column with an enrichment based on alternate eggs and arrowheads, known as egg and dart decoration, around the knop at the top.

The head of the cross is a simple sandstone half globe. The original cross shaft was removed in 1754 because of strong local feelings against Roman Catholics.

It was replaced by the present obelisk which, in 1897, was taken down and rebuilt, with a few alterations, as a jubilee memorial to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 60th year on the throne.

Nearby were the stocks where wrong-doers were placed to sit out the allotted hours thought necessary to expiate their crime. The stocks were destroyed by the Town Hall fire in 1939, whilst in the loft of the Old Town Hall.

Near to the stocks were large fish stones which were used to lie out fish for sale.

In the centre of Garstang by the Market Cross, are the Old Town Hall and Market House, which was partly demolished in 1755, and following the 1939 fire was then restored retaining its original characteristics.

At the north end of the High Street opposite the Council Offices stands the Old Grammar School, which was founded in 1602.

Leading from the High St. are numerous ‘Weinds’ (narrow alleyways) old pathways which at one time led from the river to the pastures adjoining Back Lane now Park Hill Rd.

Thomas Stanley, the 1st Earl of Derby built nearby Greenhalgh Castle in late 1400’s, under licence from King Henry VII. It was constructed in the form of a square with one tower. It’s presence contributed to the peace and stability of the surrounding country during those difficult times and remained until the Civil War.

After the war ended the Parliamentarians ordered the castle to be dismantled and local farmers were not slow to make use of it as an unofficial quarry. Only the ruins of one of the four corner towers survive to this day. It is said that the castle was blown out by Cromwell’s cannon from a point on which now stands Cromwell House.

In 1679 King Charles II renewed Garstang’s charter, making Garstang a free borough to be governed by a bailiff and seven burgesses.

This continued until the new Municipal Corporation Act meant the creation of the Rural District of Garstang in 1894. The parish contained the townships of Claughton, Catterall, Kirkland, Nateby, Winmarleigh, Cabus, Barnacre-with-Bonds, Nether Wyresdale, Forton, Holleth, Cleveley, Bilsborrow, and Pilling.

The Council Offices on the High Street were erected in 1913 by the Board of Guardians and acquired by the Garstang & Rural District Council in 1946.

In 1974 the re-organisation of local government meant that Garstang RDC disappeared to be replaced by Garstang Town Council and all existing administrative functions passed to Wyre Borough Council.

The Parish Church of Garstang is St. Helen, which dates from 1160 and is situated in Churchtown, about one and a half miles west of Garstang.

St. Helen’s Church

In 1769 a church was built on the present site in Church St. and consecrated in the name of St. Thomas in 1848, being created a separate parish in 1881. Before that there was a chapel of ease on the site. This was a chapel erected for the benefit of Garstang residents so they didn’t need to travel to Churchtown to worship.

St. Thomas’s church

In Garstang you also can find the Lancaster Canal. This was originally designed by the engineer John Rennie, with construction beginning in 1792 and the official opening taking place in 1797.

The canal was used to transport coal, slate, timber, food, rope and limestone and later offered a passenger service between Preston and Kendal. Garstang rope was transported to many docks including Lancaster, Glasson and Preston.

The Lancaster Canal has one of the longest lock free canals in Britain running for 51 miles (82km) with 199 bridges. The canal was prosperous until 1840 when the Lancaster and Preston railway began operating.

The main line by-passed Garstang until in 1870 a junction line was built from Garstang to Knott End but it was deemed not profitable and was closed in the 1960’s.

Garstang started to increase in size from the 1960’s and this has continued to present day. The population of the parish is now approximately 5000 and many of Garstang’s residents work locally or in the nearby cities of Preston and Lancaster.

Information provided by the Garstang Historical Society