Cycling the Preston Guild Wheel

This year, Preston’s unique Guild Merchant celebrations have been highlighted in several posts. The medieval pageant is held once every 20 years and is the last remaining such commemoration of a royal trading charter in Britain. This year was one of the biggest Guild Celebrations yet, with a year long calendar of events, concerts, processions and parties. The legacy project was the construction of the Guild Wheel – a 21 mile cycling and walking path surrounding the city and connecting a plethora of green spaces. I got to cycle it on Christmas Day and it was fantastic!

Christmas Day for me is usually spent lying down with the only active interludes involving reaching for a box of chocolates or moving to sit at the dining table for a vast Christmas dinner. The intense calorie-induced torpor brings on an afternoon nap followed by an evening nap. It is a perfectly pleasant way to spend the day, and I would recommend it to anyone.

But this year was different. This year I was determined to get active and go for a bike ride before Christmas dinner was served. I set off on a familiar route to Preston town centre, a traffic-free path that follows the trail of an abandoned tram line that connected Preston to the Lancaster Canal.

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Once in a Preston Guild – ever again in a Jubilympiguild?

If something happens very rarely you might say it occurs only once in a blue moon. But if you find yourself in a certain corner of northern England, someone might say such an event happens once in a Preston Guild.

Lancashire folk have a certain way with words, but in this case they are being literal. The Preston Guild only happens once every 20 years and is thus a fitting analogy for the rarest of rare things. So if you want to see something made special by its rarity, make your way to Preston because 2012 is a Guild year, and Preston aims to take its place amidst the national Jubilympic celebrations.

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Once in a Preston Guild

If something happens very infrequently you may here it referred to as being ‘once in a blue moon’. In Lancashire, ‘appen tha’ll say ‘once in a Preston Guild’. The Preston Guild is celebrated enough to become part of the language but celebrated so infrequently to become a byword for rare events.

So what is the Preston Guild? And why is celebrated only once every twenty years?

The Preston Guild dates back to 1179 and is the only such ceremony still celebrated in the UK. In 1179, Henry II granted Preston the right to have a Guild Merchant. The Guild controlled the town’s craftsmen, the right to trade in the town and the town’s marketplace. Membership of the Guild was for life, and the membership rolls were updated infrequently.

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A Passion for Preston

On Good Friday in 2012, the story of the Passion of Christ was played out live on BBC One from the distinctly unlikely surroundings of Preston Bus Station. Preston’s Bus Station is an iconic piece of 1960s architecture and arouses strong feelings in the face of the City Council’s proposals to demolish it. But whatever the merits of this icon of brutalism, it is a world away from first century C.E. Jerusalem and the Hill of Calvary.

So why did the BBC commit an hour of live programming and months of preparation to stage the Preston Passion? One of the reasons was the success of last year’s Port Talbot Passion – a demonstration that the story of Jesus’s journey to the cross could have modern relevance and generate significant interest.

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