Preston Street Songs
The Harris has joined forces with Preston Markets and students from The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to curate a ‘Harris in the City’ exhibition which showcases a sample of ballads originally printed and published in the 1800s by Preston printer, John Harkness.
John Harkness was one of Britain’s most popular and prolific printers of the 19th century. During this period, Preston was one of the country’s main centres for writing, printing and publishing broadsides, songs, and ballads.
Harkness was born in Carlisle in 1814, but by 1838 had moved to Newton Street, Preston, and worked as a tailor. Soon after he began printing, and published his first ballad from 8 Water Street, now Manchester Road, in 1841. He later established his main offices at 121/2 Church Street, but also had premises at 33 Church Street, North Road, and 93 Park Road, as well as at 18 Paradise Street, Liverpool and possibly in Blackburn. His main period of popularity was from the 1840s to 1870s, where his printing was sent across the country by train. Singers in London would collect his songs from Euston station.
Harkness was also a lithographer, produced chapbooks, printed a newspaper, the Preston Illustrated Times, was a book seller and editor and sold stationery. He also held the tender to print the Preston’s Burgess list. He is suspected to have produced broadsides for striking workers during the Preston lockout 1853/4 but remained anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Harkness later moved to Longton, and continued printing and working as a stationer in old age at Howick. He died 14th January 1898 of bronchial pneumonia, aged 83. He had eight children, six of who survived, and at least two of which were married at the chapel on Grimshaw Street. His eldest son Thomas became a stationer and bookseller at 89 Fishergate, and married Alice the daughter of artist Charles Dickinson Langley. His daughter Rozena married local building merchant Enoch Foreshaw, of Foreshaw Brothers.
After he died, most of machinery and stock was sold cheaply in Blackburn and most of his old songs used as wastepaper. The Harkness Ballad Collection was compiled by John Henry Spencer, Preston’s ‘greatest book collector’ around 1920. In 2023, the collection was digitised and made accessible to the public through a project between the Harris Museum, Lancashire Archives, and UCLan.
This exhibition was produced by undergraduate history students Jennifer Palmer, Ayaz Hussain, Gabeen Lee, Jei Kim and Soyeon Kim.
This collection is free to visit
Exploring Preston Street Songs
‘The Lancashire Witches!’ and ‘Wholesome Advice To Drunkards’ Ballads
‘Collier Swell’ and ‘The Banks Of The Blue Moselle’ Ballads
‘The Owdham Chap’s Visit To Th’ Queen’ and ‘St. Helen’s Colliery Explosion’ Ballads
‘Bonny England O!’, ‘Norah The Pride Of Kildare’ and ‘My Own Blue Bell’ Ballads
‘The Orton Ghost; Or The Devil Outwitted’ and ‘Pirate Crew’ Ballads
‘May the Queen Live For Ever’, ‘The Bridal Ring’ and ‘She Wore A Wreath Of Roses’ Ballads
‘The Queen’s Return From Scotland’ Ballad
‘The Four Leaved Shamrock’ and ‘With All Thy Faults I Love Thee Still’ Ballads
‘Greatest Lie Out Of London’ Ballad
‘The Woman Who Wished She’d Never Got Married’ Ballad
‘Polly’s Love; Or The Cruel Ship Carpenter’ and ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ Ballads
‘Duke of Marlborough’ and ‘Will Watch’ Ballad
‘Rambling Robin’ and ‘Be Careful in Choosing A Wife’ Ballads
‘My Erin O’, ‘The Witches Glee’ and ‘Fair Jessie’ Ballads