Arthur Edwin PRESTON (1852–1942)
Mayor, antiquarian, and historian of Abingdon
Whitefield, Park Crescent, Abingdon-on-Thames
By courtesy of Abingdon-on-Thames Town Council
Arthur Preston made an extraordinary contribution both as a borough and county councillor and as an antiquarian who preserved the record of Abingdon’s history and restored its ancient buildings. The appearance and amenities of the town today owe much to his dedication, vision and benefactions.
He was born in 1852 in Abingdon, at 13 High Street, next to the old Lion Hotel, to John and Frances Preston. His father was at first a saddler and coach proprietor, later a collector of rates and taxes. Arthur attended Abingdon School, at that time in the Roysse Room, went on to take a London University degree in 1875, and in 1887 was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn. By profession he was a chartered accountant and became Borough Accountant of Abingdon.
From 1908 his long years of retirement were dedicated to public service. He had been elected to Berkshire County Council in 1895 and in 1909 was invited to be Mayor of Abingdon, though not yet a councillor – an unprecedented honour – and remained in office for three terms. He then served continuously on both borough and county councils as an elected member and was made alderman of both. A formidable administrator, he was an especially effective Chairman of the Berkshire Finance Committee and served on the Thames Conservancy Board. He was Master of Christ’s Hospital and Chairman of Governors of Abingdon School, negotiating the acquisition of the Waste Court estate for them. He was made an Honorary Freeman in 1932.
A passionate antiquarian, he was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He gathered and docketed a mass of local information, historical and biographical, and published his researches in various handbooks and pamphlets, his major work being St Nicholas, Abingdon and Other Papers. Much that is known of Abingdon’s history comes from Arthur Preston’s documentation and research. He restored the Guildhall buildings and, at his own cost, the Roysse Room and the painted ceiling of the Lady Chapel at St Helen’s. He led and financed the excavations on the site of Abingdon Abbey and proposed the acquisition of the Abbey House and grounds for municipal offices and gardens. As Master of Christ’s Hospital he restored Albert Park to a place of beauty and provided tennis, croquet and bowling lawns. He founded the Abingdon Bowling Club and was co-founder of the Frilford Heath Golf Club.
He married Lydia Jacobs of Burford in 1895 and lived at Whitefield, his fine house on Park Crescent, from 1896 until his death in 1942.
- Sources: http://www.abingdon.gov.uk/history/people/arthur-edwin-preston –
biography composed by the Abingdon Area Archaeological and Historical Society;
obituary, Abingdon School Record, Summer 1942; 1851 census and trade directories
- Photograph taken at unveiling ceremony
- Speech made by Jackie Smith at the unveiling ceremony (PDF)
- Oxford Mail, 18 June 2015: “Plaque recognises a major role in history”
The plaque was unveiled at Whitefield, now an Abingdon School house, on 12 June 2015 by Jackie Smith, Honorary Archivist of Abingdon-on-Thames Town Council. The ceremony was attended by Mrs Susan Hull, great-great niece of Arthur Preston, and by the Mayor of Abingdon, the Master of Christ’s Hospital, and the Head of Abingdon School, among others.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
Mayor and Antiquary
Historian of the borough and restorer
of its ancient buildings
Abingdon-on-Thames Town Council