Grantham Civic Society: Is Henry Preston a worthy candidate for a Blue Plaque?

Henry and Fanny Preston
Henry and Fanny Preston

Henry Preston was an amazing man. He taught technical evening classes as early as 1874 and founded the Grantham Scientific Society in 1890 and with it Grantham Museum. Its new building, opened by Henry, was completed in 1926 where it still stands today.

Henry had been born in 1852 and lived and contributed to the town until the day he died at his home at 52 Cambridge Street in 1940. At the opening of the museum he made a speech to the guests entitled “The Educational Value of a Museum”. Few would dispute his views and his vision. In its early days the museum relied on the efforts of Henry Preston and his friends, many of whom acted as voluntary workers for both the museum, as the Museum Guild, and the Public Library. Many years passed until the building was administered from 1986 by Lincolnshire County Council, which in later years spent its money in Lincoln whilst neglecting Grantham so it could point to declining visitor numbers. The council eventually withdrew its staff, and volunteers have continued to run the museum to this day.

Henry Preston started to work for the Grantham Waterworks Company as Clerk in 1879. He rose to become engineer, secretary and finally as manager from 1881 until 1934, and as a consultant afterwards. He was a man of many interests who led the development of the town’s cultural facilities as well as being a geologist, archaeologist and coin collector. In fact, his coin collection was gifted to the museum. He amassed many volumes of notebooks and photographs which he used to illustrate his lectures. He made archaeological discoveries at Saltersford which were kept in the museum. He was a patron of the arts and lectured widely in many parts of the country.

His working career spanned many years of the development of the town’s water company. The original reservoir was designed in 1850 to hold a million gallons of water but the coming of the railways and the huge increase in new houses and their population saw the town, it is said, using a million gallons in one day. By 1870 Mr Broke Turner agreed that the water company could use water from the springs north of Little Ponton Hall providing the waterworks and its buildings were as far away as possible from his residence. The parish boundary was at Saltersford and that is how the waterworks came to be sited there. The water had to be pumped up a slope to the reservoir. A Cornish Beam engine was used until long after WW1 then by other steam and oil engines – even one by Ruston & Hornsby – and later by electrical equipment.

Grantham owes much to the life, work and vision of this remarkable man who combined the roles of engineer manager with his other interests and a life-long belief in the value of education. We would like to honour his contribution to Grantham one day by erecting a Blue plaque on the front wall of the museum he did so much to create.