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The Street
A potted history of the Preston Hall Museum & Park

The first ever record of the land which is now the grounds of Preston Park and its Museum was in 1184, when it was in the hands of tenant farmers. In the 14th century the de Seton family owned the manor and all of its lands. However upon the death of Sir Thomas de Seton, the estate then passed into the Sayer family- who held the estate until the 1650s when it was seized by the commonweatlh as that of a “Papist Delinquent” and declared forfeit– and then sold on by the Treason Trustees.

In the late 1600s the Withams of Cliffe and Preston held the estate until their tenure expired in 1722 when the estate was sold to Sir John Eden of Windlestone. The Preston Park estate was held by the Edens of Windeltone family for around 100 years between the 18th and 19th century (although Sir John died in 1728 and Sir Robert Johnson – Eden succeeding in 1812). Then in 1820 the estate was sold to David Burton Fowler, a well-known citizen of Yarm. David Burton Fowler then went on to build Preston Hall in 1825 and about a year on from its completion the silence of Preston hall was broken by the opening of the Stockton – Darlington Railway. As the “Locomotion No1” passed by what was the back door of the house it would pump out its cinders all over his plantation. Within three years he died leaving his holding at Preston to be split between his Great Nephews and Preston Hall and its Park were passed to his great Nephew, Marshall Robinson (who then changed his name to Marshall Fowler). When Marshall died, the property was then passed on to his eldest son, who in 1882 sold the estate to Emil Hugo Oscar Robert Ropner or Cornel Ropner as he is better known (through his presentation to the borough of a public park which also bears his name). Later as Sir Robert Ropner, he undertook major alterations to Preston Hall by adding a conservatory and a porch, reversing the face of the house – so that what was the front on the house is now the back, with the conservatory and porch to suit, along with some major structural improvements.

Then in 1924, when Sir Robert died, his title passed to his eldest son, yet the house passed to Leonard, the youngest of his five sons - who became Mayor of Stockton in 1925 and also the last member of the Ropner family to live in Preston Hall. When Leonard died in 1937, his two nephews, Leonard and William Guy leased the building to a company called Ashmore, Benson and Pease Ltd. who used the building for offices.

In 1944 disaster almost struck when a firm of building contractors bought the park and wanted to turn it into a housing estate and shopping centre, but luckily the plans for this development were abolished due to building restrictions after the Second World War. Then finally in 1947, the park was bought by Stockton Corporation for use as a public park, museum and art gallery and was opened by Aldedrman C.W. Allinson in 1953.

The museum went on to display many items that were left to Stockton Borough by late Colonel G.O. Spence (items such as snuff boxes, armour and pastorals).

In April of 1968, with the official opening of the County Borough of Teesside, Preston Hall Museum became protected by the Teesside Museums and Art Galleries Service, and then because of this, the winter of 1968-69 was spent redecorating galleries. New galleries were opened and all the collections were restored. Museum and gallery were re – opened in April 1969 by the Right Honourable Miss Jennie Lee (Minister with special Responsibility for the Arts).

In the April of 1974 the Museum was taken under the control of Stockton Borough Council, where the period rooms and street have been greatly developed, new areas have been opened for the display of armour, and of course, best of all is the development of the period street that is for ever continuing. It is no wonder Preston Park has become such a success as it is today.

116 acres of parkland and woodland surrounding Preston Hall Museum is an important wildlife resource and key recreational area. Quarry Wood an attractive rectangular shaped woodland is situated with steep sided valley on the banks of the River Tees. The wood contains a large number of trees including oak, ash, adder, beach and horse chestnut. The age and variety of the trees provide a good habitat for bids such as spotted woodpecker, nuthatch and tree creeper.

Visible is the route of the original track bed of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It ran through the grounds of Preston Hall (built in 1825) until about 1852, when the Leeds Northern Railway was built along the present line quarter of a mile away. There was trouble between the railway and the owner of the Hall, David Burton Fowler, when sparks from a locomotive damaged saplings on the Estate. It was probably also here that Locomotion hauling the opening day’s train on 27th September 1825 ran its legendary race with a stage-coach along nearby Yarm Road.

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