Visitors to Moor Park may be surprised to see a large standing stone at its northern end. While it looks like a prehistoric stone from some long lost circle, its use was much more recent. It is called the “Starting Chair” and marks the starting line for horse races that were carried out here before the park existed. The area used to be called Preston Moor and was used as rough grazing ground for cattle owned by a small number of freemen of the borough.
The Historic England website states that the area was being used for horse racing at the end of the 17th century and describes the course as being ‘pegged out’. Between 1736 and 1833 annual horse races took place here and also at nearby Fulwood Moor. The Fulwood Moor track was a simple oval, while the one here had two small loops connected by a long curve, as show in the 1786 map below. The races seem to have come to an end in 1833 when Preston Corporation enclosed part of Preston Moor to create Moor Park, making it the first corporation park in an industrial English town.
The stone itself would not look out of place in a prehistoric circle, which raises questions about its origin. Its rough uncarved appearance is reminiscent of Stump Cross at Mere Clough, near Burnley. Stump Cross is thought to be a prehistoric standing stone associated with the near-destroyed Mosley Height circle; however, the Historic England website states that it was one of five late-medieval guide stones that marked the route of the Long Causeway.
Preston Moor has no record of a stone circle and the nearest medieval cross is Sherburne Cross, the socket of which now stands a very short distance away (see our page on it here). This has been moved from the nearby intersection of Deepdale Road and Blackpool Road to its present position. Is it possible that the Starting Chair was once a guide stone associated with an important route? Intriguingly, the Historic England website states that the principle western Roman road linking the north and south of the country ran across the centre of Moor Park.
At the base of the Starting Chair is a bench mark. These were used when mapping an area to calculate the height above sea level. To read more about benchmarks, see the Ordnance Survey website here.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018
Park in the free car park in Moor Park, opposite Preston North End Football Ground. Head out on the path that runs parallel with Blackpool Road (on your right). The Starting Chair stone is between the football pavilion and the Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory.
There is a café on the park, see their website here
Nearby, just a short walk away Sherburne Cross
On site interpretation boards within Moor Park. There are lots of these dotted throughout the park to let you know the sites of historic interest.
The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire: A Revised Version: Volume III Blackburn Hundred, Volume Editor A.J. Noble (2004), North West Catholic History Society
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001309 (Moor Park page)
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1072633 (Stump Cross page)