Arthur Preston was a prosperous chartered accountant who lived in Abingdon for most of his life. He served the Borough Council as its accountant for twenty-two years and as mayor for three years, and represented Abingdon on the Berkshire County Council where he was chairman of the Finance Committee. He served eleven terms as a governor of the Christ’s Hospital charity, and was also a governor of Abingdon School.
He was fascinated by local history, building up a large collection of documents and employing assistants to transcribe and translate documents held elsewhere. He is well known as the author of a major publication on the history of St Nicholas’ Church, Abingdon School, and Fitzharris Manor, written in conjunction with Agnes Baker, his historical secretary.
In 1922, he financed a major archaeological project to establish the position and dimensions of the old Abbey church (demolished in 1538), which is now marked out in the Abbey Gardens. In 1935, he paid for a major restoration of the painted ceiling in the Lady Chapel at St Helen’s.
This sense of historical continuity shows also in his achievements as a local politician and administrator. His primary concern, given his experience as an accountant, was always in financial matters, but he was largely responsible for a refurbishment of the Guildhall, and he himself paid for that of the Roysse Room. It was at his initiative that the Council acquired the Old Abbey House and its grounds. He had a detailed inventory made of the Council’s plate, pictures and muniments, and added to them from his own collection.
In the Council, Preston developed a reputation as a powerful debater who usually got his way in controversial issues. Much of the present state of Abingdon and its well-preserved heritage shows the effect of his influence and his concern for historical continuity.
Preston married Lydia Jacobs of Burford in 1895 and they lived at Whitefield in Park Crescent. She died in 1943. They had no children, but supported his nieces and nephews with generosity.
See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.
© AAAHS and contributors 2013