Preston and its surrounding area have provided evidence of ancient Roman activity, largely in the form of a Roman road which led to a camp at Walton-le-Dale. The Angles established Preston; its name is derived from the Old English meaning "priest's settlement" and in the Domesday Book is recorded as "Prestune". In the Middle Ages, Preston was a parish and township in the hundred of Amounderness and was granted a Guild Merchant charter in 1179, giving it the status of a market town. Textiles have been produced since the mid-13th century when locally produced wool was woven in people's houses. Flemish weavers who settled in the area in the 14th century helped develop the industry. In the early-18th century, Edmund Calamy described Preston as "a pretty town with an abundance of gentry in it, commonly called Proud Preston". Sir Richard Arkwright, inventor of the spinning frame, was born in the town. The most rapid period of growth and development coincided with the industrialisation and expansion of textile manufacturing. Preston was a boomtown of the Industrial Revolution, becoming a densely populated engineering centre, with large industrial plants. The town's textile sector fell into terminal decline from the mid-20th century and Preston has subsequently faced similar challenges to other post-industrial northern towns, including deindustrialisation, economic deprivation and housing issues.
Preston is the seat of Lancashire County Council, houses the main campus of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and is home to Preston North End F.C., a founder member of the Football League and the first English football champions.
Preston is recorded in the Domesday Book as "Prestune" in 1086. Various other spellings occur in early documents: "Prestonam" (1094), "Prestone" (1160), "Prestona" (1160), "Presteton" (1180), and "Prestun" (1226). The modern spelling occurs in 1094, 1176, 1196, 1212 and 1332. The town's name is derived from Old English Presta and Tun, the Tun (enclosure, farmstead, village, manor, estate) of the Presta (priest or priests).
During the Roman period, Roman roads passed close to what is now the centre of Preston. For example, the road from Luguvalium to Mamucium (now Carlisle to Manchester) crossed the River Ribble at Walton-le-Dale, 3⁄4 mile (1 km) southeast of the centre of Preston, and a Roman camp or station may also have been here. At Withy Trees, 1 1⁄2 miles (2 km) north of Preston, the road crossed another Roman road from Bremetennacum (the Roman fort at Ribchester) to the coast.
An explanation of the origin of the name is that the Priest's Town refers to a priory set up by St Wilfrid near the Ribble's lowest ford. This idea is supported by the similarity of the Paschal lamb on Preston's crest with that on St Wilfrid's.