John Horrocks established the first cotton mill in Preston in 1786. The first railway in the town was built in 1803 to connect the southern and northern sections of the Lancaster Canal. This was followed by a short railway between the quarries of Longridge to Preston.
Preston had been first represented in Parliament in 1295. Unlike most boroughs, the right to vote in parliamentary elections had been granted to all inhabitants of the town. Although Lord Derby, a supporter of the Whigs, controlled one of the seats, the other MP was often someone freely elected by the people of Preston. This created the possibility of Radical candidates being victorious.
In 1830, Henry 'Orator' Hunt, the most prominent Radical in England, was elected to represent Preston. In the House of Commons, Hunt proposed the Preston-type of universal suffrage for the whole country: "a franchise which excluded all paupers and criminals but otherwise recognized the principle of an equality of political rights that all who paid taxes should have the vote."
In 1838 the National Union Railway linked Preston to London, Liverpool and Manchester. These lines were eventually obtained by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. This increased economic activity and between 1801 and 1901, the population of Preston increased from 14,000 to 115,000.