Pendle's package holiday pioneer James Preston of Lyons Tours dies at 93

Package holiday pioneer James Brian Preston of Foulridge has died at the age of 93 after a long illness.
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Mr Preston was a pioneer of the package holiday business when he started Lyons Tours in Colne in 1955.

Before that, Mr Preston, who attended Primet Secondary Modern School, had been employed by Colne Co-operative since leaving school at the age of 14, initially in grocery, but then in the Excursion Department.

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In 1954 he won a place, through the trade union, to go on a six-week trip to the Caribbean. He was 26 and it was a life-changing experience which introduced him to mansions and rum swizzles – a life far removed from his own in Colne.

Mr James PrestonMr James Preston
Mr James Preston

When he returned he was very unsettled and knew he had to make some changes to his life.

The change was to organise a trip to Ostend for the local Wakes week. His girlfriend was Sheila Lyons so they decided to call the company Lyons Tours. The trip resulted in a net profit of £120 at a time when Jim was earning £8 gross per week at the Co-Op.

The following year, Lech in Austria was introduced in addition to the Ostend trips and profits soared to £2,500. It was also the year Jim married Sheila with a honeymoon spent contracting hotels for the next holiday season.

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By 1963 there were air tours to the Costa Brava using flights from Gatwick to Perpignan. That was a dreadful year as one of the flights crashed in the Pyrenees, 40 passengers killed due to a storm.

In 1965 there were seven telephone lines and 30 staff in quite cramped conditions over the then TSB in Colne.

The following year saw the first colour brochure – 72 pages and a two million print run. That year took 74,000 people on holiday and all without a computer. It was also the year that he bought the Exchange Street premises for £6,000.

Now a computer was essential – it took up an entire room, had to be air-conditioned and cost £60,000.

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There was a large Reservations Department with 30 telephone lines and 100 staff. Many people applied to work there as there was a free holiday each year, above average pay, subsidised lunches and double pay at Christmas.

Travel agents and rival tour operators were astounded that such a successful company was in Colne – a place they’d never heard of.

To celebrate the opening of the new premises a memorable Caribbean themed party was held at the well-respected luxury Keirby Hotel in Burnley. There was a Caribbean band and every staff member was greeted by Jim and Sheila and given a rum punch in half a coconut.

There followed Dom Perignon champagne, smoked salmon, caviar, prawns, lobster, roast humming bird, beef Wellington and profiteroles. Even today, ex-employees vividly remember that evening.

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1966 was also the year that Jim decided to sell out to Air Holdings as stress was taking its toll on his health. The agreement meant he was still MD for another few years.

By 1967, Lyons was carrying 100,000 passengers.

The following year there was a second plane crash, again in the Pyrenees. All passengers were killed in the disaster but the press coverage was diluted somewhat because, on the same day, there was another air crash in Stockport on anther tour operator’s flight.

By 1972, Air Holdings decided that the tours ran so well they would introduce their own management and that Jim was dispensable. So, 1972 saw the last Lyons brouchure and in 1973 it was changed to Castle Holidays. Three years later it closed.

Jim was only 42 and not ready to retire. He was approached by Donald Bottomley of Earnshaw and Bottomley, which took him off to La Manga, Spain.

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There were already two 4-star and and one 5-star hotel there so it was ripe for development.

Donald had suggested building and selling property there so Foreign Villas was set up just a few doors down from Earnshaw and Bottomley in Albert Road, employing just a handful of staff, three of whom were ex-Lyons.

It quickly gained a solid reputation at a time when there were a lot of sharks in the overseas property market. Sadly, Foreign Villas only lasted a few years due to the escalating Dollar Premium which was added to purchases of property abroad.

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Jim loved to travel and made frequent trips to the Costa del Sol where he and Sheila had a joint property, even though they had separated.

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Jim fell in love with Canada, and in particular, the Rockies. He thought Vancouver was wonderful and that he could live there if he ever left the UK.

In 1994 he discovered crusing with a trip to Alaska. He loved it, and thereafter, took in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Canaries, Norway and Iceland with over 40 cruises. However, his greatest love and happy place, was the Lake District where he returned again and again.

He settled in Foulridge in 1985 after a short spell in Ilkley.

Hi second wife Marylyn said: “He was a true gentleman and will be a big loss to his family and friends.”

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He also leaves behind a son, daughter-in-law and grandaughter.

A memorial service is to be held at St Michael and All Angels Church in Foulridge on Wednesday, August 3rd at 1pm. The family has said mourners do not have to wear black.

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