In this article, the known inhabitants of Preston during the seventeenth century are discussed. These lived in the village, walked its lanes and worked its fields - they are an essential part of Preston’s heritage. Although these folk are detached from today by up to four centuries, this is not intended to be a superficial catalogue of names - a stark, ‘people-spotting’ exercise. Where possible, occupations, location of homes and immediate families are described. As a result, these details breathe life into the villagers - they become more tangible and ‘real’. The researcher is ever hamstrung by the amount of information that is available -and as Preston was not a parish in its own right, having a parish chest brimming with yellowed documents, this will always be a handicap. However, there is a wealth of details to be probed. They include:
•Manorial Court Baron records for (Temple) Dinsley 1640 - 1652•A survey of the manor of (Temple) Dinsley in 1664 and a summary of transactions from then until 1808.•Manorial Court records of Maidencroft (Ippollitts) from 1697 and Missenden (Minsden) from 1700 that contain retrospective information.•Sundry indentures and other legal documents.•Sundry wills by Preston people.•A transcription of the parish registers of Minsden 1609 - 1642: with some gaps•The parish registers of Hitchin. These are mostly legible and helpfully note beside baptisms, marriages and burials that the subjects were ‘of Preston’.•The parish registers of Ippollitts.•Various Heath Tax returns for Preston.•A listing of Preston villagers prosecuted in 1688 for failing to pay Church Rate to St Mary, Hitchin.
A fan of documents from the seventeenth century that relate to Preston: l to r (Temple) Dinsley Manorial Court Roll of 1640; villagers prosecuted in 1688 for failing to pay St Mary, Hitchin Church Rate; Hearth Tax - exemptions in 1670. Lower centre -the burial of John, son of Daniel Joyner of Preston on 26 April 1697
Minsden Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1609 - 1642 and churchwardens
The inhabitants of Preston and Langley, together with folk from farther afield, worshipped at Minsden. People who probably lived in Preston (based on confirmed information) are shown in blue.
St Mary’s, Hitchin - Baptisms, Marriages and Burials of Preston people 1679 - 1699
The Hitchin register ‘through the carelessness and neglect of the former Registrar is wholly lost for the space of seventeen years’ from February 1648 to August 1665. As a result, it is impossible to produce a pedigree of many Preston folk before 1665. The following are noted in the St Mary register as being ‘of Preston’:
Note: With a population of more than one hundred at Preston in the seventeenth century, it’s clear that the entries listed above are not the only Preston folk to have been born, married or buried. Others may be included in the St Mary registers and not noted as being ‘of Preston’ and still more may have been noted in the records of Minsden, Ippollitts, Kings Walden and St Paul’s Walden.
The Hearth Tax and Preston
The hearth tax was introduced in 1662 and was the government’s major source of revenue. Each hearth in a home was taxed at two shillings a year which was payable in two instalments. People too poor to be rated for church or poor rates were exempt. Where Hearth Tax records survive, there is a listing of all the households in a district together with a rough indication of their prosperity, that is, the number of hearths they had and whether or not they were taxed. Sociologists have concluded that the population of a town or village can be calculated by multiplying the population by a factor of around 4.3. So, on the basis that there were around 27 households in Preston at this time (see below), the population of the village was approximately 120. There are two listings villagers for Hearth Tax purposes that I will include. The first list is dated 18 May 1663 and includes those liable for Hearth Tax with a note of the number of hearths.
The second list is dated 27 June 1670 and is of those who were exempted from the tax on the ground of ‘poverty and slenderness of estate’. The majority of these would have related to the homes of labourers and widows of labourers.
SADLEIR,Sir Edwin - 10FOSTER, John - 5GODFREY, John - 3RICHES, John - 2BIGGE, John - 2BROWNE, Thomas - 2KINGE, Edward - 1SIMSON, widow - 1TALER, John -1