Introduction - Methodology
This history of Preston has been compiled after collecting every available historical reference to the village. Most of these have then been included according to their historical context. Inevitably, conflicting views have been found using this method of research. These have been included. Since the twelfth century, Preston has been dominated by Temple Dinsley in its various incarnations. Most of the surrounding homes were owned by the estate and many of the local work force, male and female worked for the incumbents. Hardly surprisingly, much of the history of Preston bound up with the history of Temple Dinsley. The text, like so many historical narratives, is sprinkled with words such as, ‘likely’, ‘possibly’, maybe’, ‘perhaps’ and so on. History is not an exact science and the reader may choose to apply the occasional pinch of salt to what has been written. I have also occasionally added my observations, which are just that - personal observations. The Preston History web-site is a filing cabinet of information. Links to relevant articles about Preston’s history are provided which add considerably to the account. The articles have not been included here as they would render this history article even longer. These links will be shown thus:
To access a link, simply clickLINK’.
Preston’s topography and location
Preston’s topography - it’s natural features - has been unchanged for millenia.
Kings Hill Plantation at the bottom of Preston Hill illustrates the local chalk strata.
Preston is perched on a chalk ridge of the Chiltern Hills. Over the chalk, there is a skim of clay with flints. This drains poorly but, when ‘puddled’, ponds are formed that hold their water. This feature was probably critical for this location to be chosen as a settlement. In some places, such as Kiln Wood, ‘brick earth’ is to be found. The uses to which Preston’s fields were put always reflected the topography. Early crops would not flourish because the land took weeks to warm after the chill of winter. But it was worthwhile to grow root vegetables such as turnips. Summer sowings of wheat, barley and oats were rewarding. The land was also used extensively for grazing sheep. Hitch Wood, Wain Wood and West Wood are today the remnants of more extensive forests which provided fuel and food for families as well as hunting and shooting opportunities for the gentry. One of Preston’s charms is that the village is not overlooked or dominated by hills or high ground. At 143 metres, the village is only 10 metres below the highest point of Hertfordshire. The drawback to this sense of spaciousness is Preston’s exposure to the bleak easterly winds that sweep in seemingly unchecked from Siberia.
The origins of Preston and its place-name
The first known historical reference to the place-name Preston in Hertfordshire was during an inquest of the Knights Templar in 1185: ‘In Villa de Prestune sunt quatuor caracatae in dominio ex dono Bernardi Balliol et partim ex dono Oliveri de Malvoier, etc.’ Translated, this says, ‘In the village of Prestune are four carucates (approximately the equivalent of 480 acres) given by Bernard de Balliol and Oliver de Malvoier.’ To give an idea of the extent of this gift, below is an area around present-day Preston which measures about 480 acres. But please note, this is certainly not intended to represent the actual dimensions of the gift - although it does roughly conform to what many would regard as today’s Preston and its environs.
Several authorities agree that ‘Prestune’ was an Old English word. They infer from this that the village in Hertfordshire predates the Domesday Book of 1086. Thus, Prof. Tom Williamson writes that as Preston is derived from an Old English word, then the hamlet existed at the time of Domesday: ‘The parish of Hitchin contains four subsidiary hamlets (including Preston) and these to judge from their names (which are of Old English type), were almost certainly in existence in the time of Domesday although not mentioned in it’. He added, ‘the priest tun suggests that it was originally the portion of the estate (of Hitchin) reserved for the sustenance of the minister priests’. Reginald Hine concurred. He wrote that ‘Preston’ was ‘derived from the genitive plural of the O(ld) E(nglish) word, preost’. This, unsurprisingly, means ‘a priest’. He went on to state that it may refer to (1) a ‘tun’ where there was a resident priest (which was such an unusual situation as to justify the place-name, ‘Preston’ being adopted) or (2) a community of priests dwelling beside a church (which was afterwards formed into the Preceptory of the Knights Templar) or (3) an outlying portion of the two hides belonging to the minister of Hitchin referred to in the Domesday Book. Thus, one may say that, historically, the village of Preston probably had a religious presence. As to why a community became established at this location, perhaps there were two fundamental reasons. Firstly, there was an unusual local preponderance of ponds because of the chalk and clay geology of the district and so there was easy access to water for households, farmers and travellers. Secondly, the village was perched on the edge of the Chilterns and was therefore at one of the highest locations in Hertfordshire. The 150-metre contour line passes through the present-day Castle Farmhouse.
“Subsequent gifts from King Stephen, who confirmed the Baliol grant, and others in Kings Walden and Charlton created a substantial estate, and a Preceptory was established at Dinsley, hence Temple Dinsley, by 1185, at which date the adjacent place-name Preston (the Priest’s farm) is first mentioned. There is no discrepancy in Preston being a Post-Conquest foundation despite the Saxon name (it is not mentioned in Domesday, though Wedelee and Dinsley are); there are many Prestons in England, and most have been shown to be Post-Conquest foundations (pers comm Tom Pickles) (ie from personal communication with Tom Pickles).”
The assertion that most Prestons in England had post-Conquest foundations despite having an Old English place name is at odds with the comments noted earlier. I decided to check whether it was accurate. Wikipedia notes thirty-eight Prestons in England - from Sussex to Somerset to Northumberland. Bearing in mind that many of these were small villages, how many were noted in Domesday? When I searched ‘Preston’ on the Domesday Book on-line page of the National Archives, there were sixty-three ‘hits’, and although several of these were duplicated, there were thirty-eight Prestons mentioned in Domesday (the same number is a coincidence as the second set of Prestons didn’t correspond with the ‘Wikipedia thirty-eight’). This contradicts the statement made above. tried to contact Dr Tom Pickles (then Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Cheshire) in 2014 to clarify his ‘personal communication’. I referred to the document noted above and added, ‘I would be most grateful for your further comments on this subject and any sources to which you would direct me, please.’ He was kind enough to reply. These were his verbatim comments:
From these comments it is clear that the quote attributed to Dr. Pickles in the document was in fact not his view - indeed, it contradicted his thinking. Therefore, in the absence of any other supporting evidence, I suggest that the document’s comment should be disregarded. Dr Pickles also sent a copy of his 2009 academic paper (which ran to 107 pages), “Biscopes-tūn, muneca-tūn and prēosta-tūn: dating, significance and distribution”, for which I was very grateful. Several of his in-depth comments make for significant reading as we seek to understand the history of Preston village. For reasons which will become obvious, I will now summarise Reginald Hine’s words in History of Hitchin which were based on fourteenth century manuscripts. In 758 AD, Offa fought three battles around Hitchin. Following his final victory, he had a monastry built at Hitchin which was founded according to the rule of St Benedict. Much of the monastry (and of Hitchin) was destroyed by fire in 910 AD. Little is known about what happened to the monks after the blaze and it is possible that St Mary’s was built on the site of the monastry. The Domesday Book refers to the ‘monasterium’ (or minister) of Hitchin which Hine says may refer to 1) the monastry, or 2) a college of secular priests who served the spiritual needs of neighbouring churches, or 3) a large parish church. In any case, Hitchin together with the Wymondleys, Ippollitts and Dinsley formed a deanery which was still in existence in 1291 when a tax was collected to pay for a crusade. So, from around 758 AD until at least 1291, there was a local community/communities of priests around Hitchin - to which Dr Pickles was probably referring. There was, for example, a religious house at Minsden, because it was mentioned in Domesday. The thrust of Dr Pickles paper was to examine the hypothesis of Margaret Gelling that place-names which ended in tun (such as Bishopstun, Monkstun and Prieststun) came into being in the later Anglo-Saxon period - a belief that he declared he ‘ultimately’ supported. She suggests that these types of place names were coined in the later Anglo Saxon period replacing earlier names for the places to which they refer. She also asserts that a large proportion of these names were coined in the late eighth, ninth, tenth or eleventh century as a result of the reorganisation of estates to provide a separate endowment for bishops or for parts of a religious community. Dr Pickles produced historical evidence that some places were named preosta-tun as early as the seventh century. These communities might have been used for a range of purposes by the local clergy. It might be used for food and clothing; or to provide income that would then be split into portions for individual clerks; or it might be used as a source of communal land from which individual clerks could hold portions whilst they were active members of the community. Dr Pickles concluded that, ‘a significant proportion of these places (which came to be known as ‘Preston’) is known to have been owned by a religious community or is likely to have been owned by a religious community; such associations make an original name in the genitive plural very likely’. In view of what is set out above as regards the religious history of the locality, it seems likely that the village of Preston, Herts was so called before Domesday - a name that reflected religious activity in and/or around the village. This article is not only about the place-name of Preston but when the village came into being It may have been in existence for years before it was so christened - hence Margaret Gelling’s comment that place-names like Prestune replaced ‘earlier names for the places to which they refer’. Preston may have been in existence for centuries before Domesday and Wikipedia’s assertion that, “The village grew up around the Templar holdings at Temple Dinsley” is probably incorrect.
Speculation that a Roman road ran through Preston
The Norman Survey of Britain (1086) - ‘The Domesday Book’
Following the Norman invasion of 1066, it took twenty years for the government of England to settle down. It was then time for the victorious French to meticulously assess exactly what they had conquered and how the country should be taxed. So, a survey was commissioned in 1086. This was later irreverently called the ‘Domesday Book’ by the sardonic English – a reference to the extraordinary detail
The list included all the woodland, pasture, millponds and fishponds, towns and villages. Each place was assessed in ‘virgates’ (30 acres) or ‘hides’ (a hide was not a unit of area, but expressed the quality of the land – whether light or heavy. Having said this, a hide measured around 120 acres). The residents of England were classed as either villeins (free men - tenant farmers who held land in return for the services they provide to their lords to small landowners who owned their plots outright), cottars aka cottagers or bordars (unfree peasants with little or no land) and slaves. Rents, labour services and plough teams were assessed to see how much money could be squeezed from the nation. Also included in Domesday were disputes over who held land.
Although the settlement we know as ‘Preston’ very likely existed in 1086, it was not mentioned in the Domesday Book. The challenge for us is to determine what section of the book included Preston. To do this, the following place names of the time will be discussed - Hitchin, Dinsley aka Deneslai and Welei. In 1086, Hitchin was a sprawling, royal manor. As well as being a manor in its own right, it was also the centre of a cluster of fifteen smaller manors. These had a total area of more than 4,000 acres. And just a clarifying word about manors - although these were administrative units, they did not govern the same area as a parish. Manors were centred on a nucleus, but sometimes included other pockets of land some distance away. Now follows a list of the manors within the Royal Manor of Hitchin as recorded in The Domesday Book. Please note that the second largest manor in the district at Domesday was Dinsley. In brackets are the modern place-names assigned by historian Wentworth Huyshe and agreed by Reginald Hine – the queries indicate uncertainty of identification:
Re: Dinsley/Deneslai: The first mention of Deneslai is in Domesday. Professor Skeat asserts that ‘Dinsley’ is derived from the chieftain Dyne – Dynes Hill or Dynes Lea. However, the Hertfordshire historian, Salmon, states, ‘Deneslai might be derived from the Danes Land, who were much in the Hundred of Dacorum and nearer as the Six Hills (in Stevenage) convince me’. Glover attributes the name to ‘Dyn(n)e’s clearing or wood’. A translation of the Domesday entry for Deneslai: King William holds Deneslai. It is assessed at 7 hides (1,680 acres). There is land for 20 ploughs. In the demesne (the Lord’s land) there are 3½ hides (840 acres) and 3 ploughs are on it and 19 villeins have 8 ploughs between them and there could be 9 more. There are 7 bordars and 7 cottars and 6 serfs and 1 Frenchman (a settler from abroad, not necessarily French), a Kings almsman. Two sokemen (free men) held this manor as 2 manors of Earl Harold in the time of King Edward and could sell. Yet they each found 2 averae and 2 inwards in Hiz; but this was by injustice and by force as the Hundred (Court) testifies. These 2 manors Ilbert held as one and he was seized thereof by the King’s brief for as long as he was sheriff as the Shiremoot testifies. But after he ceased to be sheriff, Peter de Valongies and Ralf Tailgebosch took this manor from him and attached it to Hiz because he refused to find the avera for the Sheriff. Geoffrey de Bech, Ilberts successor, claims in regard to this manor to have the King’s mercy. On the basis of this information, there were approximately 180 men, women and children living in Dinsley, inhabiting approximately 40 houses. Re: Welei : The Domesday entry for Welei indicated that there were about eighty-six people living in the manor, occupying nineteen homes. It occupied two hides or approximately 240 acres. The area of woodland was extensive as it supported 300 pigs who fed on acorns and beech mast.
Of Dinsley/Preston Castle
Following the Norman Conquest and the Domesday assessment of the worth of England, we focus on the next literal landmark in Preston’s history – a relic of which remains today (if the tales of historians are to be believed). Firstly, some comments about the French baron, Guy de Balliol. He played a prominent part of the invasion of Britain and was rewarded with swathes of land in the northern part of the new Kingdom. One of the first priorities for the conquerors was to impose themselves on the natives to head off any retaliatory uprising and cement their powers of administration. So, during the next fifty years or so they built castles. Many so grand and so sturdily built that they survive a millennium later. William Rufus granted Guy de Balliol the enormous estate of Bywell in Northumberland in 1094. He occasionally spent time in Britain – enough to cause a writ to be produced prohibiting him from hunting on another’s land – preferring to stay in France. It is reported that he ‘began the construction of a ring-work defence’ at what is now Barnard’s Castle before the Castle was actually built. As well as his northern estate, Guy was also granted land in Hertfordshire. Amazingly the only reference to this is dated more than 350 years after the gift was made – and its extent must be inferred. The Cottonian Manuscript of 1463 records that previously, de Balliol’s widow gave the brothers of St Albans monastery ‘one virgate of land in Hehstantune (ie Hexton, Herts)’. It has been reasoned that if it was in the power of the Balliols to make this grant, then ergo they must have been given the land themselves. Since Hexton was within the Royal Manor of Hitchin, it has also inferred that the entire Manor was included in this gift. This would have included Dinsley and Preston. On a mere two lines in a document written centuries after the event such suggestions are hung! There is some corroboration of this in Testa de Nevill (1234/35) in which Hugh de Balliol was said to hold Hitchin – it being the gift of Henry III. Meanwhile, Guy died on an unknown date. His heir was his cousin, Bernard de Balliol I (senior), who succeeded to his uncle’s estates sometime between 1112 and 1130. And now we have the Preston connection, for it is Bernard’s Purbeck marble effigy which was discovered at Temple Dinsley and now rests by a window at St Marys, Hitchin. Link: Here we have concrete (or marbled) proof of Bernard’s attachment to the area. Returning to the subject of castles and their part in the subjection of hostile locals (who included the Scots), Bernard built one of the grandest Norman castles overlooking the River Tees at what is now known as Bernard’s or Barnards Castle (see below):
“(Bernard de Balliol II, Junior) would no doubt have been present at his father’s interment in the chapel (at Temple Dinsley) and was probably often in residence at the castle at Preston which, I believe, was built by him close to the Templars’ establishment. The site of Preston castle is about 650 yards distant from Temple Dinsley. I find it on record that in the year 1278, the Prior of Wymondley was in possession of the site of the Castle of Preston at a yearly rent of 10/- which would seem to point to the fact that it was then either dismantled or completely destroyed, and this of course helps to explain the entire absence of any remains of the building, for in the course of 625 years its very ruins would perish, probably having served a quarry for subsequent buildings. Its stones and beams may still exist in the old cottages at Preston. It is possible, however, that the castle was totally destroyed by fire. I have not been able as yet to find any direct reference to Preston castle except that which I have mentioned, in the year 1278. If therefore Guy de Balliol...built the castle about the time the Manor was granted to him by William Rufus, and if the reference to the Prior of Wymondley holding the site means that it had been destroyed by that time, the castle was in existence less than 200 years. From it many a time no doubt, Bernard de Balliol went to the Templars’ Mass at the Preceptory Chpel and knelt by his father’s tomb. It is natural enough therefore that we should find him among the benefactors of the (Templars)”.
As the Balliols so imposed themselves in Northumberland, they did likewise near Hitchin. They built Deneslei/Dinsley Castle at Preston on the site of what today is known as Castle Farm. Why build a castle here? The thinking was that the structure was to dominate the area. Preston is on a high ridge of the Chilterns - and a 150 meter contour line runs through Castle Farm. A tall castle built here would tower above the trees of Wain Wood to be clearly seen in Hitchin and the surrounding district. Reginald Hine asserts that ‘the keep, bastion and curtain walling (high walls to guard against the lofty trajectory of missiles from stone-throwing machines)’ of the castle could be seen in Robert Hinde’s time – an indication of the size of the structure. Wentworth Huyshe in The Royal Manor of Hitchin (1906) makes the following comments about Dinsley Castle:
Preston in the Domesday Book - the Manors of Dinsley and Welei
Above, transcripts of the entries for Hitchin (Hiz), Welei and Dinsley in the Domesday Book
Preston in the Domesday Book - in which Manor did Preston lie?
With which manor was Preston included for Domesday? The surprising, short answer is that no-one knows with absolute certainty. But there has been considerable debate on the subject. Historian, Wentworth Huyshe, made this point in 1906: “Welei is mentioned immediately after Hitchin in the Domesday Book. Hitchin and Preston geographically are close.” He argued that Preston was Welei. Hitchin historian, Reginald Hine, agreed. However, I would argue that other districts such as Ippollitts and Wellhead (which were also not mentioned in Domesday) were even nearer to Hitchin than Preston and so could have been Welei if that argument is pursued. Victorian County History adds to the uncertainty by stating, ‘…..Welei cannot be identified with certainty’. Evelyn Lord cast further doubt about the location of Welei in The Knights Templar in Britain (2002). She suggests that it could be represented by the modern place name of Wellhead (which is close to Hitchin). Also in 2002, Prof. Tom Williamson joined the discussion when he referred to ‘the vill(age) of Welei or Wilei which comprised a large part of the later parish of Preston’. He included a map which showed Welei as immediately south-west of Wain Wood and separate to and to the north of Preston. He then adds, ‘in the south of the parish of Ippollitts just to the north of the modern village of Preston lies Wain Wood and the probable site of the lost Domesday vill(age) of Welei.’ (The Origins of Hertfordshire) No reasons were offered for the location assigned to Welei. So, historians are divided over the identity of the manor which included Preston and, as the twentieth century has passed, the matter has become clouded rather than clarified. However, may I suggest that there is an obvious objection to the theory that Preston lay in the manor of Welei.
A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
A detailed history of Preston: Part one
A pond near Castle Farm, Preston
The flints and clay in this field beside the Kings Walden Road are typical of the area
However, the assumption that Preston, Herts predated 1086 because of the old-English origins of its place-name was challenged in 2010 by a locally-sourced article which stated:
1. Coining: I think a lot of the place-names Preston (preosta-tun, 'the estate of the priests') were coined in the later-eighth, ninth, tenth or early-eleventh centuries, i.e. pre-Conquest in the Anglo-Saxon period. I think this was so because it was common for abbots/abbesses of religious communities to hold all the land before the later eighth century, when we start to see groups of priests holding some of the community's land for their own use; because the majority of these names existed by Domesday Book (1086x1088); and because very few applied to estates in the hands of priests after 1066. So they seem likely to belong to the period between the mid eighth century and the mid eleventh century. But some may be post 1066, of course. 2. Meaning: I think they referred to land set aside for the use of priests - I explore some possibilities for their use in the paper. 3. Social Context: I think the land was set aside and the names were coined for it when an existing religious community was taken over and reorganised, often by a king or bishop. 4. Hitchin: Though I did not consider Hitchin as a case study, it may be a pre-1066 community of clergy, part of whose land (the preosta-tun) was set aside for the priests for a specific purpose. I seem to recall off the top of my head that Hitchin was a small community of priests in Domesday Book?
that was amassed, such as the Angel would compile on the Day of Judgement or Doomsday.
Preston in the Domesday Book - The Royal Manor of Hitchin
For this reason, maybe Preston was included in the manor of Dinsley (which was of seven hides or around 840 acres). This
In Domesday, Welei consisted of two hides (approx. 240 acres). Around a century later (as discussed earlier) Preston was made up of four carucates . It has been written that, ‘though a carucate might nominally be regarded as an area of 120 acres, and can usefully be equated to certain definitions of the hide, its variation over time and depending on soil and fertility makes its actual figure wildly variable. in other words, a carucate was around the same area as a hide. Thus, at four caracutes (approximately the equivalent of 480 acres), Preston was double the size of the Manor of Welei which was assessed at two hides in Domesday..
appears to be corroborated firstly by the names assigned to the Temple and Castle which were built in the vicinity of Preston in the twelfth century - ie Temple Dinsley and Dinsley Castle and secondly, by the fact that much of Preston was still in the Manor of Temple Dinsley in the seventeenth century.
In this account, the reader will have noticed the use of words such as ‘probably’. ‘would seem’, ‘may’, ‘if’, ‘no doubt’ and so on. The only tangible historical reference to Dinsley Castle was in 1278. The rest of Huyshe’s comments are inferences which may or may not be accurate. Hine in his Early History of Temple Dinsley writes: ‘These Balliols belong not so much to the parish of Hitchin and to the castle of Dinsley as to this realm of England’. ‘ cry comes across the centuries from those who rotted in the dungeons of the Balliols...(who) cursed the cruel castle of Deneslai..’ ‘the castle of Dinsley which, when the Balliols were banished, was brought into ruin and rented by the Prior of Wymondley at a mere 10s by the year’. Back to Hine: in the chapter of Hitchin Worthies that features Robert Hinde, he asserts that there was a manuscript History of Hitchin in St Albans Museum which mentions the remains of Dinsley Castle and a tradition related by a Mrs Hinde of Preston ‘that in early times there was a battle there; that one party took their station where Hunsdon Hall (aka Castle Farm) is now and the other on Kings Hill, that one party was pursued to Gosmore where a king was killed and buried under a tumulus there. Flimsy confirmation of this story was to be found in the London Guildhall library where EA Downman had lodged some plans, dated 1902, of these earthworks. After some email correspondence, this manuscript of collected notes was traced to Hertfordshire Archives and the relevant part is now shown:
The tumulus at Gosmore (mentioned above)
Adding to the folk-lore that surrounds Preston Castle, Sylvia P Beamon wrote in The Royston Cave, ‘Dinsley Castle, which probably had been a prehistoric stronghold (my italics) and stood on the site of what is now Castle Farm, was held by the Balliols and the Templars and from it dominated the countryside’. And Volume 46 of Revue de Literature Comparee comments of Robert Hinde, “...(he) remodelled his grandfather’s house to make it fit in with the surrounding ruins of Dinsley Castle and probably also to gratify his own inclination for things military (or perhaps for the dawning fad of things Gothic)”. In summary, the only historical reference to Dinsley Castle is that quoted by Huyshe; “..(in) 1278, the Prior of Wymondley was in possession of the site of the Castle of Preston at a yearly rent of 10/-” Huyshe does not state his source document. There are also a handful of hear-say comments about remnants of ruins on the site in the past. Dinsley Castle is not listed in my copy of Norman Castles in Britain by Derek Renn.It is not that one queries whether the castle actually existed - it’s just that references to it are elusive. At least one - that it had been ‘a prehistoric stronghold’ appears to be preposterous. This article was introduced by stating, “we focus on the next literal landmark in Preston’s history – a relic of which remains today”. What is this artefact? Every castle needed a water supply in case of seige - a well. At Porchester Castle near my home town, this is the well in the keep of the castle:
Indisputedly, Dinsley Castle would have had a well. There is a well on the site - “a three-hundred-feet deep well which is thought to be the original well of Preston Castle.” It is capped and hidden by a playhouse cum shed, but this well is probably the oldest existing landmark in Preston’s history (see below):
Bernard de Balliol 1130 - 1153
Earlier in this article the gifts which were given to the French Baron, Guy de Balliol following the Norman Conquest of Britain were discussed. On his death, these were inherited by his cousin, Bernard de Balliol. The latter appears to have had considerably more dealings with Hitchin and Dinsley than his uncle. This is illustrated by the gift at Preston that Bernard in turn bestowed upon the Knights Templar (who will be discussed in the next part of this history). Here is a catalogue of gifts bestowed on the Templars between 1142 and 1149:
1142. King Stephen granted rights and privileges (but not land) on the Templar’s holding at Dinsley. As it was only rights and privileges that were bestowed, it is probable that Stephen had already given some land to the Templars here – remember that Dinsley was in the King’s hand, being described as a ‘royal manor’ in Domesday. 1142. King Stephen confirmed an earlier grant of an acre at Dinsley (called Smith Holes) that John Chamberlain had granted to the Templars. In late 1142, Stephen gave the Templars 40 shillings worth of land at Dinsley as well as two mills and ‘the men of the land’. April 1147. Bernard de Balliol gave the Templars 15 librates of land (about 780 acres) called Wedelee which was in his manor of Hitchin. This grant took place at a Chapter of the Templars in Paris around Easter-time. Present were the King of France, four archbishops and one hundred and thirty Knights who were ‘arrayed in white cloaks’ in what must have been breathtaking assembly. Alluding to the practice of smoothing the way to heaven, Bernard declared that, ‘....for the Salvation of my Soul, I have given...(to the Templars) fifteen librates of my land...Wedelee by name which is a member of Hitchin; fields rough and smooth, streams with woodland.’ ‘This grant was.... made under unusual circumstances which seem to emphasize the importance of the gift’. April 1147-49. King Stephen confirmed a gift of uncultivated land (‘waste’) in Dinsley.
Now, for the first and only time the place-name ‘Wedelee’ is introduced. The location of this place has been the subject of even more debate among historians interested in Hertfordshire. In 1906, Wentworth Huyshe pointed out that thirty-eight years after this gift, in 1185, the possessions of the Knights Templar included Preston (which amounted to four caracates ,about 480 acres). He argued, that on the basis of this, Wedelee and Preston were one and the same place. Reginald Hine agreed. Victorian County History states that, ‘Welei is possibly (my italics) Wedelee in Preston, but both this and Welei cannot be identified with certainty’. It adds that Wedelee was ‘a name used elsewhere for Dinsley’ (although no footnote is included to support this statement). In The Place Names of Hertfordshire (1936) J E Glover claims that Wedelee is one and the same as Welei, because ‘the medial ‘d’ in Wedelee is a common Anglo-Norman eccentricity’. In 2002, Evelyn Lord suggested that Wedelee could be represented by the modern place name of Wellhead (which is close to Hitchin). I agree with the Victorian County History that Wedelee is one and the same as Dinsley (ie not Preston, but including Preston) simply because of the extent of the land (about 780 acres) it encompassed. Remember that in 1185 the first historical mention of Prestune stated that it had an area of approximately 480 acres - considerably less than the 1147 gift. So the additional land mass bestowed on the Templars may well have included other local property - in later centuries, the Manor of Temple Dinsley included Wayley (sic) and parts of Wymondley and Offley. Research! The importance of this gift (and therefore Dinsley and Preston) to Bernard is shown by the occasion of its being given and the audience who witnessed it. We have already mentioned that Bernard’s interment was in the chapel (at Temple Dinsley) and that he was probably often in residence at the castle at Preston which,Huyshe believed, was built by him. A picture thus emerges of Bernard’s attachment to Dinsley. It was fitting that his effigy be lodged so close to this area in the Church of the the Royal Manor of Hitchin, St Marys (see below).
Huyshe had much to say about this effigy in 1906. He writes “If you enter Hitchin Church by the south porch and cross over to the north aisle of the nave you will see, lying on the sill of the westernmost window, a mutilated, recumbent effigy of Purbeck marble, the face ground away,the legs broken off below the knees…it is one of the earliest (effigies) in England, much resembling…some of the famous effigies in the Temple Church in London. “Salmon, writing in 1728,says of the early effigy in Hitchin Church and of two others…’They are said to have been brought from Temple Dinsley when the Chapel was pulled down’….Mr F S Clarkson…comes to the conclusion that it was executed somewhat earlier than the close of…1189 and that whether the effigy was brought from Temple Dinsley or not ‘all the local circumstances are in favour of its being the memorial of Bernard de Balliol who founded the House of the Templars there’…. “Since Mr Clarkson wrote in 1885, the discovery in the grounds of Temple Dinsley of a fragnet of the foot of a knight in chain mail seems to set the matter at rest once for all….in 1903 I made the following observations upon it:
“I made diligent enquiry as to the precise place where the fragment was found, but without success. Mr Frederick MacMillan who lived at Temple Dinsley before Mr Barrington White, tells me that in his time it was one of several fragments of worked stone which were in the garden on the surface forming part of an ornamental rockery”
LINK to Preston History Part Two - The Knights Templar