A History of Preston

in Hertfordshire

Although the family hailed from East Anglia, the Pryors were ‘old Hertfordshire stock’. Their business interests evolved from being corn merchants to maltsters to brewers. For a century and a half from the 1660s they were also Quakers. (Link to Pryor family tree)



We begin this brief account of the family with Robert Pryor who died in 1744. He established a substantial malting business in Baldock, a town five miles north-east of Hitchin. Malt is produced from fermented barley and the local fields yielded fine quality grain - ‘the town was noted for making the most excellent malt, the quantity made being exceeded but by one town in the Kingdom’. As a result of his business acumen, Robert owned property in the villages of Willian, Weston, Bygrave and Clothall which surround Baldock.


Following his death, the main portion of his estate, the brewery, was left to his son, John Pryor (1741-1819). Although the Pryor malting business continued to burgeon – leasing another brewery and acquiring tied public houses - the family fell out of love with Quakerism because its formality and superstition. As a consequence, all of John’s eight children were baptized as Anglicans. However, the Quaker precepts of peace and philanthropy were deeply planted and guided the family during the nineteenth century.


The Pryor family were prominent in Preston in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as they owned the majority of the village! Their lasting legacy to the village is

Pryor House near Preston Green and the land around St Martin’s Church.

Brewers and maltsters

The Pryor’s business continued to expand as John purchased yet another brewery for £12,000 and by 1813 his empire included 50 pubs and inns.


John’s eldest son was the brewer and magistrate, John Izzard Pryor, who was born in May 1774. John Izzard retired from brewing in 1826, aged fifty-two, and the next year he purchased Clay Hall at Walkern, Herts (a modest estate of 500 acres which became known as Walkern Hall) with the intention of living the life of a gentleman.


He wrote a diary which has been transcribed and arranged by Gerald Curtis in a book entitled, A Chronicle of Small Beer – a wonderfully detailed account of the life of the gentry in Hertfordshire between 1827 and 1861. (see right)

Skipping a generation, John Izzard’s third grandson was Henry Maclean Pryor (1839-1904). After attending Eton College, Henry made his reputation as a soldier. In 1861, aged twenty-two, he was an ensign in the 60th Beds Regiment – which illustrates how far the family had drifted from their Quaker ideals - the faith frowns on warfare, believing ‘how can one kill another child of God, a potential channel of truth’.


Henry married Margaret Frances De Vins Wade in 1862 and the couple settled at Clifton Lodge, near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. They had six children. The eldest was Ralston de Vins Pryor (RDV) (bn 1864) and their youngest son was Gerard Ithel Eade Pryor (GIE) (bn 1868). The 1871 census noted that Henry, a Captain in the 7th Bedfordshire Rifle Volunteer Corps was at home and had a visitor, William H Darton, a Lieutenant in the same Regiment. William’s parents owned the Temple Dinsley estate at Preston. A further strand tying together the young men was that they received their commissions on the same day: 2 March 1871.


When Temple Dinsley was sold by auction in 1874, Henry Pryor (who had recently received bequests and legacies from relatives) bought Lot One (of eight lots, see below) of the estate evidently intending that his two young sons, RDV and GIE would manage it when they grew older. He paid £19,000, and a further £1,902  was added to the price for timber rights. This outlay was possibly a stretch for Henry as he arranged to pay a cash sum of £9000 and raised a mortgage for the remainder at 4%.

The purchase of Temple Dinsley - 1874

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Pryor bros

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Link to an article re: the Pryor brothers at Preston