Simon Stevens was baptised at Sudborough, Northants in 1781. Twenty-one years later,
in 1802, he married Rebecca Bird at Little Addington, Northants. She had been baptised
at this parish eighteen years earlier. The couple had seven children in three different
Northamptonshire parishes, but three died as infants.
Simon is described in Northamptonshire baptismal records as an Excise Officer and
presumably his duties took him to these different parishes and eventually to Hertfordshire.
We can date this latter move fairly precisely. The last two of the seven children
were twin girls, Catherine Wilson Stevens and Sarah Smith Stevens, named after their
grandmothers. Catherine died in March 1815, aged 5 weeks, and was buried in Little
Addington while Sarah died in June 1815, aged 4 months, and was buried in St Mary’s,
Simon and Rebecca Stevens moved to Preston from Northamptonshire in 1815. He was
described as a ‘schoolmaster’ in parish records.
The family worshipped briefly at the Hitchin Back Street Baptist Chapel.
(I am grateful to Marlene Langley for providing and writing this information)
When Simon was living at Preston, he was described as a ‘schoolmaster’ in the parish
records when his children were born. Why did he end his earlier career as an Excise
Officer? One possible explanation is that as a result of his adherence to, or perhaps
conversion to Nonconformism (his son Henry was baptised at Back Street Chapel in
Hitchin in 1818), he was prevented from holding a public office such as an Excise
Officer because of his religious views. This certainly would have been the case
in the eighteenth century but we do not know to what extent the laws against Dissenters
were still being enforced in the early 1800s.
Around 1815, when Simon and Rebecca moved to Preston, the minister at the Back Street
Baptist Chapel was the Rev. Charles Sloper. After upsetting many in the congregation,
he embarked on a successful ministry preaching to the poor in ‘country places’.
Scores of converts were added to the Chapel and a barn at Trunks House Farm near
Minsden Chapel was used for several months as a meeting place. Perhaps, Simon was
caught up in this activity as his son, Henry, was baptised at Back Street in 1818.
However, Sloper continued to divide his congregation and was turned upon by his deacons.
In the aftermath, many left the Chapel in 1822. Simon’s youngest two children, who
were christened in 1824 and 1827, were baptised at the Anglican Churches of St Mary’s,
Hitchin and Ippollitts. As both Simon and Rebecca were buried at the parish church
of Kings Walden, maybe the couple quickly fell in and out of love with the Hitchin
Back Street Congregationalists.
Later, Simon was described as an agricultural labourer in the censuses of 1841 and
1851 when he was living in Kings Walden. So, when thinking of Simon’s teaching, perhaps
this was in a Sunday School in connection with the Chapel. (Note: the Women’s Institute
History of Preston (1953) states that before Preston School was built in 1847, there
had been a Dame School in the village. However, no evidence of this has been discovered,
so far, and would Simon have taught in a Dame School?)
Brief details of the four children who survived the move to Hertfordshire:
· William – was baptised 1803 Little Addington. Married Sophia Carter in 1825 in
Rickmansworth (per Allen Index) and had at least six children. After a spell in
Cambridgeshire, he became a publican in Hertford.
· Joseph – was baptised 1809 in Blakesley, Northants. Married Sophia Saunders in
Lilley in 1829 and lived there subsequently. Shown as a groom on 1841 census, and
as an agricultural labourer thereafter. They had six children.
· Rebecca – was baptised 1810 in Blakesley. Married John Peters in Hitchin in 1829.
John was the third child of Joseph Peters and Martha Bailey. (See the Peters family
page: Link: Peters family). They had eight children and lived at Ley Green initially
but had moved to Stopsley by 1861. John Peters died in 1874 and Rebecca in 1883.
· George – was baptised 1812 in Blakesley and was buried at Hitchin in 1835.
Simon and Rebecca had at least three more children after the family moved from Northamptonshire
although there is a seven-year gap between the first and second of these. This may
mean we are missing further baptisms or alternatively perhaps there were miscarriages
and/or stillbirths during this intervening period.
Brief details of Simon and Rebecca’s three Hertfordshire-born children:
· Henry – was born at Preston in 1817 and baptised at Back Street Baptist in 1818.
We have not as yet been able to identify him on the censuses, possibly he also died
· Ann – was born Preston 1824 and was baptised in Hitchin. Living with John and
Rebecca Peters in 1841 and 1851.
· Charles Thomas – was born Preston 1827 and baptised at Ippollitts. Seems to have
been a somewhat turbulent young man. (see the articles re: Pond Farm and the Parsonage
Farm Fire when he was charged and acquitted of arson (Links:Pond Farm; Parsonage
Farm). He married Elizabeth Green in Kings Walden in 1846 and they had three children
and were living at Cox Green in 1851. Elizabeth died in 1855 but we do not yet know
what happened to Charles. The children seem to have been taken into the Union Workhouse
in Hitchin and the two younger ones were still there in 1861. The oldest, Mary,
was out in service to a family in Hitchin by the name of Olney at that date.
In 1850, Rebecca was living at Ley Green when she died and was buried at Kings Walden
10 February. Simon was living with his married son, Charles, a year later at Cox
Green. Simon (who was still living at Cox Green) was buried at Kings Walden on 18
The Stevens’ family and the Hitchin Back Street Baptists