None of the principal Darton men lived to see their fiftieth birthday.
Joseph snr’s children were all baptised at St Luke’s, Chelsea.
The following year, 1795, Joseph was dead. The copy of his will is somewhat difficult
to read, but he appears to leave an annuity of £200 to his wife Elizabeth (from his
estates at Hertfordshire and Middlesex), legacies of £1,000 to his children,Thomas,
Edmund, Michael and Betty and the residue of his estate to his son, Joseph Darton.
Elizabeth was to be allowed to remain in Temple Dinsley. Joseph’s executors were
Edward Kitchener (Preston farmer) and Edward Evans who were given £100 each ‘for
Joseph was eighteen when he inherited Temple Dinsley and his tenure lasted a mere
twenty-one years - he was forty when he died.
In his will (dated 16 June 1807 and witnessed by Robert Harwood, John Young and Samuel
Peete, constable) Joseph firstly expressed his wish to be buried in the family vault
at St Mary’s Church, Hitchin where his father already lay. A memorial was erected
to him therein (right).
Joseph’s property in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Middlesex was left to his widow,
Elizabeth, who was also bequeathed Joseph’s personal property. Each of their children
who survived to the age of twenty-one was to receive £100 annually, paid in four
Soon after Joseph’s death (and probably in 1818), perhaps due to economic necessity
or simply because the mansion was too big, Elizabeth let Temple Dinsley to the Hitchin
brewer, Henry Crabbe (born 1796).
Henry and Fanny Crabbe (nee Ellis) had seven children, at least six of whom were
born when the family were at Temple Dinsley. Fanny was the daughter of Thomas Flower
Ellis who owned land around Preston.
Henry owned malt houses at Bull Corner, Hitchin and four fields in Ippollitts. He
was also in partnership with Joseph Margotts Pierson (brewer) of a property at Cock
Street, Hitchin and with John Marshall (brewer) of a house and brew-house in Sun
However, Henry died on 19 June 1830 and the process of trying to let Temple Dinsley
began again. In May 1832, the house was advertised in The Times. It was described
as a family mansion in an elevated and airy situation, delightfully sheltered by
timber. On the ground floor was a breakfast parlour, dining and drawing room, gentleman’s
dressing room with adjoining bathroom. On the first floor were three large bedrooms,
each of which had its own dressing room. There were six large attics.
A year later and no tenant for the mansion had been found, so more advertisements
appeared in May 1833 with a hint of desperation: ‘to be let and entered upon immediately’.
This time, the hunting aspect of the area was highlighted as the property was near
the Sebright hounds, the meets of Lord Petre’s hounds and only three miles from the
harriers of F P Delme-Radcliffe.
Temple Dinsley was unoccupied in 1837 but had been let probably by mid-1839 to newly-wedsThomas
(bn 1815) and Frederica Halsey. In 1840 the Halseys spent an incredible £1800 (after
discount) to bring the fittings and furnishing of the house up to their standards.
There is an itemised record of thirty-six pages of this refurbishment the cost of
which was equal to the total annual wages of sixty farm labourers.
It was Thomas Harwood Darton who, in 1849, ordered the building of Preston School
which doubled as a church on Sundays.
NEW OWNERS OF TEMPLE DINSLEY FROM 1874 - THE PRYORS
Although the Pryors now owned the estate, they didn’t live at Temple Dinsley - this
was still occupied by John Weeks until his death on 15 August 1879. Within months,
the pattern of letting the mansion was repeated when once again the remaining lease
of eleven years was advertised as being available on 6 December 1879. It was claimed
that several thousand pounds had recently been expended on the property.
In 1881,Thomas Darton and his family rented The Cottage from the Pryors.
FIRE. Early on Wednesday morning the brigade was called to a fire at Temple Dinsley,
residence of the Hon. H. Brand. On their arrival they found the coachman’s residence,
stabling, coach house, fowl house and other extensive outbuildings, one mass of fire.
The brigade quickly set to work with their steam machine to prevent the fire extending
the house, which they succeeded in doing. It appeared there had been a fire in the
of the building the previous afternoon and it is supposed this was the cause of
Six horses were saved but the fire spread with so much rapidity that it was impossible
save anything else. The furniture in the coachman’s house was all destroyed with
quantity of hay, straw, harness, a stack of hay and several carts.
FIRE DESTROYS THE STABLES AND THE TEMPLE CLOCK AT TEMPLE DINSLEY
The new residents in 1881 were Henry Brand (39) (shown right), his wife, Susan and
their five children. Henry was a magistrate and a liberal Member of Parliament, serving
as Speaker in the Commons between 1872 and 1884. Following the death of his father,
he became Lord Hampden. He served as governor of New South Wales and was the greatx2
grandfather of Sarah Ferguson.
Views of Temple Dinsley and stables with ‘Temple Clock’ pre-1888
The ‘Temple Clock’ (as it was known) regulated the lives of the villagers. During
the Preston Hill Robbery case of 1864 there were no less than three references to
the clock, which helped to establish time frames. From these comments, we learn that
the clock could be seen from Preston Green - ‘It was about five minutes to nine
by the Temple Clock’ (the present-day wall was built around 1913. Imagine the uninterrupted
view of the mansion from the elevated position of The Green) - and that it could
be heard at the bottom of Preston Hill. The clock was destroyed by fire in May, 1888.
This was reported in the Hertfordshire Mercury:
Meanwhile in the village, a new religious building was consecrated in April 1877
Temple Dinsley was let to Mr and Mrs Frederick Macmillan - a name famous in the publishing
world. Frederick was an uncle of the future Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. The
couple were settled there by October 1891 as Mrs Macmillan visited Preston School
then for the first time. They took an interest in Preston’s activities - Mr Macmillan
(right) was Chairman of Preston Parish Council from 1894 until 1900. They were also
involved in the building of St Martin’s Church at Preston. The Macmillan’s began
the subscription list with a gift of £100, served on the Church Committee, donated
a brass chandelier and Mrs Macmillan laid the foundation stone of the Church on 11
St Martins Church was consecrated at Preston on 11 July 1900.
Information about its building and consecration can be seen at these links:
As a result, Thomas Harwood Darton snr was Lord of the Manor. He held this position
for just five years until his death on 12 February 1858. Almost immediately, Temple
Dinsley was advertised to be let on 11 May 1858. But, in 1861, Thomas’ widow, Maria,
was still in residence there.
The summer of 1872 was unusually hot. The ponds around the village, which were used
for drinking water, dried up. Thomas Harwood Darton jnr had a well dug at Preston
Green (shown right). It was 211 feet deep (64½m).Two people operated the winding
mechanism and they toiled for five minutes to raise the water.
The new incarnation of Temple Dinsley and some of the workforce employed in its reconstruction
This history is to be continued...
There is much more to be added to this history: events in the village during the
twentieth century; the cottages of Preston and the people of the village, glimpsed
in historical documents.
These will be up-loaded as time permits.
There is evidence that Joseph did not reside during all this period at Temple Dinsley
- setting a pattern for his descendents. In 1794, the Austrian composer, Joseph Hayden
(1732 - 1809), was taken to Preston by his friend the 4th Earl of Abingdon, a music
patron, to visit the 6th Baronet Aston (of Cheshire) and his wife Jane. While there,
Hayden wrote some music that may have included a song sung by himself and the two
nobleman. This took place at Temple Dinsley, the inference being that the Darton’s
were living elsewhere.
On 28 January 1799, there was a development in the religious life of Joseph’s widow,
Elizabeth. She was a Quaker having been recommended to the Hitchin meeting by their
brethren at Westminster. But Elizabeth had become ‘very slack in attendance’ and
‘despite caution and counsel’ which had not produced ‘the desired effect’ and as
she did not show ‘ a disposition to change’ she was disowned from the faith. The
decision was recorded by William Lucas jnr.
For the story of the Pryor’s and their purchase and occupation of Temple Dinsley,
click this link:Pryor family
The Early History of Temple Dinsley - Reginald Hine
Hitchin Worthies - Reginald Hine
Highways and Byways in Hertfordshire - Herbert W Tompkins (1913)
The Royal Manor of Hitchin - Wentworth Huyshe
Victorian County History - Hertfordshire
History of Hertfordshire - Robert Clutterbuck (1815 - 1827)
Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire - Sir H Chauncey (1700)
The History of Hertfordshire M N Salmon (1728)
The Knights Templar - Helen Nicholson
The Knights Templar - Dr Evelyn Lord
The Manor House of Temple Dinsley - R P Mander
The Origins of Hertfordshire - Prof.T Williamson (2000)
The Writings of Nina Freebody, Back Lane, Preston (Link: N Freebody)
The Place Names of Hertfordshire - J E B Glover (1936)
The Penguin Translation of the Domesday Book - Prof G H Martin (2002)
Handbook to Hitchin and the Neighbourhood - C Bishop
History of Hertfordshire - J E Cussans
Stagenhoe and the Spanish Countess who Dipped into Spiritualism - R J Pilgram
The History of Stagenhoe - Reginald Hine (1936)
Hitchin and its Neighbourhood
It is interesting that according to the 1871 census, Major Pryor’s household at Clifton
included a visitor, William H. Darton, who was born at Kings Walden, Herts. Henry
Pryor (31) and William (28) were serving as Captain and Lieutenant in the 7th Bedfordshire
regiment. Two years later, Henry had purchased Temple Dinsley from William’s brother,
Captain Thomas Darton
Temple Dinsley was sold to Major Henry Pryor of Clifton, Beds. His sons, Ralston
de Vins (RDV) and Geoffrey Pryor (GIE) were later involved in the running of the
estate and collecting rents.
The house was described as a ‘fine, old mansion’. It had a spacious hall, drawing
room, billiard room, dining room, morning room, study and gun room on the ground
floor - all of which were centrally heated (in 1873!). On the next floor were seven
bedrooms, three dressing rooms, a bathroom and two toilets. The roof space was occupied
by six attics.
When the sale of Temple Dinsley was advertised, its agricultural potential was not
promoted. The selling point was the opportunity for field sports such as the hunting
and shooting of foxes, pheasants,partridges, rabbits and hares. ‘It is in a favourite
hunting district....the sporting capabilities are of a high character and afford
excellent partridge and pheasant shooting’.
This emphasis on hunting helps us to understand why the woods around Preston survived.
While there was some revenue from the sale of rights to coppice trees, the woods
were mainly preserved as the haunt of wild-life which could be hunted.
By 1871, retired builder John Weeks and his wife, Lucy were living in the mansion
and Thomas and Maria were at The Cottage. (Link: Weeks) Clearly the Darton’s could
not afford to keep the estate so in 1873, the entire estate was advertised, not to
be let, but to be sold.
The sale particulars provided a wonderful description of the estate and its various
parts (even allowing for the agent’s enthusiasm). Illustrating the way in which Temple
Dinsley dominated Preston is the statement that for sale was ‘nearly the entire village...about
forty cottages and The Chequers Inn public house’. The estate occupied 560 acres
of ‘very fertile land’ nearly all of which was freehold and tithe free.
The estate included three farms:
Temple Farm (in the grounds of Temple Dinsley)
Poynders End Farm (90 acres)
Austage End Farm (41 acres)
Elizabeth Darton died on 11 November 1852.
However, the Halseys didn’t stay long and had probably moved out in the mid-1840s.
On 24 May 1844, a son was born at Temple Dinsley who lived but a few hours and by
1846, Thomas was a Member of Parliament. Thomas, Frederica and another son drowned
when the steamer Ercolano foundered in the Gulf of Genoa in 1854. (Link: Halsey)
In 1841, Elizabeth Darton was living at Bunyan’s Cottage in Wainwood and Thomas Darton
and his young wife were at Offley. Ten years later, Thomas and Maria Darton and their
five young children were back at Temple Dinsley and Elizabeth was living either at
The Cottage or Bunyan’s Cottage.
In the grounds there were two double coach-houses, stabling for seven horses (above
which were four servants rooms) and large walled gardens. Near the stables was a
large brick dovecote
Temple Farm with its 234 acres was also available to let, either with the mansion
The additional appeal of the rights to shooting on the Temple Dinsley manor’s 200
acres of woodland was highlighted.
It was about this time that the two views of Temple Dinsley shown below were drawn.
The stables and dovecote are clearly to be seen.
ELIZABETH DARTON, LORD OF THE MANOR: 1816 - 1852
After Elizabeth died, trustees (Edward Cobb, supervisor of excise, and
John Marshall, liquor merchant, both of Hitchin) were to distribute the
rents and profits after debts had been paid in equal amounts to Joseph’s surviving
children who inherited his estate in equal shares.
However, as Thomas Harwood Darton was the only child to survive Elizabeth’s death,
he was in effect Joseph’s sole heir.
JOSEPH DARTON Jnr AT TEMPLE DINSLEY: 1795 - 1816
JOSEPH DARTON Snr AT TEMPLE DINSLEY: 1787 - 1795
FIVE GENERATIONS OF DARTONS AT TEMPLE DINSLEY
In 1891, the lease of Temple Dinsley had expired and the mansion was unoccupied,
although probably the Brands had left earlier - the last of Mrs Brand’s visits to
Preston School was on 13 April 1886. The Pryors were settled at The Cottage. During
the 1890s, Ralston Pryor had a new house built near Preston Green, that was known
then as The Laburnums and now as Pryor House.
Mrs Macmilan often visited Preston School. (She was an American. One wonders how
the children responded to her accent). In July 1896, the school children were invited
to their home for tea and a treat. In December of that year, they gave the infants
and orange and a basket of sweets while the older pupils received threepence and
an orange. In a hint as to the possible reason for the Macmillans leaving Preston,
it was noted in the school logbook that Mr Macmillan visited the school on 14 December
1899 to tell the pupils that they would have the Christmas Tree after the holidays,
‘owing to his wife’s illness’. The Macmillans were not present at the consecration
of the Church on 11 July 1900. The following year, Temple Dinsley was again vacant.