When writing the history of Preston was just a twinkle in one’s eye, I mooted the
idea to two Preston ladies. Somewhat sniffily, the reaction of one was, ‘Why would
you want to do that – it’s already been done’.
And she was right. Mrs Ann Maybrick (shown, right) lovingly compiled a scrapbook
history of the village in 1953.
I feel a certain affinity with Anne. Her husband, Frederick Maybrick, was the tenant
of Preston Hill Farm and employed my father in the 1940s. Ann and Frederick moved
into what is known today as Reeves Cottage which had been Mum and Dad’s home for
almost four years – and where I was fleetingly bred.
I had already seen and photographed a poor duplication of the scrapbook at Hertfordshire
Archives and Record Office (HALS). There, I also found a news report about its publication
which is here reproduced:
The history of Preston and Langley has been put on record – mainly thanks to the
efforts of one woman.
Pictured here, with the unique village book she compiled in 1953, is Mrs Ann Maybrick
of Crunnells Green, Preston. Mrs Maybrick was asked to produce the book for a competition
held by the WI to mark the Coronation – and was very surprised at the time when it
beat all the other Hertfordshire entries!
Since then, the book has become a treasured possession in Preston. It has been in
such demand that four copies have been made and the villagers take it in turns to
look after the original.
‘It is enormously popular’, admits Mrs Maybrick, ‘It has been round and round the
This isn’t surprising, since the work is a readable and fascinating account of Preston
and Langley village life from Domesday times (when Preston was called ‘Wedelee’)
until 1953. It uses paintings and drawings done by people in the villages, old maps
carefully copied by Mrs Maybrick and old photographs.
One woman’s history of two villages (North Herts Gazette: 23 August 1979)
It’s beautifully bound with leather from Russell’s tan yards in Hitchin – and an
inscription records the fact that Russell’s also supplied the leather used to bind
the Queen’s Coronation prayer-book and Bible.
‘I went to see Mr Percy Russell and asked him for some leather’, recalls Mrs Maybrick.
‘He said I could pay him later – and he never sent us the bill’.
Mrs Maybrick started writing and compiling the book during the Second World War.
‘I used to sit in the old village farm office by the phone on firewatch,’ she said.
‘There were always several people with me who had lived in the village and I used
to pick their brains for information. ’Compiling the book also meant trips to St
Mary’s Church in Hitchin where Mrs Maybrick would spend hours in a ‘little dusty
room’ looking through Parish records.
Some of the photographs in the book are old postcards copied at the old Andrew’s
Chemists in Brand Street and others were taken later.
All the Coronation festivities have been faithfully recorded on camera – there’s
the wonderful photo of all the Preston village people gathered around as the Coronation
sapling was planted on the village green. The ‘sapling’ is of course now a large
flourishing oak tree opposite the Red Lion pub.
The book also tells the story of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – held on June
22, 1897 when a total of £31 18s 4d was collected from which a mug, an orange and
a bun was presented to every school child.
Records like these are supremely important to a village like Preston where many of
the older people find that village life is declining. Mrs Maybrick is very sad that
the WI exists no longer – it closed a few years ago as there was no-one left to be
on the committee.
But Mrs Maybrick can rest assured that she has provided her village with something
that will always remain.
Here, then, is the Preston Scrapbook. Although it was originally type-written, a
modern font has been used - however, the all the original photographs, captions and
coloured drawings are included.
(Above) The crocheted cover and leather binding of the Scrapbook
(Above) Title page and preface drawn and penned by WM (Billy) Moffoot
Preston in times past was known as Wedelee. It seems to have been tied up withthe
manor of Temple Dinsley and was presumably the village part mentioned inDomesday
Book, but all under the heading of Deneslai. "Nineteen villaines, sevencottagers
and two mills. One meadow, common pasture and wood to feed 300hogs." Which left
the Manor, "Seven borders, six servants and one FrenchAlmswoman of the King."
The first mention of Preston as such was in the time of the Knights Templars andthere is an unsubstantiated theory that the priest in charge of the Chapel of Easeattached to Temple Dinsley may have had a house in the village - the Priest's Tunor House. Cussans in his History of Hertfordshire says, "at Preston there formerlyexisted a chapel of ease to the church of Hitchin, served by chaplains from the monastry
of Elstow. No trace of this building now remains, but in its place is a plain brick
edifice which was built by the late Thomas Harwood Darton Esq.Divine Service is
held in this chapel every Sunday by a curate from the motherchurch. On weekdays
it is used as a school for the benefit of poor children livingin this outlying district
of the Parish of Hitchin." This building is still used asa school by the children
of Preston and Langley.
Preston grew from the small hamlet of Domesday times until, in 1894, an old mapshows
it as a complete village with its own church-school, miller, bakehouse,butcher,
two shops, a tailor, a wheelwright, a carpenter, a carter and severalflourishing
Names of families still in Preston appear in the Churchwardens' Overseers' books
of collections of rates for the poor law as far back as 1714 when a Burr is mentioned.
In 1821 when a census of the village was taken, there were 70 dwellings and among
the occupants were Currells, Walkers, Dartons, Jeeves, Palmers and Sharpes.
The people of Preston were employed in the village, at Temple Dinsley and on the
farms and the women supplemented the wages, in 1884, 10/- a week for a farm labourer,
by plaiting straw for the Luton Hat Industry and picking stones off the fields for
Within living memory, the village has changed a great deal. Ease of transport to
Luton and Hitchin killed the local trades and the only employer of labour was the
Lord of the Manor once again. At the beginning of the century a great many of the
cottages and also two of the farms were pulled down, and it is only recently that
more people have wanted houses in the village when it is possible for them to get
work further afield. Since the war, a row of Swedish timber Council Houses have gone
up and several new houses have been built privately
The Village Green.
The centre of village life. Here was held annually on the last Wednesday and Thursday
of October, a Sheep Fair, and the many paths across the Green are said to have started
as sheep tracks. The fair developed later into a purely fun fair until it stopped
at the beginning of the first World War. The men of the village today remember their
zeal in picking up acorns to sell to the pig-keeping villagers to gain a penny or
two to spend at the Fair.
The Well on the Green was the gift of William Henry Darton, son of the Thomas Harwood
Darton, who had built the school. It was dug up in the hot dry summer of 1872 when
most of the ponds had dried up. It was bored in the rock 226 ft. down.
Before that all the water in the village was drawn from the many ponds by the side
of the road. The stones used in making the roads acted as a filter and the water
was said to be always clear. The pond at the edge of the Green when cleaned out was
discovered to be so deep that to anyone standing in the bottom the chimneys of the
Red Lion were not visible. There are other stories of dead kittens floating in ponds
from which water was being drawn to boil the cabbage but no one seemed any the worse.
Photos: (above) looking down the Hitchin road
from Preston House, snow; (below) the Green
from school lane, with Preston House.
The water from the new well was considered to be very good. One young man, ill in
Hitchin Hospital, asked his old father to bring some water from Preston as he could
not drink the Hitchin water. His father spilt it on the way down so filled up his
can in Hitchin, never thinking the son would know, but when he drank it he just turned
over and died!
A map of 1884 shows the position of houses now demolished and gives an idea of the
village activities. The bonfire site was on the Green opposite the present Preston
House. The Carpenter's Shop was used for concerts by the young Pryors.
Mr. Smith, the carpenter, owned one of the first Threshing and Dressing machines
in the district. When the engine drawing the machine was on the road, it was preceeded
by a man carrying a red flag.
The straw plaiting schools were kept by a Mrs. Peters and a Mrs. Stratton. Here,
the children were taught the different types of plaits, after school hours, and were
very strictly kept to their work, though they were none of them very old.
Tom Sharp, the butcher, killed pigs for the villagers and also cut their hair. Mr.
Robinson, the tailor, lived almost next door to where his daughter, Mrs. Harry Worthington,
lives today. The Proprietor of the Red Lion also extracted teeth.
The Parish Meeting
The Preston Parish Meeting was constituted under the Local Government Act (1894).
The Meeting first assembled on December 4th 1894, when Mr. MacMillan was elected
chairman and it was decided not to apply for the status of a Parish Council. The
Meeting was at that time responsible for appointing a representative of the hamlet
on the Rural District Council and Mr. R. de V. Pryor was elected to that post. The
upkeep of the roads was also the responsibility of the Parish, and in March 1895
Mr T Ashton and Mr Henry James were appointed Overseers and Mr Charles Davis, Waywarden.
It is of interest to note that, in 1898, it was decided to refuse an application
by the county council to make that part of the road from Ley Green to Gosmore passing
through the village into a main road.
The Chairmanship of the Preston Parish Meeting was held by:
Mr. Frederick 0. MacMillan 1894 - 1897
Rev. Bamlet N. Switzer 1897 - 1900
Mr. Frederick 0. MacMillan 1900 - 1901
Mr. Ralston de V. Pryor 1901 - 1915
Mr. Reginald J. W. Dawson 1915 - 1937
Mr. Frederick 0. Blanchard 1937 - 1945
Mr. William Darton 1945
Mr. Frederick B. Geidt 1945 -
Under the Local Government Act 1894, a joint Burial Board was established for the
parishes of Hitchin, Preston and Langley. Canon Hensley was the first representative
of Preston and subsequently the village was represented by the vicars of Hitchin.
When St. Martin's Church was built at Preston in 1900, burials of all denominations
took place in the graveyard attached to the Church and the yearly fees to the Board
became a burden on the village. Not until 1951 was an order made by the Hertfordshire
County Council excluding the parishes of Preston and Langley from the area of the
Hitchin Burial Act's Joint Committee. In 1895 a 1/- rate realized £359 4s 5d
Under the Education Act (1902), the parish was asked to elect one of the School Managers
and in 1903, Mrs. Barrington White was elected, being followed by Mr. H. E. Seebohm,
The Hon. Mrs Fellowes, The Hon. Mrs Douglas Vickers, Lt. Col. Ian Denistoun, Mrs.
H. E. Seebohm and Mrs. Puxley. Under the Education Act of 1944, the school was given
the status of a Controlled School and in 1947, Mr. Derrick Seebohm and Mrs. F. Maybrick
were appointed the representatives of the parish on the Board of Managers.
In 1928, the thanks of the Meeting were conveyed to Mr. Douglas Vickers for the gift
of a field to be used as a Sports Ground. It was agreed that the cost of upkeep should
be charged to the Parish, but a Trust was formed, placing it under the control of
the Hitchin Rural District Council (RDC).
In 1945 Mr. Blanchard resigned the Chairmanship of the Meeting as a protest against
the action of the Housing Committee of the Hitchin RDC. No Chairman was elected in
his place so a Special Assembly had to be convened by Mr. F. Reynolds, as the Parish
Representative on the Hitchin RDC. Mr. W. Darton was elected but as he left the village
on short notice, the same procedure had to be followed in the same year for the election
of Mr Geidt as Chairman.
One of the features of the village was the five elm trees which stood on the Green
. Certain of these trees were reported to be in a dangerous condition but it was
decided that it was unnecessary for any of them to be felled. The Green was vested
in the Lord of the Manor who was represented by the Trustees of J. Barrington White
(dec’d) with whom and with the County Surveyor and the Clerk of the Hitchin R.D.C.
Much correspondence followed.
On January 30th 1946, the County Surveyor wrote, "I am not aware there is any suggestion
the trees should be felled" . Before that letter was delivered, the first tree had
been felled. Great efforts were made, without success, to stop the senseless destruction.
The Chairman, by accepting full responsibility, was able to delay, for a few days,
the felling of the historic "Maypole" tree in the centre of the Green which had been
planted to commemorate the Coronation of George III. As a result of this disaster,
arrangements were made to purchase from the Lord of the Manor all the land which
was still vested in the Lordship - the Village Green itself, Crunnell's Green and
the verge between St. Alban's Highway and the east boundary of Temple Dinsley. The
price paid was £5. A public subscription list was opened and, acting on the advice
of the Conservator of the Forests of the City of London, lime and thorn trees were
planted to replace the elms on the Green.