One of Preston’s best known characters in the twentieth century was Dick Middleditch.
He lived in the village with his wife Ethel until his death in 1981. This is the
story of Dick’s life in Preston
Dick was born Philip Dick Middleditch in July 1896 at Barningham, West Suffolk. He
was the son of John (a farmer and carrier) and Elizabeth Middleditch. Before he was
four years old, Dick began to attend school - he left before he was thirteen to train
as a game keeper.
When he was eighteen, Dick served with the Royal Artillery in Salonika, Greece during
the First World War.
After being demobbed, Dick married Ethel Margaret Meadows in the late autumn of 1924
in the Thetford Registration District, Norfolk. They settled at Loddon, Norfolk where
the first two of their six children were born.
In 1929, Dick and his young family moved to ‘Keepers Cottage’, Dead Woman’s Lane,
Preston (right). Dick was employed until his retirement as a gamekeeper on the Kings
Their daughter, Ann, remembers spending ‘many hours with Dad as a child in the rearing
woods while living at The Keepers Lodge. I
used to help feed the baby pheasants when
‘It was a beautiful time for me and Dad was the best at what he did. I sometimes
picked out the labrador from a litter reared at the Head Game Keepers home, in Kings
Walden, which he trained to find and pick up fallen game after
they were shot.’
Dick and Ethel had another four children and moved to Bunyan’s Cottage (right) in
Ann recalls that she and her sister ‘Betty
shared the bedroom that was reputed to be
John Bunyan’s bedroom where he did a lot of
his writing at a table in the window looking over the path to Preston Hill.
‘The inglenook fireplace had a modern insert which in the later years was removed
to reveal the original fireplace.
‘I remember Dad clearing the Dell for groups of Bunyan followers so that they could
hold meetings there right up to the late 1960s.’
Dick played cricket for Kings Walden but will probably be best remembered for his
involvement with Preston Cricket Club, for which he stood as umpire for 47 years
from 1929 - 1976, missing very few matches except during the war years, when he served
as a Corporal in the Home Guard. He was a Life Member and a Committee Member of the
club and also prepared the pitches as the groundsman. It was a short climb for Dick
through the woods from his home at Bunyan’s Cottage to the Recreation Ground.
A cricketer commented, ‘His service to the club was absolutely unbelievable. He was
always at his best on a cricket field and in the Red Lion afterwards’.
As already mentioned, Dick worked on the Kings Walden Estate where he enjoyed a good
relationship with Colonel Harrison. ‘Sometimes he was asked to load (guns) for his
boss Col. Jack Harrison. They were friends as well as boss and game keeper. ‘
As a boy, I recall seeing a line of dead animals that were strung across a glade
of Wain Wood which Dad explained had been left by Dick.
After his retirement, Dick and Ethel moved to 5 Holly Cottages at Back Lane, Preston
(right). The homes had been built as tithe cottages for retired workers of long
standing on the Kings Walden Estate.
As well as his game-keeping duties, Dick was also a Special Constable for 41 years.
‘He enjoyed a pint at the Red Lion, a game of dominoes and darts with the lads from
This photograph above was taken on Dick and Ethel’s golden wedding anniversary
Dick died on 4 January 1981 after being ill with cancer for some months. His coffin
was driven around his game keeping route on Sir Thomas Pilkington’s estate before
the funeral. A family wreath shaped like a cricket bat adorned the coffin and his
ashes were sprinkled across the cricket ground. A clock was erected in his memory
at the ground.
Ethel continued to live at Holly Cottages until she moved to Mimsden Nursing Home
at Hitchin where she died in 1994.