Sir Edwin Lutyens has been lauded on this web site for the homes around Preston that
From 1946, two generations of the Waller family left a building legacy in the village
which is arguably greater than that of Lutyens’.
This is their story.
A view along Butchers Lane, Preston of some of the houses built by B G Waller Ltd.
Bertram George Waller, or ‘Bert’ as he was known, was born in the village of Ickleford,
near Hitchin, in the late autumn of 1907 (writes Penny Causer).
His family descended from the Wallers who built homes around Hitchin, beginning with
the Hornbeam Cottages at Wymondley (right), which were built in around 1818 and sold
for £40 each. Indeed, the building of houses was ingrained in the Waller family personna
as their surname means, ‘one who built walls around large estates’.
In 1928, Bert married Phyllis Powlter and the couple settled in Hitchin. They had
three children – Peter George (died, aged six weeks), Joan Margaret (born 1930) and
Dennis Frederick (14 December 1931)
In March 1939, the family moved into ‘Greenfields’, a bungalow at Back Lane, Preston
which Bert built. (Bert’s son, Dennis, later moved there and remodelled his home
in 1975, as shown right. His family moved from ‘Greenfields’ in 1980)
On 27 March 1939, the children, Joan and Dennis, began attending Preston School.
As Joan had previously been attending Langley School, it is probable that the family
had been living in the area.
The children left Preston School in 1941. They also attended the British School,
the Wilshire Dacre School and the Bessemer School in Hitchin.
B G Waller Ltd - builders
Soon after the war, Bert began his own construction business in 1946 as B G Waller
Ltd. He built the houses along Butcher’s Lane, together with some at Church Lane
and Back Lane. His company also worked on other houses in the village and Princess
Homes built at Preston by B G Waller Ltd: top, Butchers Lane; middle, The Hollies,
bottom l to r, Trebarweth and Little Manor, Back Lane.
During World War Two, Bert worked at Hatfield and Henlow airfields and also for a
local builder in Hitchin. They built huts in Hitch Wood, which housed some of the
soldiers preparing for the D-Day landings. The remains of the brick ovens can still
be seen (below).
In 1952 Bert was diagnosed with heart problems and was given just twelve months to
live. He handed over the running of the business to Dennis and retired to Jaywick,
near Clacton in Essex, as his doctors said he would benefit from the ‘sea air’. The
couple moved back to Preston in the early 1970's and lived in Trebarwith, Back Lane
- the bungalow where Penny Waller was born. They lived there until about 1980 when
they moved to a house in Hitchin. Bert died in 1996 - he was 89 years old!
On 11 April 1955, Dennis, now aged twenty-two, a carpenter and living at Newlands
Lane, Hitchin, married Margaret Lilian Harper. She was the daughter of the head gamekeeper
at Wain Wood and licensee of The Chequers at Preston, Frank Harper and his wife,
Margaret. Dennis and Margaret had two children, Peter and Penny Waller.
Poynders End, October 1963. Frank Harper is second from the right. Inset: Margaret
Harper at The Chequers
Dennis and Margaret on their wedding day
Dennis (right and below, left) continued to run the business and eventually bought
the firm from his father, continuing to trade as B G Waller Ltd. His son, Peter,
joined the firm in 1974. Peter began by working in all the areas of building work
and then worked in the office, with Frank Pugh.
The business closed at the end of May, 1981. There was a news report that a 170-year-old
tradition of Waller’s building homes in the area was to end. The firm had employed
fifty men, but these had been reduced to twelve – of whom nine had found alternative
Dennis said, ‘We’re looking for an easier life - I’ve always fancied going into the
holiday business. I’ve been building for thirty-six years and I wanted a change before
I died. Once I’m dead and gone, I won’t have another chance. I’ve been in the area
all my life - my parents before me and my grandparents before them. It’ll be like
having my right arm chopped off’.
He calculated that he had worked on nearly every home in Preston over the years and
a great many in Hitchin and the surrounding area including the Queen Mother’s home
at St Pauls Walden. Dennis added, ‘The biggest satisfaction we’ve had is having a
good crowd of working men around us’. Dennis didn’t want to sell the business as
a ‘going concern’ because they had built up a good reputation, so ‘everything was
Dennis, Margaret and Peter moved to Dorset and then onto Norfolk where they ran holiday
Both Dennis and Bert owned blocks of flats in Jaywick during the 1960's, which they
let out for the holiday season. As a child, I remember going there to open them for
letting - sometimes the ground floor flats would have been flooded with sea water
during the winter storms - helping to sweep all the sand out. Also, I had to put
a shilling in the meter for the electricity supply.
Then during just eighteen years, three generations of Wallers died and were buried
in St Martin’s Churchyard – Phyllis (3 April 1990) Bert (13 December 1996), Peter
(8 October 1999) and Dennis in (25 January 2008).
Standing are Phyllis and Bert. Seated l to r: Margaret, Dennis and Joan (1988)