Today, this home is known as Spindle Cottage and displays a sign indicating that
it was built in 1717. It pleasingly introduces the historical tone of Preston to
visitors from the east.
Its features are noted thus: ‘South part: a twentieth century extension. Constructed
in red brick using a Flemishbond, now painted. Steep old red tile roof. A 1½ storeys,
three-roomed house facing east, with matching one room south extension. The east-facing
front has a plinth, four windows with segmental arches, and four gabled dormers
at the eaves. There are two-light casement windows with leaded glazing to dormers.
In addition, there are two 3-light similar windows to the left of a plank door. An
internal chimney is near middle for kitchen nd there is an external north gable chimney
for the parlour. A three-roomed plan originally with entrance into large lobby with
stairs rising to left and service room partitioned off to rear. There is a partition
below an axial beam. The room to the south is a kitchen greatly narrowed by the
large internal chimney and fireplace with high plain lintel. The parlour to the east
has longitudinal beams in the ceiling and moulded fire surround. Re-used timbers
in roof, some smoke-blackened. There is no evidence that it was ever a single-storey
The first direct historical references to the cottage are the Ippollitts Tithe Map
(below) and Award of 1816.
The cottage is the shaded building set back from the Hitchin Road. Note the barn
to the south-east. The Award helpfully said that its owner in 1816 was William Swain
and that it comprised ‘cottages (plural!) and garden’, occupying 30 perches.
This information allows for some speculation. William Swain’s (1758 - 1834) grandfather
was Edward Swain
who died in 1752. Edward’s will mentions his ‘freehold cottage at Ippollitts (the
parish in which Spindle Cottage stood) which was occupied by Henry Merritt (a descendant
was a woodman at Wain Wood).
Edward bequeathed the cottage to his son, John Swain (1717 - 1794). According to
John’s will, he passed on
his ’freehold and copyhold cottages at Hitchin, Ippollitts and Kings Walden (parishes)’
to his son, William Swain. In turn, they were to become the property of William’s
son, Stephen. From this it seems likely that Spindle Cottage was owned by four generations
of Swains - Edward, John, William and Stephen. Indeed, perhaps its twentieth century
name is an echo of this ownership as the first three Swains were blacksmiths. Maybe
the cottage was even built by Edward Swain (? - 1752). (See later possible confirmation
of this below)
Spindle Cottage in the nineteenth century
Armed with the knowledge that Spindle Cottage was actually two cottages, that previous
tenants had been woodmen and the ‘Swain connection’, it is possible to trace many
of its probable occupants in the nineteenth century.
1841 - John and Sarah Webb (woodman)
James and Louisa Brown (agricultural labourer)
1851 - Priscilla Swain (daughter of Stephen) and Alfred Saunderson
Thomas and Mary Andrew (agricultural labourer)
1861 - Priscilla Swain
Thomas and Mary Titmus (carpenter)
1871 - Priscilla Swain (Priscilla died in 1878)
John and Annie French (agricultural labourer)
1881 - Thomas and Maria Sharp (agricultural labourer)
Likely the other cottage was unoccupied
1891 - Thomas and Harriet Sharp (Woodman and pig butcher)
Likely the other cottage was unoccupied.
The ownership of Spindle Cottage moved from the Swain family to the Curlings during
the nineteenth century. In 1910, it, and several cottages on the north side of Chequers
Lane, were owned by Captain Edward S Curling of 3 Chiltern Road, Hitchin.
Spindle Cottage becomes Preston’s Post Office
As can been seen from the top photograph, sometime between 1891 and 1901, Spindle
Cottage became Preston’s Post Office which had previously been located at Laburnum
Lodge, Preston Green. In 1901
its occupants were Hannah Harriet Frost (bn 1839), the sub-postmistress; Rosa Frost
(bn 1871) telegraph
clerk; Clara Saunderson Frost, the maid and housekeeper, Margaret Dawson. Communications
had entered the modern age! Spindle Cottage was to be the village post office for
more than forty years
In mid-December 1904, the newspaper reported a burglary at Preston Post Office near
Hitchin on Saturday night: ‘About midnight, Mrs Frost, the postmistress, a widow
nearly seventy years of age, and her daughter were roused from their sleep by a noise
in their bedroom and found that two men (complete strangers to them) had made their
way into the house. The frightened women screamed out and begged the men not to hurt
them and the men taking hold of them by the throat said they would not do so but
they must have money as their families were starving: their demand was for a sovereign
each. Mrs Frost said she had not as much money in the house, whereupon one of the
men said they had come to the wrong place. She gave them a half-sovereign which she
took from the pocket of the dress she had worn during the day, this being at her
request handed to her by one of the men. During this time the shorter of the two
was holding Miss Frost. Miss B???, a schoolmistress who occupied another bedroom
in the house was aroused by Mrs Frost screaming on the discovery that there were
thieves in the house and she got up and hastened to a neighbours for help. She came
back soon afterwards with Mr Brown and Mr Mead but by this time the burglars had
got away. In addition to the half-sovereign they took two shillings and a few coppers
from a tin in a stationery cabinet downstairs. No post office money is missing. The
police were informed as soon as possible and a vigorous search for the burglars was
made but no-one has yet been arrested. Access to the house was obtained by breaking
a pane in a downstairs window and forcing back the latch. It is supposed that the
men were not absolute strangers to the neighbourhood but had sufficient local knowledge
to get into the house in the readiest way and to be able to go speedily into hiding
when the alarm was raised. An odd fact in the case is that they shook hands with
Mrs Frost and her daughter before leaving’
A detailed map of Spindle Cottage dated 1898 shows that little had changed in almost
a century. It was described as brick and tiled with an office, kitchen, scullery,
coal place and three bedrooms. It was old and in poor repair. Beside it was a wood
and corrugated iron barn.
By 1911, Rosa Frost had taken over the duties of sub-postmistress with Clara Frost
as her assistant. Lavinia Brown was the postal clerk and Margaret Dawson continued
to cook for the three spinsters.
Rosa continued to serve Preston from the Post Office until her death there on 24
September 1939. It was about this time that Preston’s Post Office was relocated to
6 Chequers Cottages, Chequers Lane.
Spindle Cottage from 1950
For more than twenty years from around 1950, the cottage was home to Frederick P
and Elsie M Smith. Now, for the first time it was christened, Spindle Cottage.
In 1981, the new occupant was Isobel J Hunter and by 2001 she had been joined at
the cottage by Elizabeth Hunter.
The barn beside Spindle Cottage
The barn standing beside Spindle Cottage can be clearly seen in the maps shown above.
It dates from the seventeenth century and is of dark weather-board on a flint cill
with tarred brick corners. Today, the roof is of corrugated iron.