A History of Preston

in Hertfordshire

The reminiscences of

Robert Sunderland

 

Robert was born in 1941, the son of Edward Morris and Olive Joan (nee Winfield) Sunderland. Edward and Olive married at St Martin, Preston on 10 February 1940.  

Robert attended Preston School from 30 September 1946.

His father and grandfather were carpenters and his grandfather, Frank Sunderland, was living at The Wilderness, Preston when he died at Lister Hospital, Hitchin on 9 September 1956.

 

Frank Thomas Sunderland (1879 - 1956)

Lucy Kate Sunderland (nee Clifton) (1878 - 1961)

Edward Morris and Olive Joan (nee Winfield) Sunderland

Robert F Sunderland (1941 - )

The Wilderness

(l to r) Rose Cottage and The Wilderness viewed from a pond at Pond Farm

 

The well-house at The Wilderness

Preston Hill Farm

Note the cruck cottage (far left) and the pond

People of Preston

A charming photograph of Rachel Brown of Pond Farm

Either James or Alec Brown of Pond Farm

(l to r) Frank T Sunderland, Paul Edwin ‘Eddie’ Murray of 24 Chequers Lane 1950s and Tony Lines

Working at Preston Hill Farm. (l to r) Geof Hedger, Robert Sunderland, ?, ?

(l to r)  Tony Lines (?), ‘Eddie’ Murray, Edward Sunderland and Mamie Clough

My family lived at The Wilderness from 1934 to 1961. There is a well there which is not mentioned in your list.

 

An excellent photograph of the well shows it to be rough chalk-sided and about three feet in diameter. I remember it being 215 feet deep. Apparently, it was re-discovered in the late 1870's after the then owner/tenant stuck his pitchfork into the woodwork which covered it. My guess is that it was covered over after someone fell in many, many years before.

 

Wells are very rare in Preston because it is a long way to dig for water and ponds are easier to create. The well may be very old predating the cottage and may be a relic of nearby Hunsden House, Preston Castle. By the way, Butchers Lane is so called because The Wilderness was a butcher’s shop, possibly after being a tailor's. 


My mother came to Preston to work as a Land Girl at Castle Farm in 1940. I believe she lodged with Mrs Worthington. She met my father (who lived at
The Wilderness) and they married at St Martin. 

 

I attended Preston School which, alas, is long gone from its original site. Together with Tony Smith of Temple Dinsley Cottages and Nick Murray of 24 Chequers Lane, we were the first to pass the eleven-plus exam to HBGC in 1952. Two years later I gained a Hertfordshire County Council bursary to Rugby.

 

In the school holidays, I worked for Fred Maybrick at Preston Hill Farm and got to know and respect him and Anne and also Alec Currell their foreman – a lovely man, who lived next door to the Crawleys.

 

I moved to Baldock in 1961 to work for The Admiralty and lived at its staff hotel there and also The Wilderness. After my grandmother died (she was buried at St Martin on 23 November 1961) the house and land was sold to Derek Seebohm for his newly-built, Chequers Cottage.

 

(I am in the photo on the 'Mardell page' during the Best Kept Village Award outside the Red Lion in 1961. Towards the back on the left-hand side. Link: Robert)


In 1967, I returned to Preston where my wife, Janet, and I built a house on Church Road. Our children were born when we lived in Preston and were christened at St Martin. 

 

Although we had to move to Berkhamsted because of a change of job in 1971, we visited the village practically every weekend to see Frank and Marjorie Pugh, who had come  to live with my grandparents  during the war. Incidentally, you didn’t mention the doodlebug that fell in the corner of Hearnsfield Wood, Preston Hill Farm. Parts of it were still there when I worked for Fred Maybrick. There was another one that came down between Austage End and Preston.

 

I don't live in Preston today - being a Little Wymondley resident now - I am OF Preston and it will always be my home. I inherited Frank Pugh’s shares in the Red Lion so can be found there once or twice a week. The

three-mile walk back to Wymondley is very pleasant!

 
There were at least seven ponds from the Green to the crossroads of Church Lane and Back Lane/ Butchers Lane. The pond at that corner was excavated for the sewage pumping station in 1969. All the rest filled in during the house building programme of the 1950's/1960's. I’m pleased to see the village pond is back. There were also two ponds at Pond Farm, but both are now gone and a pond at Preston Hill Farm – also gone. All were dew ponds and are a sad loss to our environment. 

 

I was very pleased to read the recent account of Offley Holes House. I remember visiting the site when I was a boy and poking about in the still-visible ruins. Some interesting ‘treasures’ there, such as spent .303 cartridges ( I can’t remember if they had been fired or whether they simply went bang in the fire); the steel heel-piece from an army boot and bits of barbed wire.

 

The outline of the House’s foundations were still clear in the early 1950’s, but they are far too overgrown to see anything now - although some of the shrubs may survive. The legal wrangling after the fire was pretty unsatisfactory for both owner and tenant. The War Office should have paid up.

 

I was always under the impression that the House had been built on much older foundations. The coach-house is still extant and inhabited. It was occupied by Mrs Fountain in the 1960’s - she kept the Preston village shop after Rose Stanley gave it up. She told us that her mother had been born at The Wilderness when it was a tailor’s shop. The high ceiling of the kitchen is added evidence that it was a butcher’s shop at some time.

 

My grandfather reckoned that there had been animal slaughtering on the site. I’m not sure when the cottage between The Wilderness and Rose Cottage came down, but it was well before my grandparents and the Blanchards moved in during the early 1930’s. Blanchard’s barn was thatched but it was re-covered with asbestos in the 1940’s. 

 

My grandparents used to say that The Wilderness and Rose Cottage were part of the Offley Holes Estate and that ‘the Templetons’ had owned Offley Holes before it burnt down - and that they built Tatmore Place to replace it afterwards. I suspect that as incomers they had misheard and Temple Dinsley was meant.  The deeds to The Wilderness went to Derek Seebohm when he bought the cottage and the land from my grandparents in 1956. The deal was that my grandparents could live there rent-free for the remainder of their lives and that he would build Chequers Cottage at the other end of the field. This was erected in 1958. He kept the deeds after he built Chequers Cottage, moved from Poynders End and sold off The Wilderness in 1963. They should indicate who had originally owned The Wilderness.

 

In the event, The Wilderness did not come onto the market until late 1963 - two years after my grandma died. I wanted to buy it but my fiancee would have none of living in a damp, draughty cottage with no hot water, no inside ‘loo’ ( evn the attraction of a rare outside ‘two holer’ couldn’t mover her! So we bought a nice new three-bedroomed semi in Langford for three years until the building plot on what is now Church Road came on the market.

 

I have also re-read the piece on Welei which is located a only few hundred metres away from Offley Holes.  It is a strange and somewhat eerie place - much feared when I was young. I imagine it fell victim to the Black Death. Many hamlets did in Hertfordshire. There were probably more dwellings at Sootfield Green too. It was known sixty years ago as Pilgrim’s Plot - a reference to Bunyan?  Its ‘green at the lanes’ crossing was a favourite stopping place for gypsies - proper ones, true Roma, with their hooped horse-drawn caravans. They would call to sell pegs and ‘lucky heather’ but would never venture inside the dwelling of a ‘gorgio’.

 

I have also looked again at the old photographs of Preston. No doubt it was a much more attractive village than the clean, sanitized and up-market place we see today! (Although the living conditions would have been pretty grim)

 

Re the Newells: they ran the village Post Office at  6 Chequers Cottages until it went to the Worthingtons on the Green after the Second World War.  Eileen Newell delivered the telegram which announced my birth (my father was working for GW King on hanger doors at Blackpool Airfield at the time) to my grandparents with the words “It’s a boy”. They were not pleased to thus informed!

 

There was a wind-pump at the bottom of the garden of 6 Chequers Cottages. It was dismantled by my grandfather after mains water was brought to the village. I think it had supplied much of Chequers Lane.

 

Hill Farm had a similar pump - although Fred Maybrick had disconnected the sails’ drive and used a donkey engine in my time. When I worked for him in my youth, my weekly task was to start the engine and periodically check whether the tank was full.

 

There was plenty of evidence of about six cottages which had been behind Preston Hill Farm. The old road down to Frogmore Bottom ran between them. It is ploughed over now, as are the cottage ruins. There was also evidence of cottages below Reeves Cottage - gone now.

 

Mardells lived in Reeves Cottage when they first fled from the bombing of London early in the War. They moved to the end council cottage at Chequers Lane, nearest Castle Farm,  just after the War ended.

 

Concerning the Swedish Houses. The village was amazed to see them go up so fast – in the late 1940’s, if memory serves. Murrays were at No 24. Paul was a close friend of my father. They had lived with my grandparents at the end of the war. Paul worked for Derek Seebohm after being de-mobbed from the RAF. His sons, Nick and Julian, were my closest friends. Nick still is, and I talk to Julian occasionally.

 

I have fond memories of Preston School, cold in winter, outside toilets and a very scary headmistress, Miss Dawkins, notwithstanding. Her successor Mr Luck was a breath of fresh air!

 

I was sorry to see the building torn down and two smart, linked-detached houses erected in its place. We looked at one when we were moving back to the area in 2006 but concluded the build-quality was not good and over-priced. Our barn in Little Wymondley is better. 

 

A note about Dick Middleditch: I knew him well. He took over my pet goat and looked after it at his cottage in Wain Wood after I went off to boarding school.

 

When we were building our house (now Thurlaston) on a piece of land in Church Road we had bought from Reuben Freeman (not an easy man to do business with...) in 1967-8 (we were living in a caravan on the site and having our first baby), Dick remarked that the site reminded him of Passchendaele in WW1. It was a bad winter and had been well-churned-up. He said he had served in the Beds & Herts.

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Above:(l to r) Edward M Sunderland

and Paul E Murray

Above: Olive J Sunderland

Above: (l to r) Paul E Murray and Edward M Sunderland at Butchers Lane after a snow storm circa1936

 

Robert Sunderland at Preston Hill Farm circa 1964 (note the cruck cottage far left)

Robert with his brothers, Steve and Tim at Preston Hill Farm circa 1964 (Rickyard Field ?)

The Wilderness

Preston Hill Farm - the Farm house is far right. The dog is one of Freddie Maybrick’s ratting Sealyhams (Teazel ?)

Addendum

Later, I sent Robert a page from the National Farm Survey of 1941 which reported his grandfather’s small holding at The Wilderness. Eight poles (about 44 sq yards) were given over to potatoes; four poles (about 22 sq yds) to an orchard. Half an acre was grass that was mowed; a quarter of an acre was grass for grazing. He kept ten fowls aged over six months, seventeen ducks and six goats.

 

Robert responded: My grandparents’ smallholding was about two acres. Although this Return was made around the time of my birth, I well remember Grandpa being very concerned later on that the land would be taken out of his hands and farmed by someone else.

 

They kept goats, ducks and chickens and one of Taylor’s farm labourers, Mr Nunn, who lived at Pond Farm after the war, cultivated quite a large area for vegetables. The produce was shared. Mr Bonfield (a Whitwell milkman) would come along with his little Ferguson T20 and side-cutter to take a crop of hay off much of the rest. Grandpa also tried sugar-beet but the rats ate the lot. We got milk from the goats (and manure.....). Billy kids went to a Letchworth Bacon Factory.

 

Interesting that the beehives were not included. One of my jobs was to turn the handle of the honey separator.

Eggs were stored in an isinglass solution. Lots of jam was made from our plums and fruit picked along the hedges.  Apples, pears were stored until about March.  Plus wonderful ‘horse’ mushrooms from the meadow opposite us on Pond Farm. One would fill a frying pan. Grandma pickled much of the garden produce and baked her own bread.  They were pretty nearly self-sufficient and did not suffer the worst of the privations of the war and the following period.

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