For around seventy years the Pryor brothers, Ralston De Vins (RdeV) and Gerald Ithel
Eade (GIE) were intrinsically involved in Preston life. RdeV in particular left an
enduring legacy in the village.
Pryor House at Preston Green is a fitting reminder of the family.
Ralston de Vins Pryor
When Temple Dinsley was sold by auction in 1874, Henry Pryor bought Lot One of the
estate (shown below) evidently intending that his two young sons, Ralston de Vins
(RdeV) and Gerald Ithel Eade (GIE) would manage it when they grew older. The villagers
referred to the brothers either by their initials or as “Squire” and “Long” Pryor
The Pryors apparently never lived in the mansion of Temple Dinsley. Towards the end
of the nineteenth century, the house was let to John Weeks, then Henry Brand (MP
and magistrate) and Frederick MacMillan.
Ralston de Vins Pryor
In 1881, RdeV, aged 17, was continuing his education at St Paul’s College, Stony
Stratford East, Bucks. Ten years later in 1891, he was living in The Cottage beside
the Hitchin Road on the outskirts of Preston.
This had a drawing room, dining room, library, kitchen, scullery, cellar, dairy,
eight bedrooms and two dressing rooms. Close by were stables, coach-house and a small
farmyard and buildings. There was a garden with greenhouses and hothouses. Ralston
described himself as an ‘estate agent’ – which referred to his duties in connection
with his father’s property and his work as an estate surveyor.
Clearly The Cottage was too extensive for Ralston’s needs so it was decided to also
let this property - Henry Anstruther, Lord of the Treasury, was residing there in
Between 1891 and 1901, the Pryors built The Laburnums (now Pryor House, right) in
the field behind the Red Lion public house. It was described as a brick-built house
with tiled roof. Inside were a drawing room, dining room, kitchen, scullery, laundry
and w.c. and on the first floor, a bathroom and four bedrooms. In 1915, GIE was renting
the first floor from RdeV, his landlord.
The transcribers of the 1901 census mis-labelled the house, Labour-in-vain!
In 1895, Henry Pryor made a Deed of Gift to Ralston, of land occupied today by Chequers
Cottages and their gardens. This Deed may well have included the entire estate that
he purchased as when the Inland Revenue conducted its survey of Preston in 1909/10,
Ralston was recorded as owning twenty-seven cottages clustered in the middle of the
village together with the Chequers Inn and odd plots of land including the allotments
and the rail pond with its adjoining land by Preston Green. This indicates that
the Pryors had sold none of the homes originally bought by Henry in 1874 and that
RdeV’s portfolio at Preston now included the newly-built The Laburnums and four small
cottages at Back Lane (see below).
The area shown in light and dark blue on the map above was dealt with apart from
the Temple Dinsley estate by Thomas H Darton. He raised a mortgage on it of £400
from Thomas Perkins which was repaid by Thomas’ widow, Emily, shortly after his death
in 1885. She then sold this land to GIE for £900 in 1908. In turn, the following
year, GIE sold the area coloured in light blue to his brother Ralston for £200.
Temple Dinsley mansion and The Cottage together with other plots of land were sold
to Mr James Barrington White in 1901 together with land sandwiched between Blacksmith’s
and Back Lane. Shortly afterwards, Henry Pryor died intestate in the summer of 1904
leaving an estate of £23,148.
Although the Pryors owned the majority of the cottages at Preston, most of their
portfolio were in a poor, dilapidated condition. Perhaps the prospect of demolishing
and replacing their housing stock was daunting but five years or so after the death
of their father, Henry, the Pryors sold all their properties at Preston, retaining
only their home, The Laburnums in which the two brothers were living in 1911. However
from news reports it appears that RdeV still owned some property on his father’s
Margaret Pryor, Henry’s widow, died on 25 June 1915 at a flat at 38 Gunterstone Road,
West Kensington. She left an estate of £2,908 which would seem to indicate that Henry’s
holdings had already been distributed. RdeV was his mother’s executor.
Perhaps the major enduring contribution RdeV made to Preston related to St Martin’s
Church. In early 1898, he was approached by the Revd Switzer of St Marys, Hitchin
to see if he would sell a parcel of land for a new church in the village. RdeV agreed
with the proviso that the necessary funds should be raised and he was part of the
committee which administered the Church Building Fund. In 1908, he was instrumental
in the opening of a new village club room on Church Lane opposite St Martin’s lych
gate. He gave the site and ‘collected most of the money required’. The building still
RdeV was the Chairman of the Parish Council from 1901 to 1915. He was also one of
Preston school’s managers and regularly visited the school, often checking the register
and sometimes even taking some lessons in arithmetic, drawing and history. In particular
he encouraged children with their gardening pursuits. He took charge of the school
garden in 1908 and sometimes took a party from the school to show them his rose garden.
In 1926, he coached the boys in cricket.
Ralston also had an interest in three leisure pursuits: rose growing, amateur dramatics
There are several newspaper reports of concerts which were organised by RdeV around
his first home, Clifton, Beds in the 1890s. At Shefford in January 1890 he organised
and acted in the farce, Freezing a mother-in-law. “The room was well filled on both
evenings and the performers were loudly applauded’. Profits were donated to the local
cricket club and reading room. The following year, an entertainment was given for
the purchase of kneelers for Sunday School children at Clifton. Ralston played Dearest
Love Waltz as a piano solo and sang The Carnovale. That same year at another concert,
it was reported that ‘the humourous songs of Mr R de V Pryor greatly amused the audience...and
the comic finale, a banjo duet by RDeV and GIE Pryor created roars of laughter’.
The pair also performed ‘their new and original Kentucky march and twist, never before
performed in England (encore)’. In addition, Ralston played a harp solo of The Ashgrove.
Then again in 1895, at an amateur dramatics show on Ralston ‘devolved the very responsible
duty of stage manager and by his clever manipulation of the curtain and scenery it
was obvious to all that he was a perfect master of the art’. He also had a leading
part in the farce. He and his sister Beryl ‘brought the house down by their rendering
of the various comicalities and passages of pathos in the piece’.
Ralston also put on ‘cheerful concert parties at Preston using the carpenter’ shop
on the Green (which became Peters’ shop Link: Carpenters shop). The Preston Scrapbook
has photographs of some of the productions (Link: Scrapbook). The Pryors toured neighbouring
villages in a wagonette with their concerts. In 1899, at Kings Walden Parish Church,
a missionary lecture was delivered with RdeV ‘manipulating photographs with his magic
lantern to illustrate the scenes’.
In the years leading up to The Great War, RdeV won several awards for his prize roses.
Typical of the news reports was this from a Hertford Rose Show in July 1913: ‘In
Class 1 for twelve distinct roses the first prize was carried off by Mr R Pryor of
Preston who had in his collection the best bloom in the show - a very beautiful specimen
of Yvonne Vacherot. Amongst his other blooms the most conspicuous were Her Majesty,
Mrs Arthur Coxhead and William Shean’.
Ralston and his brother Gerard also encouraged village cricket. RdeV’s interest in
the game was shown in 1894 when he and his brother Armitage turned out for the Rev
H E Lury’s side against Silsoe in 1894. That same year, he and GIE played for Kings
Walden cricket team and for a Hitchin XI against Christ College, Cambridge. In 1902,
he was part of the Preston team who visited Kings Walden along with P Barrington-White,
R Ashton, E Robinson, S Elgas, Arthur Wray (my uncle), W Clinch, H Thrussell, A Gresty,
W Thrussell and W Sharp.
Personal reminiscences of RdeV Pryor -by David Peters
My family had an association with Mr. Pryor and The Laburnums for as long as I can
recall. I am not certain how it all came about, but it may be that my mother was
in service there before her marriage. Additionally, my great aunt, Christobel Peters
was Mr. Pryor's housekeeper. From an early age, my sister Queenie and I had free
reign to play in the grounds and it was always Saturday afternoon tea in the kitchen
with both Mr. Pryor and aunt Chris right up to the time of his death. It is worthy
of note that all the photographs concerning any of the Peters family weddings had
The Laburnums as a backdrop.
Ralston de Vins Pryor could best be described as a quintessential English gentleman.
Well educated, he had inherited wealth and still held parcels of land around the
village. A bachelor, his only known relative of whom I was aware was a sister, Beryl,
who I believe lived in Bristol and was an artist of some repute. I never knew him
to travel anywhere but in his younger days he would have got about by pony and trap.
He had been a rose grower of some note and his trophies were displayed in his dining
room. He kept the rainfall figures for the Meteorological Office which may explain
why he had such a valuable collection of barometers. He was an avid crossword solver
but he never had the good fortune to win the Telegraph Saturday prize crossword,
despite his many attempts over the years.
I can conjure up memories of him toddling off to The Red Lion at noon each day dressed
in his country tweeds and plus-fours. He was back by two o'clock for a light lunch
in the kitchen with my aunt. He dined alone each evening except for Sundays which
was aunt Chris's half day off. When the weather was warm of an afternoon he could
be found sitting on an upturned wooden box doing a little light weeding of the footpaths
around the lawns. He eschewed the benefits of electricity and mains water; lighting
was by paraffin lamps and heating by open fires. Drinking water was drawn from a
pump over the kitchen sink - good taste, too.
RdeV had a piano and my parents bought it at the house sale and later it went to
my sister via Glasgow and finally Brentwood. I never heard him play but I am not
surprised that he at one time entertained with some ditties. I recall that he had
a very good sense of humour.
He died at The Laburnums in March, 1945, at the age of 81, following a short illness.
The house and contents were put up for auction ,and Aunt Chris went to live with
George and Bertha Nash at Laburnum Cottage. So ended (at 14) a happy era of my life.
Ralston took my father under his wing. My mother said that Dad was helped by ‘a local
squire who taught him the rudiments of cards and snooker’.
To my surprise, in 2005, I discovered confirmation of this relationship in my garden
shed! I have an old woodworm-riddled fork (shown left) that was used by Dad which
has ‘RdeVP’ etched into its handle.
David Peters mentioned that he remembered Dad tending Ralston’s kitchen garden at
I was told by an aunt that, when he was dying, Ralston asked to see my father but
was prevented from doing this by his housekeeper.
Ralston (described as a retired land surveyor) died of cancer of the rectum on 7
March 1945 at The Laburnums. His death was notified by his housekeeper, Annie Christobel
Peters who was present at the death. Four days later, he was buried at St Martin’s
Church opposite the door (above right).
RdeV’s will bestowed £50 to two of his three nominated executors. Annie Christobel
Peters was to have his antique chest of drawers and a sum which was equal to five
years cash wages. He left his gold signet ring with crest to his nephew, Harford
de Vins Lury; his grandfather clock to Bertha Emily Nash (nee Peters); his Sheritan
corner cupboard from the drawing room to Philadelphia Constance Peters. The residue
was to be divided between his siblings, Lilian Amy Lury, Margaret Beryl Pryor and
Armigel Henry Pryor. The net value of his estate was a surprising £540. It seems
that he spent his inheritance ‘flying small planes and enjoying life’.
All that was left was to sell Ralston’s home and contents. The Laburnums was sold
by auction at the Sun Hotel, Hitchen on 17 April 1945. It was described as having
‘ two reception rooms, four bedroom, bath, detached billiards room (across the courtyard
from the house DP), rose and flower gardens, land with outbuildings including orchard,
rose garden, paddock and three acres of meadow’.
The house contents were sold separately: ‘oak and iron bedsteads, tables, chairs,
four-feet walnut wardrobe, antique mahogany club-foot table with oval leaves, antique
eight-day clock by Field of Hitchin, iron-framed piano by Chappell, three-foot oak
bureau, mahogany dining table, aneroid with clock and chart,antique and modern silver
and plate, half-size billiards table and a large quantity of carpenters and garden