A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Preston’s Cottages: Chequers Cottages
Chequers Cottages were built on a two-acre field of pasture (marked 125 below) that historically was part of the Temple Land of the Temple Dinsley estate. From late in the eighteenth century, it had been owned by the Darton family - the Lords (and Lady) of the Manor of Temple Dinsley.
The first recorded occupant of the field was Mrs Read who, in 1811, was living in the cottage marked * above. By 1844, the licensee of the nearby Chequers Inn, John Young, was farming not only that field but those numbered 126 and 127 above. When the Dartons sold their estate to Henry Maclean Pryor (HMP) in 1874, the field was included in the package - it was now occupied by John Swain. On 16 May 1895, HMP gave the field to his son, Ralston de Vins Pryor (RdVP). In turn, twelve years later, on 30 September 1907, RdVP sold the meadow to William Pugh, a confectioner from Shepherds Bush, London for £90. It was still occupied by John Swain. Pugh made a quick, handsome profit as on 6 August 1913, he sold the field to Hitchin Rural District Council (HRDC) for £160. The reason for the sale according to an article in the Luton Times and Advertiser was that HRDC had concluded that as so many of the tumbledown cottages in Preston were insanitary, the land was earmarked as a site for six new homes. Then, on 3 October 1913, the same newspaper reported that Mr H Fenwick was prepared, at his own expense, to guarantee the provision of suitable houses at Preston ‘of a better type than the council would have erected’ to be ‘let at not a higher rent than the council would have charged’. His proposal unsurprisingly was unanimously accepted and the land was transferred to him on 18 November 1913. Following the Fenwick’s divorce, the property was transferred to Violet Fenwick in June 1916 who sold it to Douglas Vickers in 1918.* In the light of the foregoing, it may stated with certainty that Chequers Cottages were built in 1914. They were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and illustrate how he ‘was able to turn the simplest of buildings into fine architecture’. His design was influenced in its character by his additions at Temple Dinsley. The cottages were intended to be ‘home’ for pensioners and others connected with the Temple Dinsley Estate. The row is symmetrical with a projecting cross-wing at both ends. The walls of the cottages are solid, with no cavity, built in Flemish garden wall bond which interposed ‘headers’ at every fourth brick. A patchwork appearance is achieved by mixing the colours of the narrow bricks which are dark red and blue. The row is two storeys high - the first floor being hung with red tiles which have aged pleasingly. The roofs have a steep pitch and are made of red tiles which were hand made. ‘The secret of success in a long row of this kind is to preserve an unbroken roof-line which is also maintained here in the projecting wings at either end - the only break is a window in the window. The row had small-paned, flush, wooden casement windows and front doors constructed of vertical planks in wooden frames. The distinctive appearance of the cottages is enhanced by the dominating chimneys - six square and fat along the ridge with a waisted cap and corner pilasters. Launched from the cross-wings are two imposing rectangular slabs of chimneys, each with two square shafts. They bear the Lutyens’ stamp. At the centre of the row is a brick central passageway which is barrel-shaped and was originally the common entrance to the rear of the cottages (one of the difficulties in the design of a long row of cottages is to provide access from the front and rear of the properties). The tunnel was eerily dark at night. I’ll always remember the crunch of the gravel as I passed through, the momentary darkness until I emerged in the sunlight - to be greeted, as often as not, by George Jeeves’ beaming grin. Then, running the gauntlet of Mr and Mrs Smith peeping out from among their geraniums in the porch of No. 4 and finally scenting Auntie Nan’s steak and kidney pudding prepared on the black cooking range. At the rear of the row are three single-story brick outhouses or storage barns which have hip-roofs. The central outhouse was divided by a passageway which continues the lines of the entrance tunnel. The outhouses mirrored the design of the buildings around the rose garden at Temple Dinsley. Attached to them were pumps that were connected to underground storage tanks which collected rainwater. I remember the pungent smell in these barns from the vegetables which were stored over winter. The photographs below are from 1918/19:
Above are the ground floor plans of the cottages. Note that the two ‘bookends’ are rather larger and include a parlour as well as a living room and scullery. Two others have a bedroom on the ground floor as well as two above stairs. Thus ample variety was provided in the accommodation. The occupants of Chequers Cottages in 1919 were: Arthur and Lizzie Palmer 1 (probably with William Andrews) Thomas, Martha and Lawrence Henry Peters 2 Amos and Henry Jeeves 3 William and Kate Frederick Smart 4 Alfred and Emily Wray 5 (my grandparents together with several children. Alfred worked as a woodman on the estate. After losing a leg following an accident, he was allowed to live rent-free in the cottage. When my aunt Flossie heard the cottages might be bought, she immediately contacted Douglas Vickers.) Henry James and Emma Armstrong 6 Five years later, in 1924, William Andrews had been buried at St Martin on 28 June 1921 (aged 86), the Jeeves household had been swelled by George and Jesse, Lawrence Peters had left the parental home and the Smarts had been replaced by Herbert and Elsie Marion Deer at No 4. The occupants of Chequers Cottages in 1929 were: Arthur (died Sept 1945) and Lizzie (died July 1940) Palmer 1 Thomas Peters (died March 1940, aged 86) with Annie, Martha and Caroline Peters 2 Amos Jeeves with Sarah (spinster) and George Jeeves 3 Charlie and Lydia Inez Bird Reed 4 Alfred and Emma Wray 5 Frederick William and Gertrude Kate Armstrong 6
The three photographs above are from the 1930s. Those pictured by the barn are (l to r), my grandmother, Emily Wray, her sister, Phyllis Jenkins, of Castle Farm and Annie Peters from No 2
In around 1939, Preston Post Office was re-located to No 6 Chequers Cottages - which became known as Elm Cottage.
There is evidence that Thomas George Armstrong owned No 1 Chequers Cottages from 1918 and appears to have rented out the property. From around 1940 it was used as a Police Cottage. Frank Theophilus Dale was living there in January of that year. He had been replaced by PC Frank Leslie Dent by February 1945) Then, in February 1946, Thomas Armstrong (who was living at Crossways, Hitchin Hill, Hitchin) sold the property to William Wheeler of The Garage, Kings Walden for £500. One provision of the sale was that the right of way to No 4 Chequers Cottages via a drive beside No 1 and across the yards at the rear of Nos 1 - 3 was preserved. This allowed horses, other animals, carts and cars to pass from Chequers Lane to 4 Chequers Cottages.
The photograph above right was taken in the 1930s and illustrates that access to the rear of the cottages from No 6 had not changed since 1918/19. In the 1960s, the yards of Nos 5 and 6 were divided by a high fence - though in the middle there were gates. This was to allow my aunt Flossie to drive her car from Chequers Lane, through Elm Cottage’s yard onto her property at No 5. This arrangement was probably inconvenient for everyone - but I never saw her do this. In 1977, it was still possible to get to the rear of the cottages using the alley.
1952 - Elm Cottage. Henry J and Gertrude K Armstrong (Not there in 1964) Leonard T and Eileen G Newell (Joined by Christopher J Newell by 1964 and Margaret A and Stephen J by 1969; these three were not present in 1980) 6 Amos, Sarah and George Jeeves (Amos not there in 1954; nor Sarah in 1959; nor George by 1980) 3 Annie Margaret Peters (Not there in 1985) 2 Sidney and Louisa Smith (Louisa not there in 1969; nor Sidney in 1980) 4 Florence Sugden and Annie Wray (Florence not there in 1969; nor Annie in 1980) 5 Frank Leslie and Clarice Dent (Not there in 1959) (aka Police Cottage) 1 1964 - Mary Rutland (Not there in 1969) 1 1969 - Alice L Garratty and Florence M Manger (Not there in 1985) 1 1980 - Harry and Doris Cook (Not there in 1985) 3 Marion G Pateman (Not there in 1985) 4 Andrew JS and Frances E Payne. (There in 1985) 5 1985 - Christopher and Susan G Raven Elm Cottage 6 Roger D and Judith A Broughton 4 Cyril J Hews and Daphne W Holder 3 Hugh B Davies 1
Occupants of Chequers Cottages from 1952
Modern-day views of Chequers Cottages
Rear of No 5 in 1977