A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Capt. Evelyn F E and Aileen V (nee Garrett) Hammond of Sootfield Green
Evelyn Francis Edward Hammond was born on 21 August 1883 at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and baptised in that county at St Ethelbert, Herringswell on 25 October 1883. His parents were Octavius and Annie Elizabeth (nee Robertson) Hammond (Octavius’ second wife). They produced one son, Evelyn, and a daughter, Annie Octavia Hammond. She married the army officer, Richard T E Dowse, who eventually achieved the rank of Colonel. Evelyn had a privileged background. The Hammonds were an established banking family based at Newmarket, Suffolk and his father was the Rector of Herringswell in Suffolk. Yet when the censuses were taken in 1891 and 1901, Evelyn was living with his parents and not at a boarding school, which one might have expected - his father graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Following the death of the banker, Edward Hammond in 1903, his brother, Octavius inherited his estate at Barton Mill, Suffolk. The residue of his £130,000 estate was divided between Edward’s nephews and nieces, who included, Evelyn. A newspaper obituary which followed his father’s death in August 1908 provides a potted history of Evelyn’s family (although perhaps the reference to Evelyn might be thought to be terse):
In 1909, Evelyn married Winifred Mary Prance, the daughter of a London barrister at St Stephens, Paddington, London.
The London Evening Standard reported this Society wedding:
It took around twelve years to finalise the distribution of Octavius’ estate. Administration with a will was granted to his widow in 1909 (estate: £6,727) but a further administration with will was granted to Evelyn (now a Captain in H M Army) in March 1921 (estate: £4,961).
The 1911 census recorded Evelyn and his wife as residing in the twelve-roomed The Grange, Barton, Suffolk.
(Centre) Vida Evelyn Hammond
The following year, the London Gazette reported that Evelyn joined the 6th Cyclists Battalion, Suffolk Regiment on 18 November 1912 as a Second Lieutenant:
My grandfather also joined the Military Cyclists in 1912 at Portsmouth. Their raison d’etre was that following the invention of the bicycle, horses suddenly became redundant for many operations of war. Cycles could now be used for reconnaissance and communications. They were lighter, quieter and logistically easier to support than horses which needed to be fed, stabled and shoe-ed. Two sets of uniforms were provided free of charge and while recruits brought their own cycles, they were paid a cycle allowance of 30s 6d, together with a boot allowance. They were to be aged between 18 and 35, ‘well educated men who are good cyclists’ and who would ‘do their best to make themselves good and efficient soldiers’. Later recruitment posters decreed that they should be a minimum of 5’ 3’’ tall. Their assignment was to patrol the coast-line. The thinking was that such a Battalion would free the Navy and the Army to do their duty elsewhere without fear of what was happening at home. The cyclists were capable of quick mobilisation so as to throw a net around any possible invader. Their training included rides of more than 100 miles and skirmishes with armed corps. The cyclists were part of the Territorial Army, and were not part of the British Army at this time. Evelyn was at a Cyclists Camp at Saxmundham, Suffolk in July 1913 which was attended by more than 400 cyclists. Evelyn was promoted to Captain in the 6th Suffolk Battalion. It is not clear whether he was still a military cyclist but he was still part of the Territorial Force in 1916, which was now accepted as part of the British Army. As a consequence there is little further information about his Army career, except to note that in 1939 he was described as an “ex-Captain Army Journalist”. Perhaps Evelyn’s secular interests (and the shape of things to come) were revealed by the results of a Dog Show at Bury St Edmunds in May 1913:
Evelyn’s mother died in June 1918. Her estate of £1,287 was administered not by her son but by a Hammond relative who was a bank director. After Vida’s birth, Evelyn and Winifred had no more children, In 1912, at a Hammond wedding which Evelyn attended, he was not accompanied by his wife, for whatever reason. In February 1919, Captain E F E Hammond was photographed in France (right) as part of the 11th (Cambs) Suffolk Regiment:
When Evelyn resigned his commission in 1921, he retained the rank of Captain.
An enumerator of the 1921 census noted Evelyn, Winifred and Vida at the eight-roomed, 1 Crescent Road, Aldeburgh, Plomegate, Suffolk.
In June 1923, Evelyn was still breeding fox terriers and winning prizes at the Bury St Edmunds Dog Show (and later, a Bedfordshire Dog Show):
In August 1927, Evelyn (now of 6 Norfolk Mansions, Battersea) was fined £4 for speeding. Then, in November 1927, he and Winifred divorced:
After their divorces, Evelyn married Aileen at St Pancras, London in the spring of 1928. They had two children: Octavius A E Hammond (born around 1929, Wandsworth, Surrey) and Miriam A E (born in the summer of 1930, also at Wandsworth). Probably after her re-marriage, Aileen began to make a name for herself as a journalist/writer who specialised in writing about pets, nature and animals. In the 1930’s, she claimed to be ‘practically the only journalist writing on these subjects who is a specialist in so many varieties’. I can find no samples of her articles when writing under her maiden name, Garrett, or her married name, Partridge - and yet she appears to have a large body of work. She is listed as being Among English and European Authors 1931 -1949 under the name Aileen Vera Hammond. Possibly she was encouraged to write by her husband, Evelyn who was now a ‘Livestock journalist and Breeder’. As well as his interest in breeding dogs mentioned earlier, in December 1928 Evelyn won prizes at the Croydon Cage Bird Show:
Aileen Partridge was born on 9 July 1895 and was the daughter of Rickmansworth, Herts physician and surgeon, Arthur Edward Garrett and his wife, Flora Elizabeth. Aileen married Thomas Partridge at Bury St Edmunds towards the end of 1919. The couple had two children who were born in the Stow, Suffolk district: Desmond G Partridge (born 9/1920) and Patricia D (12/1925). Patricia was probably with Evelyn and Aileen at Sootfield Green, Preston in 1935, when she was referred to as ‘Patty’.
When Evelyn disposed of his mother’s effects after her death, they included ‘aviaries’. A number of sources describe Aileen as writing for the magazines: Home Notes - Pet Expert (a monthly women’s magazine which became Woman’s Own in 1958), Modern Home, Cage Birds and Farmers Weekly (from 1934), Cage Bird Fancy, Fur and Feather and Smallholder. She was also the ‘Pet Expert’ writing for the newspaper, Hertfordshire Mercury. This is the background to the family that moved to Preston sometime between 1930 and 1935. They lived at Sootfield Green but their young children did not attend Preston’s School. In August 1935 they were interviewed by a reporter for the Hertfordshire Express:
Have you ever strolled down the front garden path of an ordinary farmhouse, set in the midst of a typically-English countryside and been met by a real, honest-to-goodness badger? No? Then let an Express reporter tell you of this and other unusual experiences which befell him when he made a call upon Capt. E A V (sic) Hammond and Mrs Hammond at their residence, Sootfield Green, Preston, the other evening. Hearing the deep baying of (so it seemed to me) many dogs, I took the precaution of rattling the the front gate well, and waited for the front door to open before I ventured along the path (he writes). I was hardly prepared for what happened. Capt. Hammond emerged carrying in his arms what seemed from a distance to be a prettily-marked cat. When he carefully put the furry bundle on the ground however, I saw it was a full-grown badger. ‘He’s quite tame’, Capt. Hammond assured me, and resolutely I put aside my first thoughts of ignominious flight. I was very glad afterwards that I did. I would have missed a lot if I had taken to my heels and vaulted over the gate into the road beyond. Badgered by ‘Bill’ Having introduced myself to Capt. Hammond, stern convention decreed that I should be introduced to the badger. His name I was told was ‘Bill’ - just plain ‘Bill’. To my great relief ‘Bill’ took to me. Actually he greeted me by seizing the turn-ups of my trousers in his gleaming white fangs and gently tugging them as if to say, ‘I can’t shake hands, you know, but at any rate you can see that I’m attached to you. At a word from the Captain he ceased to embarrass me with his attentions and went for a scamper across the lawn. There followed an introduction to Mrs Hammond and three of her children, Patty (whose photograph we reproduce), Octavius, her younger brother and Miriam, a five-year-old sprite who has been photographed almost as much as a a film star. Mrs Hammond, you see, is a regular writer on pets and nature subjects in Home Notes, Modern Home, Cage Birds, Farmers Weekly and many other journals and Miriam often finds a place in the pictures which illustrate her articles. On entering the house, I found several beautiful cats languorously stretched out on the easy chairs and other restful spots. Most of them were Persians. Some were aristocrats of the feline world. One lovely creature I was told, was the daughter of champions - a handsome gift to Mrs Hammond from one of her admiring readers. ‘John Henry’ On I went to the outhouses where other unusual pets were awaiting me. Here was ‘Bill’s’ cage, a very neat-and0-clean affair. I had no idea that badgers, even the best badgers like ‘Bill’ were so particular as to their habits in the home. Not even a sign of cigarette ash on the carpet! Like all reporters, I started asking questions: ‘How is it that ‘Bill’ doesn’t gnaw through the woodwork of his cage now and again?’, I queried. Capt Hammond opened the skylight of ‘Bill’s’ residence and pointed out the smoothness of the interior. ‘He can’t get his teeth to work unless there is a a rough edge for him to start on’, he said. ‘And what rough edges there are, are outside, as you can see. That is why I have to make the cages for my animals. The carpenters would make them very nice from the outside - but one rough bit of wood inside and ‘Bill’ would be out in a flash. Next door to ‘Bill’ was a South American agouti, a pet that has been brought up with the family. He answers too the name ‘John Henry’. In his younger days he used to enjoy the privilege of sleeping with one of his little mistresses, then he suddenly got a taste for her toys and since this habit was neither good for his digestion, nor for the toys, ‘John Henry’ was sent back to his cage in disgrace. He is still a favourite, however, and when he was allowed a brief outing on the she floor, he took no liberties. When it was time for him to be restored to his cage, one of the little girls ran for a monkey nut with which to entice him, but ‘John Henry’ came to hand without any bribery and politely grunted his thanks before taking the nut to eat in his dining room. A Valuable Bird Part of the same shed has been converted into an aviary. Here there were doves, budgerigars, canaries and finches, a giant cazique (something like a blackbird, with an over sized bill) and a parrot. Most prized of all was a tiny South American finch, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world. I was informed that when it dies, its stuffed body has been promised to a museum. The talking parrot, swinging with droll solemnity on its cage ring, was reared from a mere fledgling by Mrs Hammond, who had to feed it for four months before it learnt the elementary art of looking after the ‘inner bird’. In the deeper shadows of another cage, ghostly forms pattered to and fro. Capt. Hammond put in his hand and captured one of them. It was a tame, white rat! A fleeting glance at the guinea pigs - quite a large family, and away we went to the meadow at the foot of the orchard, dodging as best we could the furious rushes of five gambolling dogs who accompanied us. On the way, Miriam slipped across to a cage against the wall of another shed, thrust her hand inside the door, and brought out a ferret which she carried over to us for inspection. I must confess that I have never liked ferrets. Their pink eyes, pointy snouts, strong teeth and grotesquely long squirming bodies fill me with repulsion. My sympathy goes out to the rabbits, yes, and even the rats who in the darkness of their holes suddenly find themselves confronted with such an arch-enemy. This five-years-old youngster handled her dangerous burden with just as much care as the average child of that age bestows upon a tiny kitten. My amazement grew when I was told that this particular ferret was an excellent ‘ratter’. I spoke my thoughts to my host. ‘You can tame anything if you have enough patience and go about it in the right way, he replied, laughing. All the same, I was relieved when the ferret had been safely tucked away behind the wire-netting again, after swinging from Miriam’s hand like a wash- leather. The first job when we got inside the meadow was to round up the ducks for the night. Even they seemed to respond to the behest of the human voice quicker than ordinary ducks. Best to the duck-pen, in a sturdily-built run, was the one disappointment of this strange colony - a fox, which had been caught too old to be trained in the way it should go. It was due to be returned from whence it came the next day. Students of nature are unanimous in asserting that foxes and ducks do not mix well, unless the fox has been very nicely brought up - hence Reynard’s ‘swan song’. At the end of the meadow, several goats were grazing peacefully. To me, it seemed strange that they should cast no more than a disinterested glance at the barking dogs as they dashed in and out and round about them. ‘The Fastest Bulldog in England’ Speaking of the dogs, I think I have discovered the fastest bulldog in England. Up to this visit I had always imagined bulldogs as heavy-jowled, lumbering animals, scarcely capable of raising a trot, let a lone a gallop. ‘Roger (as this one is called) convinced me otherwise. He sped along through the grass like a terrier and rolled an frisked with the others as though he thoroughly enjoyed it. Were there a Bulldog Derby my money would be on ‘Roger’ every time. Don’t run away with the impression that ‘Roger’ is not a pure-bred - that he is a criss between a bulldog and a greyhound, or something equally farcical. He can stand on his dignity alongside any other four-legged emblem of British strength. Once, one of the other dogs, a huge bull mastiff, carried a joke a bit too far and in a twinkling,’Roger’ was the true fighter, eloquent of his breed. The mastiff, although twice his size had to flee before his savage attack. A sharp word from Capt. Hammond and ‘Roger’ ceased his assault and slunk away, but he had shown his authority among his fellows in an impressive way. The Goat who Butted In To return to the goats, one amusing incident ought to be recorded. Capt. Hammond had taken a pickaxe to the meadow and some new stakes and having put the goats on to fresh pasture, was leaning back on his pickaxe talking to me when suddenly the pickaxe was knocked from his grasp and he was nearly flung headlong to the ground. A big shaggy-coated ‘Billy’ had butted into the conversation uninvited. With a judicious eye I gauged the length of his chain and tactfully edged just out of range. There was too much at stake….at that stake anyway. Dusk was falling when we made our way back to the house, still keeping a watchful eye on the high-spirited dogs who forever threatened to bowl us over in their sorties. I thought I had seen all there was to be seen but just before I said good-bye to Capt. and Mrs Hammond and the children, I learnt that one member of the family was too ill to receive visitors. Sorrowfully I was told of the rabbit’s serious illness. There will be real grief at Sootfield Green if it dies. These three fortunate children have many pets, but not so many that one can depart without being mourned.
Almost a year to the day after this interview was published, not only had the Hammonds moved from Preston, but Aileen had died. Why did the Hammonds leave Preston? At face value, Sootfield Green was an ideal holding for them to keep their menagerie. Indeed the article gives the impression that the various custom-built cages and outhouses sat easily in the Preston countryside. However, animal- lovers such as the Hammonds may have been horrified by a regular feature outside their front door on the small Green. There, the Grafton Hounds met during the 1930s with excited crowds of supporters and the baying and barking of beagles who were trained to find a ‘good scent’. Might it be that the close proximity of an animal sanctuary to the meet of a sport that killed animals was just too much for the family to stomach?
The scene of a typical bustling and chaotic Hertfordshire fox-meet in November 1934:
Whatever the reason for their move, the Hammonds were at The Kennels, near Buntingford, Herts in the summer of 1936. This was a seventeenth-century thatched cottage (shown below) with over four acres of grass paddocks overlooking open countryside and just outside the village of Cottered:
Aileen Hammond died in Hitchin Hospital on 30 August 1936 and left an estate of £100. Curiously, her children, Octavius and Miriam, were not included among the mourners at her funeral:
In early 1939, Evelyn married for a third time. His new bride was Dilys Gwendoline Morris, who was the daughter of a Welsh law clerk and fifteen years his junior, having being born at West Bridgford, Notts on 9 August 1898. The couple were at The Kennels in September 1939. The Register of that year has three redacted entries after their names which probably relate to the three children who were with Evelyn in 1935.
Evelyn was involved in Administrative and Special Duties during WW2, but by the end of the war, he and his wife had separated. In 1946, he was living at a Canadian YMCA at 23/24 York Place, Ripon, West Yorks. Evelyn died on 30 November 1954 at 43 Hartington Street, Derby, a substantial mid- terraced house. He left an estate of £2,413. Also in 1946, Dilys was at Rose Cottage, Duck Lane Stanford, Beds where she stayed for a few years. When she died, on 2 September 1983, she was residing at 28 High Street, Ashwell, Herts. Her estate was valued at less than £40,000.