A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Preston Farms: Home Farm, Hitchin Road
The Home Farm farmstead was situated on the west side of the Hitchin Road, Preston opposite The Cottage (Dower House) and just north of the present-day Preston Cricket Ground. It was in the parish of Ippollitts. In 1773, James Hanscombe of Pirton Grange inherited a large estate, that included the farm and its land, from his father, William Hanscombe. Fifteen year later, in 1788, James sold his property around Preston to Sir Francis Willes for £7,500. When Sir Francis died in 1827, his estate passed to the Lovell family and was eventually inherited by Francis Frederic Lovell of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, who was Sir Francis’ great nephew. A few years after Francis’ death, in August 1906, his holding was absorbed into the Temple Dinsley estate. The farm out-buildings were part of the Minsden Estate in 1945 and were sold as ‘the Estate Yard’ in a lot together with Castle Farm and Wain Wood. Here, there were brick and timber sawing sheds, two loose boxes and a three-bay cart shed. The farmhouse gradually became derelict (the ‘ruins remained for many years’) and by 1967 a Herts C.C. Highways Department yard occupied its position. Today, two detached houses, Hartings and Wain Wood Edge (see bottom of page), stand on the grounds previously occupied by the Home Farm farmhouse and its outbuildings.
The land farmed by Home Farm tenants
As Sir Francis Willes owned other property which was not part of Home Farm, it is difficult to determine precisely what land was attached to the farm. A further complication is that when the parishes of Kings Walden (in 1796-97) and Ippollitts (in 1818) were enclosed, some of Sir Francis’ holdings in these parishes were exchanged for other pieces of land so that after enclosure he held a different portfolio of fields and woods. The 1861 census notes that the farm occupied 140 acres. This assessment is more or less confirmed by a schedule which shows that Home Farm consisted of 133 acres within three parishes: Ippollitts (60 acres), Hitchin (27) and Kings Walden (26). Indeed this farm sprawled over more than 1½ miles with islands of fields dotted here and there. For this reason, it was probably difficult to manage this holding successfully. As Home Farm fields were located in three parishes and at least three manors (Temple Dinsley and Maidencroft), information about the farm is scattered among several sources, which is unhelpful for the researcher.
Home Farm farmhouse and out-buildings
These plans are copied from maps of Home Farm dated 1816 (above), 1898 (above, right) and circa 1910 (right). Note the ponds near the farmhouse that were essential for farm life. Animals drank from them and implements were cleaned in them. It is clear from the maps that out- buildings were added during the nineteenth century but many were demolished in the early twentieth century. Manorial records mention a courtyard and a ‘great stone lying near the gate’.
Home Farm - fields in Hitchin parish
Home Farm - fields in Ippollitts parish
The Large Pasture (15, above) was used during Preston’s celebrations to mark the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria on 20 June 1897.: it was ‘celebrated with great enthusiasm by the people of Preston and a total sum of £31 8s 4d was collected from which a mug, an orange and a bun were presented to every school child in the village. The remainder of the money was sufficient to provide prizes for sports and dinner and tea for all the inhabitants. Mr Alfred Brown of Home Farm placed the field in front of his house at the disposal of the committee who were supervising the arrangements. A marquee was erected there and after a Thanksgiving Service in the Mission Hall, everybody marched to the field where a substantial luncheon was provided. In the afternoon, there were sports and games and the day closed with music and dancing’. A significant part of this land (shown above) is now the Preston Cricket ground. It was Douglas Vickers (the then owner of Temple Dinsley) who gave permission for the meadows to be used as a recreation ground - though he was reluctant to allow football to be played there. The first pavilion was a derelict shed which stood where the gardens of Chequers Cottages are today. During World War I, the camouflaged tents of an Army Signals Platoon occupied the field. There was ‘much coming and going of motor despatch riders’. Sir Francis Willes acquired some of the land shown below from the Darton family after the enclosure of Ippollitts in 1818. This included Chalk Pit Field, Whitebread and land in Pageant Field. A word in passing about Pageant Field: its name was an excuse for Reginald Hine to wax lyrically about a pageant of historical characters who might have been glimpsed from Preston Hill in his Early History of Temple Dinsley
The total land of Home Farm in Ippollits parish was 60 acres 1 rood and 28 perches.
Home Farm - land in Kings Walden parish
The total land of Home Farm in Kings Walden parish after Enclosure (1796-97) was 26 acres, 1 rood and 3 perches.
The tenant farmers of Home Farm - George Lake (1806c - 1860)
When they were installed as tenants of Home Farm, George and Elizabeth Lake continued the farm’s link with the Hertfordshire village of Pirton – a previous owner was James Hanscombe of Pirton Grange. George (a farmer’s son) and Elizabeth had married at Pirton on 27 May 1801. They were first associated with the farm five years later in 1806, when aged 27 and 29 respectively. Their first two children, Mary and Eliza, were born at Pirton and the couple had a further eight children who were born at Preston. Three died in infancy. Many were buried at Hitchin’s Tilehouse Street Baptist Church - an indication of the family’s religious inclinations. Indeed, following George’s death in 1860 (from an obstruction of the bowels), Elizabeth and their eldest spinster daughter, Mary moved to Tilehouse Street. When they died in 1863, (after a bout of diarrhoea and debility) they too were buried in the Church’s graveyard. An indication of the work involved at Home Farm was in 1861 when five men and two boys were employed by the newly-widowed Elizabeth. Among the work-force in earlier years were two members of my family. In 1851, Thomas Currell (18) was a horse-keeper on the farm and John Ward (40) was a labourer. John Ward was the son of my greatx2 grandparents, William and Ann Ward. They were living at Home Farm in 1851. George and Elizabeth’s daughter, Emma Lake, maintained the family’s farming tradition when she married George Wright who farmed at Sandridge, Herts
(From information kindly provided by Margaret Lewis)
The tenant farmers of Home Farm - William, Emma and Alfred Brown
The Brown family played a large part in the life of Preston in the second half of the nineteenth century. Not only did William Brown own the Red Lion during this time, but his sons farmed at Home Farm and Pond Farm. It is appropriate to include some background to the family while describing their tenancy of Home Farm. There is a link to the Brown family tree here: Brown tree The Brown family were no mere agricultural labourers. Many were farmers in the parishes around Preston, others were entrepreneurial dealers and some were both farmers and dealers. In the eighteenth century, the family lived at Kings Walden. Then, between 1806 and 1810, Joseph Brown and his wife Susanna (nee Smith) moved to neighbouring St Paul’s Walden where they farmed at East Hall. The couple had six children, born between 1805 and 1820. Although we are concentrating on their fourth son, William, who lived in Preston, two other sons continued in the Brown farming tradition: James with 90 acres at East Hall and George who was farm bailiff over 207 acres at Stagenhoe Farm before moving into Hitchin where he ran a corn-factoring business.
William and Emma Brown (nee Hill)
William Brown was christened at St Pauls Walden in 1816 and married Emma Hill, the daughter of Charles and Mary who farmed Pond Farm (Link: Pond Farm). In 1841, William and Emma were farming in a small way at Bendish. Ten years later he was still there, farming 12 acres and supplementing his work as a dealer. The pair had eleven children: all but the last one, William, being born at Bendish. As William junior was baptised at St Mary’s, Hitchin in 1854, it may be implied that possibly the family moved from St Paul’s Walden to Preston between 1851 and 1854. Following the death of Harriet Saunderson in 1847, the Red Lion inn at Preston was put onto the market and William purchased it, and its two surrounding fields of four acres, for £820. William traded as a publican and a horse dealer and retained the Red Lion for fifty years, although by 1871, he and Emma had installed a manager at the Red Lion and moved to Gosmore where they farmed 244 acres, employing 9 men and 3 boys. In 1864, William was charged with selling a lame horse. An insight into his character is given by his declaration to the buyer that ‘a better worker or a sounder horse you never bought in your life’. Later he avowed the horse was ‘sound and never had anything the matter with it’ - but he refused to warrant it. When lameness was suggested, William retorted, ‘Lame – you can take my word he is as sound a horse as ever you bought’. After buying the horse and taking it home, it was found to be lame the next day. When William died, aged 58, on 2 January 1875, he was back at Preston as the tenant of Preston Home Farm. In 1881, his widow, Emma, continued farming there (with 105 acres) and her children, Matilda, Alfred and Benjamin were helping to run the farm.
Several of William and Emma’s children also farmed: Ellen, their youngest, married Robert Titmus of Poynders End and in 1861 they were farming at Bendish Grove. We will concentrate on those who lived in Preston. In 1868, Charles Edwin Brown married Louisa Young, the daughter of a plait dealer. He had been a butcher at Walkern, Herts, but three years later they were living with their daughter, Blanche, at the Red Lion, Preston. Like his father, Charles was also dealing in cattle. Between 1873 and 1874, the family moved to Bendish where they farmed 20 acres. Charles and Louisa had eight children.
William and Emma Brown’s children
In 1875, Charles was found guilty of cruelly ill-treating a horse and working it in an unfit state. It was ‘poor and had great difficulty in moving...it was in great pain and was lame on the off hind leg. It had caps on its knees and had recently gone down’. When interviewed, Charles at first said that the horse had been sold, but pressed and asked for a certificate of sale, he admitted that it was ‘no use telling lies about it’ as the horse was standing in his meadow. (Link to full report C. Brown) In 1878, William and Emma’s son, Benjamin, (who was living with his mother) was charged with allowing his horse and cart to obstruct Hermitage Road in Hitchin for more than an hour. (Link to full report: B. Brown).
(Right) Charles and Louisa’s daughter Blanche circa 1893
The two sons of William and Emma who played the largest part in Preston’s history in the last quarter of the nineteenth century were Alfred and Frank. Yet the brothers did not always get along. In 1874, (aged 26 and 23 respectively) Frank accused his older brother of assault. When it came to court, the charge was withdrawn but when the Court told Frank that he should pay the 7/6d costs, he ‘demurred’ and said his brother should pay. They came to some agreement and the matter was settled.
It was Alfred who farmed at Home Farm after acting as his mother’s bailiff there in 1881. He was in sole charge until around 1909. He married Elizabeth Marriott, (whose parents farmed at Castle Farm, Preston) at St Pancras, London in 1881 and between 1882 and 1899 they had seven children. In 1893, Alfred was charged with using threats against a Hitchin saddler who had instigated County Court proceedings against him. Both parties were bound over to keep the peace for six months. After he left Home Farm, he was at Pond Farm on the Charlton Road in 1911 and later he was farming at Leggatts Farm in Kings Walden Parish in the 1920’s. Alfred’s son, (John) Bruce also farmed at Pond Farm.
Alfred Brown
Frank Brown
Frank Brown lived at Sadleirs End on the north side of Chequers Lane. Although he is sometimes described as a farmer (having 65 acres in 1881), he is more often reported as a hay and straw dealer. Frank married twice, his second wife being the widow, Hannah Mary Frost, who lived in Preston. He had four children by his first wife, Lydia (nee Watts) and a further three by Hannah. Frank evidently had a fiery, aggressive nature which resulted in several brushes with the law. During 1891-92, he had a running battle with John Dew of Castle Farm. Dew accused him of throwing a missile at his back and then threatening to assault him - there were ‘ill feelings between the parties’. Following this, it was alleged that Frank had threatened to ‘do for him’ as Dew had ‘given him a great deal of annoyance for some time past’. On both occasions, Frank was bound over to keep the peace but as Dew must have passed his home several times a week, no doubt the feud rumbled on. Frank was twice charged with cruelty to a horse. In 1882, his servant was delivering hay at Whitwell when the local constable noticed his horse was ‘in very bad condition...with a large raw wound under the saddle’ the size of a man’s hand which appeared to be of long standing. The labourer who was delivering the hay seemed almost relieved to be charged as local landowner, Mr Hale, had also stopped him because of the horse’s condition. Again in 1901, an inspector for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals charged Frank over a horse that was drawing a load of hay. It was alleged that it was lame on both fore feet and was in pain, however the case was dismissed as there was doubt over when the injuries had been caused. Link to Brown family tree: Brown tree
(Below) The houses that are on the site of Home Farm: (left) Hartings, (right) Wain Wood Edge