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A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Preston’s Mission Room
There is but one apparent reference to this Mission Room on this website. Mrs Maybrick in her 1953 Preston Scrapbook wrote: ‘The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated with the greatest enthusiasm on June 22nd, 1897. A total of £31 18s 4d was collected from which a mug, an orange and a bun were presented to every school child. It also provided prizes for sports and a dinner and tea for all the inhabitants of the village. Mr Alfred Brown of the Home Farm kindly placed the field in front of his house at the disposal of the Committee for the erection of a marquee. After a Thanksgiving Service in the Mission Hall at 12.00 the children, followed by the rest of the village, marched to the field where substantial meals were served”. So, the Mission Room was evidently also a Mission Hall large enough to accommodate every village child. By now the denarius should have dropped, but blinkered by thoughts of how to find a cottage which would serve as a Mission Hall/Room, I blithely decided the best course of research was to access the Inland Revenue (IR) Survey of 1910 which has a detailed map of the time (dated 1898) which is held at Hertfordshire Archives and Local History (HALS). This has numbers assigned to each property at Preston. There is a key for cross-referencing at the National Archives, which notes the owners and occupants of each property in the village - and no, I didn’t have to travel to HALS and then Kew to check these details, as photographs of both lurk on the hard-drive of my computer, available for times such as this. Except that the task was not as simple as described here - ‘Mrs E Darton’ doesn’t appear as the owner of any property in the IR survey - and while the ‘Rev Jones’ does appear as an occupant, the number assigned to this property cannot be found on the ‘detailed map’. It was back to square one.
In September 2023, I purchased a Deed of Agreement dated 7 February 1907 between Mrs Emily Darton (widow of Thomas Harwood Darton, the Lord of the Manor of Temple Dinsley) and Rev. Herbert E Jones (clerk in holy orders, shown right) for ‘the tenancy of Mission Room at Preston’, Hitchin - rent £5 per annum, payable on 29 September. There was nothing of import in the document - the tenant agreeing to carry out ‘all necessary internal repairs’ and to keep it in a good state of repair, while the landlady was to keep the premises externally in a good state of repair. It was somewhat disconcerting that the property was described as a ‘cottage and premises’. After twenty year of studying the history of Preston, I had no idea of the location of this ‘cottage’.
Also on my hard-drive are the minutes of St Martins, Preston from 1907. Surely they would mention the Mission Room/Hall. I looked through them to the 1924 entry, when I decided the answer wasn’t there. But maybe there was a clue? The minutes included sets of accounts which apart from St Martins itself, were for ‘The (Preston) School’ and ‘The Club’ - indeed many of the church meetings were held at ‘The Schools’. Now I saw a glimmer of light at the end of an ill-lit tunnel. I was searching for a hall which was big enough to pack in all of Preston’s children. ‘The cottage’ which was the Mission Room had to be…….I know, I know - you had the answer at paragraph four. I re-checked the IR Valuation key, and sure enough Preston School was not assigned either an owner or an occupant. This was the Mission Room/Hall. x
In confirmation of this deduction, tucked away in another crevice of this website is a description of another procession through the village (or ‘hamlet’, to be precise for the obvious reasons which follow). On 11 July 1900, when St Martins was consecrated, “At 2 pm, the procession started from the schoolroom and walked the distance of about 500 yards to the Church, singing hymns: Onward Christian Soldiers and Saviour, Blessed Saviour.” This appears to have been an accepted practice around the turn of the century: ‘if we are going to have a procession at Preston, we will start from the Mission Hall (aka the schoolroom)’.
Postscript: I later found that the Preston schoolroom was sometimes referred to as Hitchin’s Mission Church.