A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Preston’s parishes and manors
The centre of Preston around The Green was within the jurisdiction of the manor of Temple Dinsley. A short distance to the west lay the manor of Missenden (Minsden). To the north was Maidencroft. These manors exercised influence over property transactions in the Preston area until the early twentieth century. As late as the census of 1881, Thomas Harwood Darton described himself as ‘Lord of the Manor’ . The manor was governed by manorial courts which included the Court Baron. Its main function was to regulate the transfer of property among the manor’s tenants  - a process similar to the reassignment of council houses. In the late 1800s, the Court Baron of Temple Dinsley met periodically at the Chequers Inn. The new tenant of the property was given a copy of the their entry in the rolls of the court - a system which was called copyhold. Today, we are more aware of freehold and leasehold agreements because the copyhold system was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1924, when the Court  became redundant. Court rolls have survived for the manor of Temple Dinsley from the seventeen century. These record all the transactions of local property being sold, mortgaged and inherited - a wonderful historical resource.
The manors of Preston
The parishes of Preston
The area administered by parishes was not the same area governed by manors. Parishes were an important part of the their inhabitants’ everyday life before the twentieth century.  Because their officers collected and then administered monies for the relief of the poor, they controlled who lived in the parish and who was therefore eligible for help. This system was monitored by Act of Parliament. The officers decided who were ‘settled’ or remained in their parish and who should be ‘removed’ to another parish. Their decisions (which could be appealed) were then enforced by the parish constable. The parish church was at the centre of the parish. Tithes were levied from around 1840 to pay for the upkeep of the church and the expenses of its priest. The resulting Tithe Map and Award are important research sources. The priest was responsible for recording of births, marriages and deaths in the parish registers.
It is from the surviving records of parishes that we glean information about the local community. They may include lists of those paying taxes and receiving aid; Settlement and Removal Orders; lists of those paying tithes; records of births, marriages and deaths (which may include additional information of occupations and abodes) - and much more. The potential contents of the parish chest are an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ for the local historian. However, Preston is a curious and difficult hamlet to study using parish records. This is because it had no parish church of its own (hence, the reason we are referring to it as a hamlet) and the district which was known as ‘Preston’ was administered by three separate parishes - Hitchin, Ippollitts and Kings Walden. The Temple Dinsley Manorial Roll describes transactions of some properties attached to Preston Hill Farm as relating to ‘Preston in the parish of Kings Walden’. Below are two maps showing the boundaries between the parishes.
Map showing the boundary between the parishes of Hitchin and Ippollitts
Map showing the boundary between the parishes of Hitchin and Kings Walden
As shown by the maps above, Ippollitts parish included the Chequers Inn, Wain Wood, Spindle Cottage on the Hitchin Road and all of the cottages to the north of Chequers Lane. To the south-east of Preston, Poynders End Farm was also in Ippollitts parish, but the cottages at Poynders End were in Hitchin parish. Preston Hill Farm and its cottage(s) were in Kings Walden parish. So, if my hurdle-making grandfather (who lived on the north side of Chequers Lane for a time) went to work in the woods to the north of Temple Dinsley - a distance of less than a mile - he passed through three parishes. Because historically Preston lay in three manors and three parishes, a local study of Preston can present a challenge. What area should be described as ‘Preston’? Some of the records for one parish exist and for another have been lost, so that an incomplete picture of the village is given for a specific time. Thus, there were ‘censuses’ of Preston taken in 1801 and 1821 which appear to include only those folk living in Hitchin parish. In compiling records of the births, marriages and deaths of villagers, the records of at least three parishes must be consulted - and the non-conformist tradition in the area also resulted in these events being conducted in places of worship other than the ministering parish churches. In short, because of these difficulties, some of the information contained on this site is a ‘best estimate’ of the situation rather than an accurate assessment.