A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
The Red Lion
The first part of this article was researched and written by former Preston resident, Nina Freebody. It was one of two pieces featuring the public houses of Preston and appeared in the magazine, ‘Hertfordshire Countryside’ in October 1983. I am grateful to Christina Clews and Robert  Freebody for their kind permission to include this transcription.
The Red Lion circa 1900
The Red Lion public house in Preston is a tall brick building made up of two cottages. That to the north was a small, ‘one up and one down’ type and its first floor room has a higher ceiling compared with the rooms of the larger house adjoining. From evidence discovered recently in the attics, the roof-line of the smaller cottage was once lower and at some point the two houses were roofed to the same height. Both cottages have been altered considerably over the years. However, the larger one still retains its typical 18th century frontage with a modillioned eaves cornice and a range of three windows on the second floor, which have double hung sashes and glazing bars. In the attics, traces of the original wide floor boards can be seen in one bedroom and on the landing, while the other room on this level contains all of its 18th century flooring. An inglenook fireplace was discovered during recent alterations but all the fireplaces in both cottages have been considerably changed over the centuries. Two original windows on the first floor were found at the rear of the house. These had been hidden for many years after an extension was added in the 19th century. A sizeable amount of land was attached to both cottages. The smaller property had about an acre at the back, while the larger building had three acres of pasture which lay behind the house and stretched into Back Lane. This land still belonged to the Red Lion until Pryor House was built and the new school was erected in Back Lane more recently. The field which lay by the side of the present footpath had been pasture for centuries, and consequently the home of many rare wild flowers. The history of the two cottages which now form the Red Lion can be traced back at least to the beginning of the 18th century. The Manor Court Rolls of Temple Dinsley record a series of transactions during the century, for in 1710 William King acquired the larger house from Richard Deamer. Later on, his son disposed of the house to John Swain, the blacksmith, in 1754. Eventually it was acquired by John Swain’s brother, Edward, whose son Stephen inherited the property in 1771. (But, see correction -Link: History of Red Lion) The story of the Swains, who lived in Preston for many generations, will be told elsewhere but Mary, John’s unmarried sister, left a fascinating will. She died in 1764 at the house on Preston Green where she lived with her brother and his family. Obviously a well dressed lady who lived in some comfort, she bequeathed to her nieces not only such items as her gold rings, silver spoons and a silver nutmeg grater, but furniture in her living room and the kitchen. Her extensive wardrobe included gowns, petticoats, cloaks, gloves, hats, aprons, handkerchiefs and stays. All her clothing was shared among her brothers’ daughters - even her second-best stays were handed down! Her status in the village was reflected by her request that her body should be taken to Hitchin Church on a hearse pulled by four horses, while the mourners were to be carried by post chaise. When Stephen Swain took over the house, he mortgaged it to Mathew Hoster a few years later and moved to Hitchin. However, it is not surprising that he left the family business, for due to an accident he wore a wooden leg. This disability exempted him from service with the militia and he became a shopkeeper, leaving his Preston cousins to work as village blacksmiths.
The Red Lion in 1977
About this time he purchased the small cottage adjacent to his old home at auction for £46. For over three generations the Newman family of Hitchin owned this property and when Samuel Newman, the coach master died in 1793 the trustees put it up for sale. From this time onwards both properties were treated as one, and Stephen mortgaged them to Edward Bruton, a Kimpton farmer and brewer. (Note: but see Ward correction below) By 1811 the property had been divided into three cottages which were occupied by Thomas Cain, William Hawkins and Henry Ward, the family of the latter having lived in the smaller cottage for many years. Meanwhile, despite his wooden leg, Stephen Swain became involved in various public activities in Hitchin, holding such posts as special constable, surveyor of the highways and the Receiver of Assize Returns for which he compiled information concerning the price of wheat and the quantities sold in the town. Eventually Swain sold his property on the Green at Preston to Joseph Saunderson who paid off the existing mortgage which had been raised with John Whitney, a Hitchin grocer, in 1811. Joseph Saunderson farmed in a modest way and when he died in 1829, his wife, Harriet, took over the house and the land. This was on the understanding that the building and its contents would be auctioned on her death and the proceeds divided between their five children - Joseph, Sophia, Charles, Stephen and Alfred. Harriet Saunderson supported herself and her family by farming and selling beer, for in 1832 she was listed in Piggott’s Directory as a beer retailer. This is the first reference to the sale of drink on the premises, which later became known as the Lion in 1844, and eventually the Red Lion. In 1838 her public house had an annual rateable value of £14. She rented six acres in Pains Field from the Dartons and farmed her own land - Breeches and Chamberlains Field in Butcher’s Lane as well as the four acres attached to the house. Two of Harriet’s sons were still living at home in 1841. Sophia, her only daughter, had married Robert Flegg of the Ship Inn at Hitchin. About 1844 Samuel Lucas, the brewers of Hitchin, came to an arrangement with her to supply beer. They also settled the financial agreement which had been made earlier with two Hitchin bankers, Joseph M. Pierson and Henry Crabb. Mrs Saunderson died in 1847 and the property was put up for auction by Jackson of Hitchin on July 24 of that year. It was described as having two sitting rooms, shop, tap room, kitchen, cellarage, five bedrooms, stabling, large garden, fruit trees and the common rights attached to it. The new owner was William Brown, a farmer from Bendish. For £820 he acquired ‘all that cottage now used as a public house, the Red Lion, with two closes of four acres’. Brown paid off the money which Harriet Saunderson had owed to Samuel Lucas and £365 was handed to Priscilla Swain, the surviving executor, for distribution to the heirs. The Brown family owned the Red Lion for 50 years and at first William and his wife Emma lived there with their four youngest children. Emma was a Preston girl and her husband was both publican and cattle dealer. After about ten years they must have moved away and installed managers, for in 1846 Samuel and Ebenezer Foster were there. The former appeared as a witness in the famous Preston murder case when Edward Foreman, the miller at Charlton, had been found robbed and dying at the bottom of Preston Hill. Fortunately, such events were rare but it no doubt provided a source of conversation for many weeks afterwards. Life was usually uneventful and the most serious crime in Preston was poaching for rabbits. According to the Hertfordshire Express in August 1865 the new landlord, Mr Maxey, had trouble with three of his customers, Henry Jeeves, George Fairey and Joshua Palmer. They became quarrelsome and used ‘disgusting language’ and when refused more beer went across the Green to the Chequers. There they bought a can of beer from Henry Bradden and returned to the Red Lion to drink it. Mr Maxey sent to Hitchin for a policeman to deal with his troublesome customers who were duly fined ten shillings each at the next Petty Sessions. About 1869 William Brown’s eldest son Charles moved into the Red Lion with his young wife. While they were there they had two daughters born to them, Blanche and Ethel Caroline. William Brown had moved to Gosmore and his son also continued to trade as a cattle dealer while at the Red Lion. On the death of her husband, Emma Brown took over his property and eventually returned to Preston where her son Alfred farmed at the Home Farm. A series of names can be traced in the Register of the Licences preserved in the Petty Session records. The earliest entry is that of Charles Brown, which was renewed in 1873, but in December of the following year Alfred Chalkley took over, followed briefly by Simeon Leete, Jonathan Richardson, William Olney, William Dalton, Alfred Oliver, John Howland and George Ward during the next 15 years.
The Red Lion in 2005. The division between the original two cottages can be plainly seen from the room line.
Not all inn keepers kept to the law, one sold beer out of hours over the hedge, while in 1876 Simeon Leete was fined £2 for serving George Smith and George Hill when they were already drunk. In December 1889 Mrs Catherine Martin became inn keeper, but a year later she was succeeded first by Christopher Cattel, then Edward Tyzack, Robert Tranfield, Douglas Eley and John Elgar. William Brown had died in 1871 and his wife Emma and her son Alfred leased the public house to Messrs Pryor Reid and Co of Hatfield in 1893. The tenants rented the property for £65 pa and the building was to be put in good order. This arrangement lasted only three years, for when his mother died at the age of over 90, Alfred Brown sold the Red Lion to John Green, brewer of Luton, in 1897. From this time onwards there was more stability for the licensees. When in 1898 Clement Wightman was appointed, he stayed until 1910. In that year he was followed by Charles Anderson. About this period Green must have borrowed money to finance his expansion, for Edward Snow Fordham of Ashwell and Charles Kidd in Kent were trustees for the debenture holders. Anderson was replaced by Herbert Lawrence in August 1912 and two years later Samuel Hall became the new licensee. He stayed for five years and was followed by James Hedley in December 1920. Mr and Mrs Hedley ran the Red Lion together for 25 years and Martha Hedley kept the pub going for the last year in 1945 when the licence was in her name. She was a competent lady who on occasions reproved her husband for spilling beer on his shoes. He had a weakness for keeping his glass of beer on a ledge beside the cellar steps and was tempted to fill it up on his frequent journeys to bring up beer for the customers. For two years after World War II Alfred Stevens ran the Red Lion and his daughter remembers her visits to Preston at that time. Another licensee still remembered by some of the villagers was Alfred Massey, who arrived in January 1947. He was at the Red Lion for almost 20 years. His father had kept the Old Maypole at Waterend but as his father went into the police force, Mr Massey was the next generation to become a publican. At one time he was also a gardener at Princess Helena College, but this was not surprising for when he was a young man he worked as a gardener in Buckinghamshire with the now famous Percy Thrower. He retired at the age of 78 and is remembered for the introduction of an annual harvest festival service at the bar. This custom was continued by Martin King who ran the Red Lion for 12 years until his death in 1980. For the next two years or so Ernest Mole was the license and it was during this time that Whitbreads the brewers, who had taken over Greens in 1962, decided to make changes. The villagers became involved and it is sufficient to say here that a decision was made to purchase the Red Lion. History was made and now the only public house in the village is no longer part of a large organisation but part of the community.
This article was of particular interest to me in my quest to find my ancestors in Preston. When I read that Nina Freebody had discovered that Henry Ward had lived in the smaller cottage of the two which were to become the Red Lion and that his family had lived there ‘for many years’, I was able to follow her research trail. Henry Ward was the son of my great x5 grandfather, Joseph Ward. I traced the manorial document that Nina consulted. It was dated 21 October 1793 and stated that the cottage was formerly occupied by ‘Jeremiah Gazely and afterwards Joseph Ward and now William Ward’. I then searched the Poor Law records and found that the first mention therein of Joseph Ward at Preston was in 1751 when he paid rates on the cottage with its acre of land. This established when my ancestors were living in Preston. However, later in-depth study of manorial rolls, wills and maps revealed that the house in which the Wards were living was not part of the Red Lion as described above but was the neighbouring cottage on School Lane.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this correction. Several times I have drunk in the bar of the Red Lion, basking in the knowledge that around me was space that had been occupied by my greatx5 grand- parents, Joseph and Elizabeth Ward centuries ago Now I believe that this is not the case – although they certainly lived in Preston in 1750. In fact, they lived in the house next door to the Red Lion on what is known today as School Lane. I accepted the research of another – although this should have been checked. The original premise was that the Red Lion was made up by two cottages – the smaller one to the north (with one acre of land) and a larger home to the south (with three acres of pasture). Indeed there is a clear difference of bricks and roof-line between the cottages. It is written above that Stephen Swain inherited the larger cottage and land in 1771 and then bought the smaller cottage in 1793. From then, the cottages were considered as one, but were divided into three homes. The composite cottage was sold to Joseph Saunderson and after his widow, Harriet’s death in 1847, the entire building was sold with its four acres of land. Now that I have researched the Swain family in detail, the error has been exposed. I have examined the manorial rolls again which relate to Stephen Swain’s transactions, together with several maps of Preston, their keys and Swain wills. I repeatedly tried to force the snippets of information together, as though assembling pieces of a jigsaw, but they just did not dovetail. The main sticking point centred on the small semi-detached cottage (‘one-up one-down’) which was on the left side of the two. Two transactions from manorial records described this little property as having three occupying families. It was just not possible for three households to be crammed into this space. After much checking and research, I stepped back from the problem and slowly an alternative solution emerged – one that reconciled all the data. After scrutinising the manorial rolls, this is what I now believe took place: a) Stephen Swain inherited the entire cottage (A) at Preston Green (now the Red Lion) together with three fields totalling three acres. He was admitted as tenant by a manorial court held on 25 October 1771. b) On 17 June 1793 Stephen bought another cottage on School Lane (B) which was next door to the other cottage (A). This purchase included a close or field of one acre. He was admitted at tenant at a court held on 21 October 1793. c) Stephen mortgaged both cottages which was repaid in 1811. (See court rolls of 6 December 1797 and 25 April 1811) d) On 26 February 1811, Stephen sold the Preston Green cottage (A) (with its three acres of land) together with ‘one close of one acre’ (from the School Lane cottage but not including this cottage) to Joseph Saunderson . e) About this time Stephen is noted as the owner of one property (with three occupiers) which had land of just 27 perches. (Thus, the School Lane property (B), and not the ‘smaller cottage to the north’, had been sub-divided into three dwellings. It was consistently shown for sixty years as being so divided (see sketch map dated 1872c below)) and instead of it having an acre of land associated with it, there was only 27 perches, because the close or field had been sold earlier to Joseph Saunderson) f) Stephen bequeathed the house ‘now divided into three cottages’ (B) to Priscilla Swain in 1835. g) At some time between 1835 and 1873, Priscilla sold the house to the Darton family because it was included in the sale of Temple Dinsley in 1873. I believe this means that my greatx5 grand-father and his family, instead of living in the smaller cottage that became part of the Red Lion, lived in the cottage next door on School Lane.
The cottage on School Lane (B)
The two cottages that form the Red Lion
Sketch map of Preston Green c1872 showing clearly the division of house B into three homes
Hitchin Comet 19 August 2021