A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
As a general rule, parish churches were built by lords of the
manor close to their castle or manor house. As there was a
manor of Temple Dinsley, why was no church built at
Preston? There were chapels of ease attached to Temple
Dinsley and at Minsden, so perhaps it was felt that these
were sufficient for the villagers’ religious needs.
Later, the absence of a local parish church in Preston
created problems especially from 1538 when births,
marriages and deaths needed to be registered. Most of
Preston village was in the parish of Hitchin. The parish
church was St Mary, Hitchin which was two and a half
miles from Preston - a long trek for babies, brides and
The churches of Ippollitts, Kings Walden and St Pauls
Walden parishes were closer to Preston than St Mary. So,
in the nineteenth century, there are many examples of
baptisms, marriages and burials of Preston people being
conducted outside the parish of Hitchin.
Perhaps this lack of a religious focal point in Preston
contributed to the popularity of nonconformity in the area.
In the seventeenth century parliament had concluded that
the nation could be unified by one common religion and so
outlawed independent churches. The Conventicle Act of
1664 prevented more than four people assembling to
worship without the Anglican prayer book.
By 1670, the Baptist, John Bunyan (1628-88) had a
sizeable following in Bedfordshire and north-west
Hertfordshire. He spent two spells in prison because of his
illegal preaching. Bunyan conducted a service at Wain
Wood, Preston at a natural amphitheatre which is still
known as Bunyan’s Dell. This gathering was the stuff of
legends. One such saga graphically describes an icy night
when hundreds of local people meandered along
footpaths and sheep tracks to hear him preach in Preston.
The meeting was veiled in secrecy. Sentinels were posted
to warn of ambushes by the authorities. Women were
poised to protect Bunyan from the wind and snow using
their farm aprons. The service was celebrated by a re-
enactment at Bunyan’s Dell in 1928.
Bunyan was fervently supported by the Foster family who
lived at Castle Farm, Preston. They provided him with
safety, sustenance and shelter.
This romantic tradition, centred on Bunyan, spawned
many churches and chapels in the area including
Tilehouse Street (which had Fosters as founder members)
and Back Street Baptist churches in Hitchin.
With this background in mind - the lack of a church in
Preston and the melodramatic folklore of Bunyan - we
may understand why so many of the families of Preston
baptised their children at nonconformist chapels between
Hitchin Back Street Baptist - the families of Payne,
Mead, Merritt, Morgan,Groom, Turner, Hill, Pratt and
Hitchin Tilehouse Street Baptist - the families of
English, George, Pedder, Joyner, Foster, Gootheridge,
Brown, Field, Robottom, Kilby, Poulter and Wilshire.
This nonconformist tradition was maintained during the
nineteenth century for in the religious census of Preston
taken in 1886, 104 local villagers declared that they were
Baptists. Seventy - eight families were polled - thirty-six
were Church, thirty-four were Baptist and eight had no
preference. The 1800s saw the remarkable building of
three new religious edifices in Preston - a village which
until then had no church:
1850 - A church is established in Preston’s school.
1877 - Bunyan’s Baptist Chapel built
1899 - St Martin’s Church built at Preston
Links to pages re: religion at Preston:
All Saints, St Pauls Walden
Bunyans Chapel, Preston
St Mary’s, Hitchin
St Ippolyts, Ippollitts
St Mary’s, Kings Walden
St Martin’s, Preston