A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Mrs Maybrick’s Preston Scrapbook (1953): Part two
A matter which had long engaged the attention of the Parish Meeting was the unsatisfactory position of the boundary with St. Ippollytts, which, by following Chequers Lane, cut the village in two. The members of the village living North East of Chequers Lane had to travel about three miles to vote in all elections, instead of voting at Preston School. They were also unable, legally, to vote at parish meetings. The question was shelved for some years at the request of the Hitchin
RDC but in 1953, after the Chairman had called at County Hall, a formal request was submitted for the inclusion in the parish of those houses to the North East of Chequers Lane, Wain Wood, The Dower House of Temple Dinsley, Poynders End and the verge of St. Alban's Highway. The application also included Preston Hill Farm in the Parish of Kings Walden so as to bring into the Parish all those who naturally looked to Preston as their centre. This request has been granted by an Order made by the HCC and comes into effect on April 1st 1955.
St Martin's Church The Reverend BN Switzer first had the idea that Preston should have it's own church and he talked to Mr. Ralston de V Pryor who offered the land for a church and burial ground if money could be raised to build it. So Preston started off to collect money and an architect was asked to make out a design and give an estimate of costs. On January 28th 1899, a Mr TB Carter submitted a design at an estimated cost of £1,200 which was accepted by the committee who had by this time raised £785. By more efforts, such as a concert given by Mr. Armstrong, which made £11, £1,000 had been collected by June and it was decided to start building. In the Parish Magazine for August, they were still short of the £200, but it was noted, "as a matter for much congratulation that the inhabitants of Preston and their immediate friends have been instrumental in raising £500 of the sum mentioned above". The Foundation Stone was laid by Mrs MacMillan, then living at Temple Dinsley, on St. Martin's Day, November 11th, 1899. Although the money was still short, gifts started coming in; the two stone figures of St. George and St. Alban were given by a Mr Cazenove and the Reverend Eadon. The altar was given by Mr Pryor, made from oak from his Clifton Estate. The font by Mr and Mrs Cazenove in memory of their baby. The reading desk by Mrs MacMillan and many other gifts all gratefully acknowledged in the Parish Magazine. At last the great day came and, on July 11th 1900, the Bishop of St. Albans consecrated the church and burial ground. A procession started from the schoolroom and walked, singing hymns to the West Door where the petitions to consecrate were presented to the Bishop by the Vicar. About 600 people attended and, as the church was only built to hold 160, the rest waited outside until the Burial Ground was also consecrated. It was a beautiful summer day and afterwards Mr. and Mrs. MacMillan gave a party at Temple Dinsley and the Bishop remained till 6.00. The first Harvest Thanksgiving held at St. Martin's was on September 30th. Canon Ainger, the Master of the Temple, preached to a full church. The church, according to the Parish magazine, was "very tastefully and reverently decorated, being quite free from an approach to fussiness or vulgarity” So from these beginnings Preston Church has settled into the life of the village. The Register of baptisms, marriages and deaths fills up. The MacMillans and Pryors have been laid to rest in its churchyard and gifts still come to adorn it. One of the latest gifts being a green alter frontal given in memory of Mrs Philadelphia Peters. A coffin lid of one of the Templars now rests in the church and in the burial ground are a collection of much older bones which were found in the Courtyard of Temple Dinsley".
Temple Dinsley The origin of the name Dinsley is uncertain. Spelt Deneslai in Domesday Book, it had not then entirely superceded the older name of Wedelee which was still in use a century later and covered Preston as well. Wedelee meant the strangers' pasture, and if these ‘strangers' were invading Danes who had settled here, it is natural that in the course of time it should come to be known as Daneslee or Deneslai The earliest record of the manor of Deneslai is that it was held by Edward the Confessor who gave it and other manors in the Half-Hundred of Hitchin to Earl Harold. Disputes arose over the obligation to provide men and horses for the King's bodyguard, and for carrying his baggage, and as a result the Sheriff, Peter de Valognes, seized the manor and attached it to Hitchin. Perhaps it was as a result of these troubles that Harold gave the manor to Waltham Abbey, but the grant was either never confirmed or later revoked.
At the time of the Conquest, Deneslai formed part of the royal manor of Hitchin, and Domesday Book records:- "King William holds Deneslai. It is assessed for 7 hides (840 acres). There is land for 20 ploughs in the Lord's Demesne and 31/2 hides and 3 ploughs are on it, and 19 villaines have 8 ploughs between them, and there could be 9 more. There are 7 borders (small holders) and 7 cotters and 6 servants and one French Almswoman of the King". There were two mills worth 16/- a year (probably at Well Head and Charlton) sufficient meadows and pasture for the community and woodlands which could support 300 swine.
Charlton Mill and Teddy Burr the miller. A painting by Samuel Lucas
William Rufus granted the manor to Bernard de Balliol, who later gave it to the knights of the Temple of Solomon - better known as the Knights Templars - at a Chapter held in Paris in the octave of Easter in 1147. At the ceremony there were present the Apostolic Legate Eugenius, the King of France, four archbishops and one hundred and thirty Knights of the Temple arrayed in white cloaks. Although this gift was duly confirmed, the Balliols remained Lords of the Manor of both Hitchin and Temple Dinsley. An effigy said to be Bernard de Balliol in Purbeck Marble, now in St. Mary's Church, Hitchin, must originally have been at the Preceptory which the Templars established at Temple Dinsley, as a missing foot was later found there and exactly fitted the figure. The family continued to exert a powerful influence in all local affairs until John de Balliol became King of the Scots in 1291. The Templars exercised almost regal sway over their lands which grew in area and value until at one time they extended into the parishes of Hitchin, Kings Walden, Abbots Walden (now in St. Paul's Walden), St. Ippollytts, Offley, Pirton, Wymondley, Ickleford and Astwick. The house was held in great esteem by the Order, and General Chapters were held there on several occasions. Temple Dinsley must have witnessed many a display of Chivalry in those days, an echo of which still lingers in the name of Pageant Field. Dinsley Castle, which probably had previously been a pre-historic stronghold and stood on the site of what is now Castle Farm, was held by the Balliols and the Templars, and from it they dominated and overawed the countryside. The powers of the Knights included the much prized right of 'gallows'. In 1286 Gerle de Clifton and Johannes Tykkul were hanged for stealing a silver chalice and four silver spoons from the priest at Temple Dinsley, and the same fate overtook Peter son of Adam for torturing a woman. In 1218 an agreement was reached with the nuns of Elstow, near Bedford, for the provision of a chaplain resident at Dinsley to celebrate mass on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the morning and vespers in the afternoon - unless a festival fell in the week, when that was counted as one of the three days. The priest received for this, one mark in silver by the year and four pounds of wax for the chapel lights. The Templars undertook to pay to the nuns the tithes previously paid to the church at Hitchin on all lands ploughed and on any part of ground newly broken up and sown. That part of Dinsley where the priest lived came to be known as Preston. Relics of the Templars' occupation are scarce. The coffin lid with a floriated cross, now preserved in St. Martin's Church, Preston, must have at one time marked the grave of some Master or Preceptor of the Order. A pewter chalice of the fourteenth century has been found at Temple Dinsley, as was also the bronze jug of about the same date now in Hitchin Museum. The sporting rights attached to the Estate were of great value and must have given the Knights good hunting and entertainment. A thirteenth century charter - perhaps misinterpreted - gave rise to the tradition that the owner of Temple Dinsley has the right to stand on the doorstep of Stagenhoe on Christmas Day and fire off a gun. So far as is known, the Headmistress of Princess Helena College has never claimed the right to do so from the Headmaster of the school at Stagenhoe. In their later days, the knights of Temple Dinsley, with the rest of their order, fell into disfavour and were reported to have committed the most heinous crimes. The tales of their cruelties and outrages, their gross immoralities, the holding of black masses and obscenities of every description were probably highly exaggerated for political ends, in order to curb their growing power. In 1308, the six brethren in residence were arrested, two being taken to the Tower and four to Hertford Castle. On August 2nd 1309, a Papal Bull was issued dissolving the Order. The manor was assigned to Geoffrey de la Lee, an unpopular Jew, but the local inhabitants seem to have much preferred their old masters and the change was accompanied by serious riots. One of the objects of suppressing the order was to gain possession of their vast riches, but when the Commission of Inquiry visited Temple Dinsley no trace could be found of the treasure of gold, silver and jewels. The Templars are thought to have buried them or thrown them into one of the many ponds in the grounds, but their actual hiding place is still a mystery. Dinsley Castle was dismantled and let to the Prior of Wymondley for a rent of 10/­-a year. The Preceptory at Temple Dinsley was handed over, in 1348, to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem who continued in possession until the dissolution of the religious houses in the reign of Henry VIII. In 1542 Sir Ralph Sadleir purchased Temple Dinsley for a twentieth part of a knight's fee and a yearly rent of £4 9s 4d. He” pulled down'' the old Preceptory, of which only traces still remain, and built the house - a photograph of which appears in this book with his Arms below it. Sir Ralph Sadleir was one of the principal Secretaries of State and was later, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Ambassador to Scotland, being created a Privy Councillor and Knight Baronnet. When over 70, he was appointed custodian to Mary Queen of Scots, but was accused of paying too much attention to his prisoner. There is no record that their hawking expeditions and other diversions ever included a visit to Temple Dinsley. Sir Ralph's main estate in Hertfordshire was at Standon where a fine monument to his memory stands in the church. Sir Ralph's second son, Edward, inherited Temple Dinsley, which remained in the younger branch of the family until 1712, when Edwin Sadleir obtained an Act of Parliament permitting him to sell it, which he did for £3,922 to Benedict Ithell a City Merchant. Benedict Ithell pulled down the house built by Sir Ralph Sadleir and, in 1714, built the house which now forms the central part of the present building. He also put up the iron gates and railings which still surround the courtyard. Benedict Ithell served as Sheriff of the County from 1727 to 1728, and, in 1737, was succeeded by his son, also Benedict, and in his turn by two unmarried daughters.
The last of the sisters who died in 1767 left the property to her steward, Thomas Harwood who was succeeded by his nephew Joseph Darton. It then passed to his son Joseph, his grandson Thomas Harwood Darton and his great grandson, William Henry Darton. The subsequent owners of Temple Dinsley were as follows:- in 1873 Major H. M. Pryor of Clifton, Bedfordshire. His sons did much for Preston, encouraging the village cricket and amateur acting and establishing a great reputation in the rose and sweet pea growing world.
Ralston de Vine Pryor succeeded his father and sold Temple Dinsley in 1901 to Mr. James Barrington White who was a great benefactor to the village, being specially remembered for his gifts of a joint of beef to each household at Christmas. In 1908, Mr. H. G. Fenwick bought Temple Dinsley. The tragic loss of his young son gave rise to the story that a gipsy foretold "No one would be happy at Temple Dinsley for long" . He built the block of houses in Chequers Lane. In 1918 Mr. Douglas Vickers, a member of the famous armaments firm bought it. He brought many changes to Preston, pulling down many old cottages and two old farms. He employed as his architect Sir Edwin Lutyens who was responsible for the modern additions to Temple Dinsley, Minsden Farm and many cottages in Preston. The Countess of Caernarvon bought the house and part of the grounds around it from Mr. Vickers. Her interests lay chiefly elsewhere, but her husband Colonel Denistoun did much for Preston. She greatly frightened the people of Preston by asking them to help mount some of the Tutankhamen relics on black velvet, a request which met with a complete refusal. In 1935 the Princess Helena College, one of the oldest Public Schools for girls, moved from its former premises at Ealing to Temple Dinsley. The small alterations needed did nothing to detract from the charm of the buildings, which remain one of the architectural beauties of North Hertfordshire.
Above, left) Temple Dinsley, Princess Helena College, 1953. (Above, right) The Dower House of Temple Dinsley. It was at one time lived in by the Pryors while the big house was let to the MacMillans and others and was ruled over by Mrs. Nash's mother, Mrs. Peters, as housekeeper. Previously she had been housekeeper to the Dartons at Temple Dinsley
John Bunyan and the Baptists Preston appears to have had a long connection with the Baptists. About 1640 to 1650, Colonel Sadleir, Lord of Temple Dinsley, and Sir John Read, Lord of the manor of Minsden, were open and professed Baptists. Sir John Read was at one time, representative of Hitchin on the Grand Committee of the Eastern Association. Colonel Sadleir was in after years, adjutant General in Ireland and Governor of Galway, where he was much complained of by the clergy, because he would not allow them to baptise otherwise than by immersion. John Bunyan's family had connections with the district long before he preached hereabouts. His Aunt Alice had lived in the parish of Hitchin for years and had been buried in St. Mary in 1614, and his sister Elizabeth had been baptised there in 1638. His wife and child are believed to have stayed in Hitchin when he was imprisoned at Bedford for the first time, from 1660 to 1672. In 1658 Bunyan, who had changed from being a rough soldier, not at all interested in religion, into a steadfast member of the Baptist Brotherhood, was chosen by Pastor Gifford's church at Bedford to go out into the villages and preach. Even during his period of imprisonment he used to preach, being allowed out on ticket of leave. One of his circuitous preaching tours was by way of Harlington, Bendish, Wain Wood, Meldreth, Gamlingay and so back to Bedford. Hitchin people would steal away to met him at Bendish or at Wain Wood, usually at dead of night." At Wain Wood the cottage still stands (see below, left) where Bunyan is said to have sat in the inglenook (below, right) to smoke many a pipe, and there is a shelf in the chimney where he is said to have hidden his bible. But he preached, sometimes to over a thousand people, in the dell still known as Bunyan's Dell, in the wood above the cottage. If it rained, four women would hold an apron over his head while he preached. The chief anxiety in this district was the threat of discovery and scouts were posted on Tatmore Hills to give a warning of the approach of officers of the law from Hitchin. Above Wain Wood stood Hunsdon House, later to be christened Preston Castle by Captain Robert Hinde. Here lived six brothers, named Foster, who befriended Bunyan while he was preaching in these parts and offered him hospitality. Later this large family split up, some going to live near Cambridge, who thrived and made a name for themselves in the world and others settling in and around Hitchin where they are still to be found. In 1689, the Toleration Act was passed, which enabled people to worship according to their conscience and about the beginning of the eighteenth century a Baptist meeting place was set up in Preston, looking to Hitchin as it's head. During the ministry of John Aldis at Hitchin, from 1868 to 1877, it was resolved to build a Bunyan Chapel at Preston and this building is still used regularly for worship.