Preston CastleThis is a copy (right) of a picture of Preston Castle, drawn by Samuel Lucas, as it was in the days of that grand old warrior, Captain Robert Hinde. Here he would build ramparts and lines of trenches and other fortifications, fire salutes from his cannons mounted in front of the house or turn out his troop of servants and children, dressed in scarlet uniforms with blue sashes and black beaver hats.
He would ride with them to Hitchin to announce, with a flourish of trumpets, the anniversary of the battle of Malplaquet or some other 'memorable' occasion which the people of Hitchin might be in the way of forgetting. Captain Hinde was a friend of Lawrence Sterne and it is supposed that he was the original of Uncle Toby in Tristram Shandy. Today nothing remains of his house but some foundations on which graze a herd of soft-eyed jersey cattle, an ancient well, belonging to a still older Dinsley Castle, some beautiful Cedar Trees and an avenue of Walnuts - always considered to be the property of the village by all but the owners of the field. A new agent once sold the crop standing, and was most surprised when the indignant buyer came to say there were no walnuts to pick. Two of the cannons have found their way to Hill Farm, on the other side of the village, but the rest have vanished with the earthworks and fortifications.
Preston SchoolThe 'plain brick edifice' built by Thomas Harwood Darton in 1849 is still used as a school by Preston and Langley. When it was built, it was intended to be used as a church on Sundays and a school during the week, there being only a small Dame's School before this time. There was a gallery at the West End for the members of the household and staff of Temple Dinsley. It was taken down in Canon Hensley's time, after St. Martin's Church had been built. The school was a Church of England School with a Board of Managers including the Vicar of Hitchin. At this time Mrs. Darton, a great benefactress to the village, started a Night School to teach the older people to read and write and taught in it herself .In 1947 it was found that there was not enough money to keep the school up to the standard required by the County Council, so the managers were faced with the alternative of closing down or taking a grant from the Council and becoming a 'Controlled' school. They decided that the children should be kept in the village up to the age of eleven so they signed an Instrument of Effect and the school became a Voluntary Primary (Controlled) School. Langley school was closed in 1939 and the children then joined Preston.
Views around Preston
(L to r, top to bottom) Chequers Lane (from the footpath to Wain Wood, looking west); looking towards the Chequers (from The Green, including the cottages where Preston House now stands); The Green, Preston (from the north); Preston Post Office; Crunnells Green ( from the gates of Temple Dinsley, showing the cottages where Crunnells Green House now stands); Preston (similar view, showing fencing of pond)
Arms of interest
This house was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mathey and in the Parish Magazine of 1890 there is a description of a happy party in the beautiful grounds for the Mother's Meeting. During the First World War, it was used as a prison for German officers and, unfortunately, burnt down by them. Nothing remains now but a few bits of masonry and sometimes among the brambles the children find a few garden flowers.
Balliol (blue/white/blue shields), Seal of the Templars (Militum Sigilum, two knights on one horse), Knight Templars (Red Cross of St John on white shield), Sir Ralph Sadleir (Lion Rampant, top half blue, bottom half red, on gold shield)
The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria 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 - first to about 100 children and then to about 200 adults. The afternoon was devoted to sports, swings, games and other amusements, in perfect summer weather, and after tea the day closed with music and dancing. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth IIThe Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2nd 1953 was celebrated in the village with great enthusiasm. House to house collections had been organised; whist drives and a concert, as well as raffles and many other money raising activities were held. Various dubs and other organisations in the village gave contributions, Mr. and Mrs. Derrick Seebohm, by opening their gardens at Poynders End, and by holding competitions, raised £22 9s 7d and Princess Helena College generously gave £5 to the fund. In all, a total of £118 4s 7d was placed at the disposal of the Coronation Committee which was appointed to superintend the festivities. The village was gaily decorated - the Union Jack being flown from poles specially erected on the Village Green and the Recreation Ground, and St. George's Cross from one at St. Martin's Church. On Coronation Day, a special service was held in the church at 8.00 am, and those who were unable to go to London spent the morning and early afternoon listening to the proceedings on the wireless or watching the television.Owing to the unsettled weather the main celebrations were held at Temple Dinsley by kind invitation of Miss Prain. At 5.30 pm nearly the whole village assembled in the hall of Princess Helena College where a children's fancy dress parade was held, after which Mr. and Mrs. Seebohm presented 98 mugs to children of the village and surrounding district who were under 15 years of age. Tea was provided by members of the Women's Institute and the children were given balloons. The singing of, "God Save the Queen", ended a very happy and successful gathering. At 8.00 pm, a sapling was planted on the Village Green, grown from an acorn taken from the oak tree in Hatfield Park under which Queen Elizabeth I was sitting when she received news of her accession in 1558. A sealed bottle containing papers dealing with the Coronation was buried in the hole dug to receive the tree which was planted by the oldest and one of the youngest members of the village - Mr. Herbert Sharp aged 87 and Master William Stanley aged 3, grandson of Mrs. Harry Worthington, herself one of the oldest inhabitants. Owing to the weather the sports were postponed until Saturday, June 6th when a very successful meeting was held on the Recreation Ground and in the evening a firework display with a large bonfire was held in the field behind the pavilion. On 29th June, a party of 29 children from the village school were taken to the cinema to see the film, "A Queen is Crowned" - those children unable to go being given new coronation shillings as a compensation. There being sufficient funds in hand, thirty-seven souvenir tins of tea were presented to the old people of the village, and Mr Sharp and William Stanley were each given a framed photograph of the tree planting ceremony and a coronation crown piece. A Coronation Seat was placed on the Village Green, and four seats were provided for the Recreation Ground. The Balance of about £7 was earmarked to be spent on prizes for sports to be held in 1954.
(Top) The planting of the Coronation sapling. (Below) The Sports Day.
LangleyLangley is a small hamlet, with the old part lying back from the main Hitchin to London road. Before the Norman Conquest it belonged to one Suenn, a vassal of Earl Harold, who even had the right to sell it. It is mentioned in Domesday book as follows: "Osbert holds one hide and a half of Geoffrey de Beck in Langelei. There is land for 3 ploughs, there is one there and there might be two more. There a 2 villaines and 4 cottagers. There is an (one?) bondsman. Meadow for one ox, panage for 150 hogs. It is worth 30/-". In 1324, it is noted that "John Faber (smith) is indicted for having feloniously killed Thomas de Castre in the hamlet of Langley". But he seems to have got round the jury and been let off scot free. In Richard II's time, Langley was owned by Richard Legatt. After that silence seems to have settled on the hamlet until the reign of Henry VIII. It was then acquired by William Lytton Esq. and remained in the family until Victorian times, being shown in a deed as "vested in Elizabeth, Barbara Bulwer Lytton". The mother of the author Bulwer Lytton of Knebworth Place. In the late seventeenth century, Langley appears to have been through a stormy time. In 1686 her chief inhabitants together with those of Preston were summoned and some of them sent to prison for refusing to pay towards the upkeep of Hitchin Church, it being more than they could do to cope with their own chapel of Minsden which was in a sad state of disrepair. In 1688 the Poor Law Overseer living at Langley was fined for not attending St. Mary's Church to report on Poor Relief. Evidently all was not well with this Poor Relief, because in 1692 the hamlets persuaded the Justices at Quarter Sessions to issue an order requiring the Overseers at Hitchin "to show cause (if they have any) why the hamletts of Preston cum Langley within the chapelry of Minsden should not have a particular overseer for the taking care of the poor within the said hamletts". The state of the roads was always a subject of much concern. In 1684 a certain William Bonn was fined for making a dunghill in the road at Langley. An item in the Herts Quarter Sessions Rolls reads, "Wee the inhabitants of Langley Hamlet doth witness that William Bonn hath carred his Dungell a way whitch hee layde in the Kings hie way and the plase is good wheare he layde itt". In 1726 an Act was passed affecting the Turnpike Road between Hitchin and Welwyn but it was not carried out until 1763 when a turnpike was set up at Langley, at which people still living remember their parents paying 6d for a cart and 2d for foot passengers.However, in 1752, things were better and the officers of Preston reporting on the state of the roads said, "As for the highways they are passable and at Langley travellers and their cattle and carriages may pass without the least hasard or danger".Reginald Hine, in his History of Hitchin, quotes two nice stories of wills from Langley. In 1544 Joan Godfrey left 1d to every poure man's child at Langley End and in 1625 John CamfieId of Langley Hamlet left his wife "One hogg, one flitch of bacon, half the cheese in the house and half the poultry in the yard". In 1811 the population of Langley was 158, as compared with Preston's 260, but it never seems to have had the shops or trade like Preston, though straw plaiting was just as popular. It had a flourishing blacksmith’s shop, owned in 1902 by Tom Spicer, whose grandchildren live now at Burleigh. The School was built by Thomas Dashwood and used also as a church. When the children joined Preston school, it was shut up and has only recently been redecorated and opened for services, which are conducted by a curate from Hitchin. Langley found it difficult to get teachers but they were lucky in having one who came from Knebworth and gave devoted service for many years.The Royal Oak public house (below) is one of the oldest inns in the neighbourhood. It stands on the Hitchin road below Minsden Chapel and about half way between Preston and Langley. It is said to have been the first change of horses in coaching days between Bedford and London, the next being the Black Bull at W(h)etstone - so good horses must have been kept there to do so long a run. There are still signs in the old barn of posts for tethering eight horses.In a Parish Magazine of 1900, it said, "Things go on in much the same way in Langley" and this seems to be true to this day.
(Right) The coat of arms of Sir William Lytton 1699 - Lord of the Manor of Knebworth and owner of Langley and Minsden