Views around Langley of four unidentified old houses
(Above) The Dovecote at Langley End(Above, right) The Farmer’s Boy Inn(Bottom, right) Langley Church
MinsdenMinsden was the link for hundreds of years between Langley and Preston, as they shared its ancient chapel of ease. It is mentioned in Domesday Book as being taken over by William from Harold - so it was a Royal Demesne. "Rated at 4 hides. The arable is 8 carucates in demesne. Two hides and two virgates and a half and there are 3 carucates. Comprised of a Parson, 8 villaines, 2 cottagers and 6 servants. A meadow, a common for pasture and a wood to feed 30 hogs. The manor doth lie in Hiz." This last statement was to cause some trouble later over ownership. William rented it to several favourites and it remained a royal manor until King John sold it to Hugh de Balliol whose family owned it for over a hundred years, until John de Balliol became King of the Scots and forfeited all his lands in England; so once more it returned to the crown. Edward I bestowed the manor of Hitchin on Robert de Kendale who took it for granted that Minsden went with it, but later the Crown reclaimed it, and it Edward III's time it was bestowed separately on John de Beverle. After this it was divided between daughters until it came as one property again into the hands of the Lytton family, through them to the Brockets and the Reades and finally to the Dashwoods who still held it in 1874.
No trace of any buildings remain there, except the Chapel and possible the Royal Oak at Chapelfoot may have belonged, as it stands alone with only the foundations of another cottage known as Trunck's House a little further on. In King Edward VI's reign an inventory was taken of the contents of the Chapel. It then contained:-One Chalice of silver with a lead or tin bottom.A Cross of copper with a cross cloth of green sarcenet (stened). One vestment of white damask.A Corporous' case of tissue with a cloth in it.Three playne aulter clothes.Two bells in the steple.One hand Bells.On the strength of this statement, the people of Preston and Langley did try to raise money for the repair and upkeep of the chapel, but unfortunately the men entrusted with the money died and it could not be accounted for. In 1650, the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of Ecclesiastical Benefices reported that there was a chapel, but they were ignorant of its value and it had been destitute of a minister for many years, a curate going out from Hitchin when necessary, but, that it could be made into a parish church In 1688, more troubles came on the parishioners and they are found sending a petition to the Right Hon., the Lords Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes pointing out that 'from tyme beyond the memory of man, their ancient chapel of Minsden had belonged to the hamletts of Preston and Langley which they had used for all Divine Services, christenings, buryings and other purposes'. And stating that 'the Chapel had always been repaired at the costs and charges of the inhabitants of Preston and Langley, on consideration of which they had always been free of all repairs to Hitchin Church'.Now Hitchin were bringing an action against them to make them pay for the repairs to St. Mary's. Unfortunately Minsden's own Lord of the Manor, Sir John Reade, a Baptist, sided with Hitchin and the case went against them so, from then on, they were compelled to pay for the upkeep of Hitchin Church which meant that they neglected Minsden and it gradually fell into ruins. The last entry in the register being a wedding in 1738 when part of the masonry fell on the clergyman's book and the Chapel was considered to be unsafe for further use. After this the stones were removed by unscrupulous people and sold as building material. Many buildings show signs of these stones, the fireplace in the dining room at Redcoats being one of them. The East window of the Chapel is said to be in St. Ippollytts Church.About 1750, the following lines were written by a man named Wallis, an usher at Hitchin School:
The trees grew up around this ancient Chapel dedicated so long ago to St. Nicholas, and it became shut in with undergrowth and soon got the reputation of being haunted. Many people making pilgrimages on All Hallows Eve to try and see the ghost. A photographer from Hitchin actually faked a photo of a ghost which fooled a learned society of Ghost hunters for a time (see below).In modern times, the ruins were leased from the Vicar of Hitchin by Reginald Hine, the Hitchin historian who fell in love with its quiet solitude and is now buried there.
Straw plaitingStraw plaiting as described by a Preston member who was taught to plait at the age of 7 years:“At the age of seven children were taught by their parents, fathers and mothers, to plait the wheat straw gathered and dressed from the harvest field. Some of the plait was worked with split straw and some with whole straw. We did twenty yards for a 1½ d. Seven straws in one pattern, eleven in another and some in four straws. It was taken to market in large bunches or links, say about twenty scores in one's arms. The plait buyer would come and see the quality and pay perhaps 2d or 2½ d for good work, give you a ticket and tell you to go to some hotel yard, they would be there to pay and then it would go into factories in Luton to be made into hats. But now it is a thing that has faded out. Men in early days could earn more at it than outside labour; they used to take their straws and sit in the pubs and do their plait. I have a straw mill still with which we used to mill the straws and also the plaits.”
(Left) A plaiting school(Right, top) Varieties of plait(R, bottom) Hitchin plait market 1865
Stone pickingStone picking was done by the tougher women. This consisted of filling a wooden box measuring a cubic yard with stones off the fields. When the box was full, they lifted it off as it had no bottom and moved further down the field. For this they got 6d and, later, up to 10d a box. The heaps of stones were picked up and taken in farm carts to the side of the roads to be used for road repairs.
Preston and Langley Women’s InstituteThe Institute was formed at an open meeting in the Club Room on January 3rd 1919. At the first monthly meeting, on January 8th, thirty seven members were enrolled, of these, three are still members in 1953, Mrs. Worthington, Mrs. H. Peters and Mrs. Corbett. In 1920, they moved into the new room, called in the Minutes, The Institute Room. It was built by Mr Douglas Vickers and presented to MrsVickers on her fiftieth birthday. Mrs Vickers was President at the time. In 1929, the Institute seems to have petered out and was not reformed until 1939, when Mrs Dewar, who was President, brought Stagenhoe members along with her and the name was changed to Preston and Stagenhoe. After Mrs. Dewar's death, members found it difficult to get from Stagenhoe to the meetings and so they dropped out. In 1949, it was found that Langley was too small to form an Institute on their own, so they joined with Preston and once again the name was changed, this time to Preston and Langley. The Presidents in order were as follows:-
The President (Mrs D Seebohm) greeting Mrs Worthington at Poynders End
FarmsIn recent times the farms have constantly changed hands and their character has changed with each succeeding occupant. The soil is upper chalk and clay and looks as if it will grow nothing but flints, it is actually good wheat growing land and depended very much on sheep in the old days. Today economic conditions and fertilizers have changed all that and most of the farms have dairy herds. Minsden, which in Mr Dewar's time had Ayrshire cattle, has changed to Friesians, so the weather vane in the form of a cow, above the entrance to the Lutyens built farm has changed its colour from brown and white to black and white. These Friesians have done very well in the show world, carrying off quite a number of prizes.Castle Farm, once the home of Mr Douglas Vickers' famous Preston Herd of Wessex Saddleback Pigs, has now a herd of Jersey cows. The honour of Preston today is upheld by Mr. Reg Darton, of Castle Farm, (above right) who has won prizes for ploughing each year since 1948, including the Buntingford Championship Cup and Challenge Cup for the best ploughing in all classes and the Ist Prize and Challenge Cup for the Kimpton District three times. Fields round Preston seem to have taken their names mostly from local characters or previous owners. There is Jack's Piece, sounding like a folk dance, Payne's Field, there are still Paynes in the neighbourhood, Peg's Valley, Hearnsfield and Legatts and then there are the Mimsells, probably a contraction of Minsden as they lie near the Chapel.
“A mouldering structure then appeared in view,Around whose top the creeping ivy grew,Once a fair church adorned with curious art,In crumbling stones now dropping part from part;While thorns and briars interwoven round,Vie with its top and fill the desert ground,Denying entrance to the curious eye,To view the graves that underneath them lie.”