A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
The Seebohm family of Poynders End
Above: The Poynders End Estate in 1895 Right: outbuildings in 1895 and Poynders End Farm aka Tudor Cottage in 2006)
Poynders End Farm was in the parish of Ippollitts (see link: Poynders End) and the manor of Temple Dinsley. For most of the nineteenth century it appears to have been worked by absentee farmers who installed labourers in the farm house: James Payne (1851-61), Thomas Prine (1871), John French (1881), George French (1891). The owner of the farm towards the end of the century was Edward D. Roberts who was farming just over the county border at Fielding Farm, Silsoe, Ampthill, Beds. When he died in early 1890, his executors attempted to sell the farm three times but in a market glutted with farms due to an agricultural depression, it remained unsold. Finally, with a hint of desperation, the executors announced an auction at The Sun Hotel, Hitchin on 19 February 1895 stating, ‘It is absolutely necessary to effect a sale as the trust is about to expire’. Included with the farm buildings were live and dead stock - horses, bullocks and poultry; four hundred yards of barbed wire; two clamps of ‘Marigold Wurtzels’ and an American cooking stove. In the barns were machines for dressing corn, cutting up roots and chaff for feed and for breaking cattle cake. The contraptions were linked by cogs and shafts to a horse which plodded around the farmyard. The farm was bought by Mr Byatt. He introduced more poultry and a dairy herd and erected 12,000 feet of green-housing. Two years later, he sold up and in 1901 the resident farmer was 25-year-old Ernest Barber.
Poynders End Farm in the nineteenth century
Hugh Seebohm purchases Poynders End Farm
In 1903, the banker Hugh Seebohm purchased the 92-acre farm, the sale being completed on 24 December.  He now owned the farmhouse (brick-built with a tiled roof, with its four bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen,scullery, bake-house and pantry) and the farm buildings (mainly made of wood and thatch, comprising a large barn, chaff barn, open shed, stable, cow-house, three enclosed yards and a well of excellent water) which were assessed as being in ‘poor’ condition in 1910. Perhaps the ‘very elevated position’ of the farm which commanded ‘views of several counties’ made the property more appealing. (Poynders End House can be seen from the bottom of Preston Hill) Immediately, Hugh commissioned the architect, Geoffry Lucas of 83 Bancroft, Hitchin, to design an ‘Arts and Crafts’-style house to be built on his land (shown below). This was completed in 1905.
Hugh E Seebohm
Leslie Grace Seebohm (nee Gribble)
Hugh in a dog cart with his three sons at Poynders End
Poynders End was constructed of wood and brick with a stuccoed finish and tiled roof. On the ground floor were a hall, dining room, drawing room, w.c., servants hall, pantry, kitchen, scullery, larders and boot-room. Located on the first floor were three bedrooms, two dressing rooms, two wc’s, a study, night and day nurseries with bathroom and six servants bedrooms. In 1911, the servants were a cook, parlourmaid, housemaid, children’s nurse and children’s maid. Richard Seebohm described the atmosphere in the house as ‘austere (no-one spoke at meals) but loving’. Hugh’s granddaughter, the novelist, Victoria Glendinning OBE, wrote of Poynders End, ‘...a severe, roughcast vaguely Tudor house with massive brick chimneys and no great beauty - or so it seems to me now, though it had great glamour for me in childhood....during the early part of the Second World War, we - my brother, sister and I - lived at Poynders End for a time...I remember the smell of the house which was really the smell of the oak used for the wide staircase and the floor of the big drawing room - wood block floors (probably made from oak) and having building bricks, like the wood blocks. There was a leather box of counters, as big as £2 pieces in sets of, what were to me, glorious colours - probably made of bakerlite.’ She recalled lying on the grass near the house and calling to her step-grandmother, ‘Mysie’ (Marjorie) who was at an upper window, ‘There’s something I’ve got to learn how to do’. ‘I know what it is’, she replied hopefully, ‘You’ve got to learn to read’. ‘No’, I said, ‘ I’ve got to learn to whistle’. In her early teenage years, Victoria stayed with Derrick and his ‘lovely, warm blonde wife, Patricia. She took me shopping with her to Stevenage where the new town was in the process of being built. It was the first time.’
Hugh Seebohm - the farmer
Although Poynders End was considered to be a ‘hobby farm’, Hugh increased his holding by fifty acres as a result of two purchases in around 1911 and 1931. There is a pencilled note in the 1910 Inland Revenue Valuation Survey that he bought (3 and 4) Hitchwood Cottages. He then built Nos 5 - 7 Hitchwood Cottages (below) in a style that complimented Lutyen’s cottages in the area.
In 1941, the farm was appraised as part of the National Farm Survey. It was marked with an ‘A’ for management. By then, it comprised 143 acres which were given over as follows: wheat (20 acres); barley (12 1/2); oats (35), mixed corn (8 3/4); maize (2); beans for stock feeding (17); potatoes (3 1/4); turnips and swedes for fodder (3/4); mangolds (2 1/4); kale for fodder ( 2 1/4); permanent grass for grazing (40). The livestock included nine cows and heifers in milk; five heifers with first calf; one bull; five other cattle; thirty fowls over six months old and three horses -geldings, which were used on the farm. The soil was described as 90% medium; 10% light and the farm was infested with rabbits. Hugh employed six men aged over twenty-one and one woman on the farm and there was a Fordson tractor. In addition to his farming activities, Hugh was involved in Preston village activities. He was elected as a school manager and the Preston Cricket Club History notes that he ‘always gave much sympathetic help and assistance to the village’. In his obituary, Hugh was described as remaining ‘to the end the traditional country banker. He was indeed essentially a countryman, finding his chief delight in himself and his farm and in this peaceful environment his love of trees and birds, of which his knowledge was profound, would best be indulged’.
Derrick Seebohm
Derrick was educated at Rugby and Cambridge and then lived in Canada. He returned in the 1930s to work at Barclays Bank at Luton. He won Royal Agricultural Society awards for inventions of an electrical fence system, a sillage cutter and his dairy herd. He was also active in the National Farmers’ Union. During World War II, Derrick was in the Ministry of Economic Warfare. Following Hugh Seebohm’s death, Derrick ‘inherited Poynders End, but it didn’t pay and had to be sold’. It was first put on the market in May 1946 but Derrick was still there in 1951 according to the electoral roll. By 1961, he and Patricia had moved to a spacious
chalet bungalow at 25 Chequers Lane (now Chequers Cottage - shown above). Their ‘daily’ was Mrs Emily Peters.
Like his father, Derrick was involved with the village community - ‘a well respected local dignitary’. He was elected as the representative of the Parish on the board of Preston School Managers in 1947. From that same year, he chaired Preston Cricket Club (his wife, Patricia was a Vice President and Chairman of Hitchin Magistrates) and Chairman of Preston Parish. He established footpaths and boundaries, organised the planting of trees and was a guiding hand when Preston first won its ‘Best Kept Village’ award. He was described as a ‘hands-on man and an enthusiastic worker, able to get the best out of people’. Curiously, he does not appear in any of the photographs taken when the award was unveiled. When asked the reason, a co- worker commented that Derrick did not seek the limelight. Shortly before his move to Huntingdonshire, Derrick was interviewed by a local news
reporter. He mused, ‘I regard our departure with a mixture of excitement and regret. Its time younger people came into the village and the responsibility for the future must be left to them...the village must grow to make it more viable. At the present time we cannot raise enough people for our cricket and football teams. Outsiders have to help us out’.
Derrick Seebohm (left) entering into the spirit of a peculiar Preston pastime. Beside him is Jack Raffell. The other man is Dennis Waller who built much of the present-day village
Frederic Seebohm and Preston
Victoria Glendinning recalls that Frederic and Evangeline ‘owned a weekend cottage with its own electricity generator (very noisy) at Sootfield Green. I used to stay there when the children were babies’.
Addendum - Poynders End: L Weaver Small Country Houses of Today 1911
Weaver writes: Geoffrey Lucas is perhaps best known to the public by his work at the Hampstead Garden Suburb. It shows him as an architectural economist, winning his effects by simple dispositions of mass, roof-line and gable, and with small aid from the minor building arts. At Poynder's End he was free to call in those crafts which bring diversity and with it richness. It is a house most simple in arrangement, yet with a large dignity. The broad span of the roofs, the solid way in which the bays jut out and the gravity of the gables are emphasized by a restrained use of varied textures. The north- east bay is sheeted with lead, a feature not merely decorative, but highly practical in resisting the penetrative power of driving rain. The gable above it is weather-boarded, and the natural edges of the unsquared planks give an agreeable yet reasonable air of irregularity. This device for adding interest to outside boarding was very successfully employed by that great but too little known, architect, the late George Devey. Below the larger gable of the north-west front is a long row of casements divided by two blank spaces, which are plastered and treated with incised decoration. It will be noted, however, that these enrichments and the rather massive wood mouldings at the top of the bays serve only to throw into relief the prevailing sense of simplicity. It has been said that it is not mere aesthetic beauty but the quality of expression which entities any work possessing it to a place among the things to be regarded as fine art. This is peculiarly true of domestic architecture. It is not enough that a house shall please the eye and be convenient and well built. We are entitled to expect that it shall express some definite mental attitude in its owner. Mr. Hugh Exton Seebohm, for whom Poynder's End was built, is a student of social conditions and impressed with the importance of simplicity in living. The term "simple life " is perhaps best avoided, as it has come to connote some rather farcical aspects of a reasonable position. To other interests Mr. Seebohm adds a taste for serious farming, and this site of one hundred acres, about three miles from Hitchin, includes an old and picturesque farmstead where lives one of the farm hands. While Mr. Lucas has refrained from giving to the building any Imitative flavour of the traditional farmhouse, the simplicity o f its arrangement reflects the tastes o f its owner. This needs to be taken into account when examining the plan, which presents some unusual features. The carriage drive approaches the house from the south, which explains why the office wing is not in line with the main body of the house. The porch is in the smaller gabled projection on the north-west front. It opens into an inner porch-like space called the entry. To the left a door opens to the hall, and to the right another to the foot of the stairs and the passage to the kitchen quarters. This is a development of the rather barbarous custom of letting the porch give direct on to the hall .when it is the main living-room. The dining-room opens out of the hall and has also a door to the serving lobby adjoining the kitchen. The hall is of impressive proportions. The two illustrations of it show respectively the fireplace end and the return end with the. dining-room and staircase framed in the open doorways. The panelling is simple and effective, and the fireplace of generous size, with a pleasant lining of tiles arranged edgeways in herring-bone. The square bay facing the north-east and the octagonal bay look out over a magnificent sweep of country to all sides save the west, stretching away even to Sandy and Wrest Park in the far distance. The bronze casements have been glazed with plate glass divided into sheets of reasonable size instead of with the smaller leaded lights used in the upper rooms. This seems a sound compromise with the idea of single sheets of glass, which are best for seeing the view, but do not give a fitting sense of enclosure. The dining-room is also rich in windows, and has a door to the garden porch, or loggia. Both these rooms are lofty, and give in some measure the feeling that their scale is over-large in relation to the plan. The hall has rather a barn-like air. It is frankly a little bald. This would have been avoided if there had been some sort of screen (however openly designed) between the two parts into which it seems naturally to divide itself. The floors and doors here are all of oak, and the latter are fitted with thumb- latches of polished steel. The sense of massive architectural well-being is heightened by the staircase, with its treads of solid elm and sturdy balusters. On the first floor above the porch is a delightfully treated study, while three of the bedrooms benefit by the bays being carried up to the eaves. The second floor provides a great workroom. When we regard the exterior of Poynder's End as a whole, we are struck by the natural and easy way in which Mr. Lucas has arrived at an interior notably light and airy without interfering with a due proportion between solids and voids. The entrance front in particular is characterised by an admirable air of breadth. The large light-giving capacity of projecting bays has enabled him to leave his main wall spaces but little broken. Breadth and scale are two of the most valuable qualities of architecture, and both have been achieved on the entrance front. It is enough to imagine the effect of comparatively big windows inserted in its two gables to see how valuable the right proportion is between openings and wall space. Large openings would have destroyed the sense of breadth which is afforded by the gables, and accentuated by the bulk of the chimneys. Of the garden there is little to be said. The site slopes away rather sharply from the house on one side, and offered opportunities for terrace and yew hedge and wall that would have added greatly to the amenities of the building. A scheme has been prepared by Mr. Lucas, but not yet carried out. When it is, the hint of bareness which gives to the grouping something of gaucherie will disappear. The more civilized the type of architecture (and Poynder's End, for all its simple plan, is a finished product and shows no small scholarship), the more needful it is to provide by gardens of formal type a middle world between the house and the country beyond. One looks for some spreading of the influence of the architecture to its immediate surroundings. The dim distances of rolling hills and plotted fields need the garden as a foreground of ordered beauty. It is just in such a situation as Poynder's End, where the wide outlook gives the sense of a large freedom that the view seems to demand in the immediate surroundings the repose of quiet lines and conscious art.’
Derrick Seebohm demonstrates electrified fencing at Poynders End in 1949
In the wake of World War Two and its shortages, there was a farming need to limit the grazing of animals to smaller areas so that the most economical use could be made of fodder. An associated by- product was the ‘intensive dunging’ of manure and urine. In 1949, Derrick Seebohm of Poynders End launched his invention of Portapylons. These were light (6½ lbs) and stable mini-pylons which were placed at ten to twenty yard intervals. A wire was stretched between them which could be raised or lowered depending on the type of animals to be penned, using insulator clamps. The wire was connected to a battery, such as a 6V car battery, and the system was controlled by a timer. Unique selling points were that posts were not needed and it was claimed that 150 yards could be installed in five minutes by just two men. The photographs above show the system being demonstrated at Poynders End Farm and ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ Agricultural Show. Portapylons were still being used in 1957 and are known to have been used in Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Suffolk. In 1949, they were advertised in Western Australia when the photo of the young man uncoiling the cable shown above was published. Portapylons were featured in passing for period interest during the TV show, The Islands Done With Who, in 2010. For those sufficiently intrigued to know more, I refer you to a Ministry of Agriculture bulletin (1953) on electric fencing which includes an advertisement in the final pages from the company that produced the Seebohm system: http://krishikosh.egranth.ac.in/bitstream/1/2041702/1/37746.pdf A farmer claimed ‘Not one animal has trespassed under or over Portapylon fence and not one of the Portapylons has been knocked down’.
Mrs Patricia Seebohm and her daughter, Fidelity Mary
A Preston School party on the lawn of Poynders End
Poynders End today
For more background information about the roots of the Seebohm family, I recommend the article prepared for the Hitchin Historical Society in 1994 by Richard Seebohm which can be read at this link: (1) History of the Seebohm family (2) Bibliography. A report of the death of Hugh’s first wife, Leslie can be found here : Mrs Leslie Seebohm
Sources: I am grateful to Richard Seebohm for his family photographs and information and to Penny Causer for her photograph. Sale of Poynders End Farm (1895) HALS; Censuses 1851- 1911; ‘Victoria Glenndinning’s Hertfordshire’ ; 1910 Inland Revenue Valuation and 1941 National Farm Survey - The National Archives, Kew; D Frost - ‘History of Preston Cricket Club’; the memories of Harry Hollingsworth; The Times; Preston electoral register - HALS; Evening Post 13 May 1970.