A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Preston people: Simon (1781c -1853) and Rebecca Stevens
Simon and Rebecca Stevens moved to Preston from Northamptonshire in 1815. He was described as a ‘schoolmaster’ in parish records. The family worshipped briefly at the Hitchin Back Street Baptist Chapel.
Simon Stevens was baptised at Sudborough, Northants in 1781. Twenty-one years later, in 1802, he married Rebecca Bird at Little Addington, Northants. She had been baptised at this parish eighteen years earlier. The couple had seven children in three different Northamptonshire parishes, but three died as infants. Simon is described in Northamptonshire baptismal records as an Excise Officer and presumably his duties took him to these different parishes and eventually to Hertfordshire. We can date this latter move fairly precisely. The last two of the seven children were twin girls, Catherine Wilson Stevens and Sarah Smith Stevens, named after their grandmothers. Catherine died in March 1815, aged 5 weeks, and was buried in Little Addington while Sarah died in June 1815, aged 4 months, and was buried in St Mary’s, Hitchin. When Simon was living at Preston, he was described as a ‘schoolmaster’ in the parish records when his children were born. Why did he end his earlier career as an Excise Officer? One possible explanation is that as a result of his adherence to, or perhaps conversion to Nonconformism (his son Henry was baptised at Back Street Chapel in Hitchin in 1818), he was prevented from holding a public office such as an Excise Officer because of his religious views. This certainly would have been the case in the eighteenth century but we do not know to what extent the laws against Dissenters were being enforced in the early 1800s. Around 1815, when Simon and Rebecca moved to Preston, the minister at the Back Street Baptist Chapel was the Rev. Charles Sloper. After upsetting many in the congregation, he embarked on a successful ministry preaching to the poor in ‘country places’. Scores of converts were added to the Chapel and a barn at Trunks House Farm near Minsden Chapel was used for several months as a meeting place. Perhaps, Simon was caught up in this activity as his son, Henry, was baptised at Back Street in 1818. However, Sloper continued to divide his congregation and was turned upon by his deacons. In the aftermath, many left the Chapel in 1822. Simon’s youngest two children, who were christened in 1824 and 1827, were baptised at the Anglican Churches of St Mary’s, Hitchin and Ippollitts. As both Simon and Rebecca were buried at the parish church of Kings Walden, maybe the couple quickly fell in and out of love with the Hitchin Back Street Congregationalists. Later, Simon was described as an agricultural labourer in the censuses of 1841 and 1851 when he was living in Kings Walden.
The children of Simon and Rebecca Stevens
Brief details of the four children who survived the move to Hertfordshire: William – was baptised 1803 Little Addington. Married Sophia Carter in 1825 in Rickmansworth (per Allen Index) and had at least six children. After a spell in Cambridgeshire, he became a publican in Hertford. Joseph – was baptised 1809 in Blakesley, Northants. Married Sophia Saunders in Lilley in 1829 and lived there subsequently. Shown as a groom on 1841 census, and as an agricultural labourer thereafter. They had six children. Rebecca – was baptised 1810 in Blakesley. Married John Peters in Hitchin in 1829. John was the third child of Joseph Peters and Martha Bailey. (See the Peters family page: Link: Peters family). They had eight children and lived at Ley Green initially but had moved to Stopsley by 1861. John Peters died in 1874 and Rebecca in 1883. George – was baptised 1812 in Blakesley and was buried at Hitchin in 1835. Simon and Rebecca had at least three more children after the family moved from Northamptonshire although there is a seven-year gap between the first and second of these. This may mean we are missing further baptisms or alternatively perhaps there were miscarriages and/or stillbirths during this intervening period. Brief details of Simon and Rebecca’s three Hertfordshire-born children: Henry – was born at Preston in 1817 and baptised at Back Street Baptist in 1818. We have not as yet been able to identify him on the censuses, possibly he also died young. Ann – was born Preston 1824 and was baptised in Hitchin. Living with John and Rebecca Peters in 1841 and 1851. Charles Thomas – was born Preston 1827 and baptised at Ippollitts. Seems to have been a somewhat turbulent young man. (see the articles re: Pond Farm and the Parsonage Farm Fire when he was charged and acquitted of arson (Links: Pond Farm; Parsonage Farm). He married Elizabeth Green in Kings Walden in 1846 and they had three children and were living at Cox Green in 1851. Elizabeth died in 1855 but we do not yet know what happened to Charles. The children seem to have been taken into the Union Workhouse in Hitchin and the two younger ones were still there in 1861. The oldest, Mary, was out in service to a family in Hitchin by the name of Olney at that date. In 1850, Rebecca (snr) was living at Ley Green when she died and was buried at Kings Walden church on 10 February. Simon was living with his married son, Charles, a year later at Cox Green. Simon (who was still living at Cox Green) was buried at Kings Walden on 18 September 1853.