A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Preston’s Cottages: Spindle Cottage, Hitchin Road
Today, this home is known as Spindle Cottage. It displays a sign indicating that it was built in 1717. It pleasingly introduces the historical tone of Preston to visitors from the east. Its features are noted thus: ‘South part: a twentieth-century extension. Constructed in red brick using a Flemish bond, now painted. Steep old red tile roof. A 1½ storeys, three-roomed house facing east, with matching one room south extension. The east-facing front has a plinth, four windows with segmental arches, and four gabled dormers at the eaves. There are two-light casement windows with leaded glazing to dormers. In addition, there are two 3-light similar windows to the left of a plank door. An internal chimney is near middle for kitchen nd there is an external north gable chimney for the parlour. A three-roomed plan originally with entrance into large lobby with stairs rising to left and service room partitioned off to rear. There is a partition below an axial beam. The room to the south is a kitchen greatly narrowed by the large internal chimney and fireplace with high plain lintel. The parlour to the east has longitudinal beams in the ceiling and moulded fire surround. Re-used timbers in roof, some smoke-blackened. There is no evidence that it was ever a single-storey house.’ The first direct historical references to the cottage are the Ippollitts Tithe Map (below) and Award of 1816.
The cottage is the shaded building set back from the Hitchin Road. Note the barn to the south-east. The Award helpfully said that its owner in 1816 was William Swain and that it comprised ‘cottages (plural) and garden’, occupying 30 perches. This information allows for some speculation. William Swain’s (1758 - 1834) grandfather was Edward Swain who died in 1752. Edward’s will mentions his ‘freehold cottage at Ippollitts (the parish in which Spindle Cottage stood) which was occupied by Henry Merritt (a descendant was a woodman at Wain Wood). Edward bequeathed the cottage to his son, John Swain (1717 - 1794). According to John’s will, he passed on his ’freehold and copyhold cottages at Hitchin, Ippollitts and Kings Walden (parishes)’ to his son, William Swain. In turn, they were to become the property of William’s son, Stephen. From this it seems likely that Spindle Cottage was owned by four generations of Swains - Edward, John, William and Stephen. Indeed, perhaps its twentieth century name is an echo of this ownership as the first three Swains were blacksmiths. Maybe the cottage was even built by Edward Swain (? - 1752). (See later possible confirmation of this below)
Spindle Cottage in the nineteenth century
Armed with the knowledge that Spindle Cottage was actually two cottages, that previous tenants had been woodmen and the ‘Swain connection’, it is possible to trace many of its probable occupants in the nineteenth century.
1841 - John and Sarah Webb (woodman) James and Louisa Brown (agricultural labourer) 1851 - Priscilla Swain (daughter of Stephen) and Alfred Saunderson Thomas and Mary Andrew (agricultural labourer) 1861 - Priscilla Swain Thomas and Mary Titmus (carpenter) 1871 - Priscilla Swain (Priscilla died in 1878) John and Annie French (agricultural labourer) 1881 - Thomas and Maria Sharp (agricultural labourer) Likely, the other cottage was unoccupied 1891 - Thomas and Harriet Sharp (Woodman and pig butcher) Likely, the other cottage was unoccupied.
The ownership of Spindle Cottage moved from the Swain family to the Curlings during the nineteenth century. In 1910, it, and several cottages on the north side of Chequers Lane, were owned by Captain Edward S Curling of 3 Chiltern Road, Hitchin.
Spindle Cottage becomes Preston’s Post Office
As can been seen from the top photograph, sometime between 1891 and 1901, Spindle Cottage became Preston’s Post Office which had previously been located at Laburnum Lodge, Preston Green. In 1901 its occupants were Hannah Harriet Frost (born 1839), the sub-postmistress; Rosa Frost (born 1871) telegraph clerk; Clara Saunderson Frost, the maid and housekeeper, Margaret Dawson. Communications at Preston had entered the modern age! Spindle Cottage was to be the village post office for more than forty years.
A detailed map of Spindle Cottage dated 1898 shows that little had changed in almost a century. It was described as brick and tiled with an office, kitchen, scullery, coal place and three bedrooms. It was old and in poor repair. Beside it was a wood and corrugated iron barn.
In mid-December 1904, the newspaper reported a burglary at Preston Post Office near Hitchin on Saturday night: “About midnight, Mrs Frost, the postmistress, a widow nearly seventy years of age, and her daughter were roused from their sleep by a noise in their bedroom and found that two men (complete strangers to them) had made their way into the house. The frightened women screamed out and begged the men not to hurt them and the men taking hold of them by the throat said they would not do so but they must have money as their families were starving: their demand was for a sovereign each. Mrs Frost said she had not as much money in the house, whereupon one of the men said they had come to the wrong place. She gave them a half-sovereign which she took from the pocket of the dress she had worn during the day, this being at her request handed to her by one of the men. During this time the shorter of the two was holding Miss Frost. Miss B???, a schoolmistress who occupied another bedroom in the house was aroused by Mrs Frost screaming on the discovery that there were thieves in the house and she got up and hastened to a neighbours for help. She came back soon afterwards with Mr Brown and Mr Mead but by this time the burglars had got away. In addition to the half-sovereign they took two shillings and a few coppers from a tin in a stationery cabinet downstairs. No post office money is missing. The police were informed as soon as possible and a vigorous search for the burglars was made but no-one has yet been arrested. Access to the house was obtained by breaking a pane in a downstairs window and forcing back the latch. It is supposed that the men were not absolute strangers to the neighbourhood but had sufficient local knowledge to get into the house in the readiest way and to be able to go speedily into hiding when the alarm was raised. An odd fact in the case is that they shook hands with Mrs Frost and her daughter before leaving.” By 1911, Rosa Frost had taken over the duties of sub-postmistress with Clara Frost as her assistant. Lavinia Brown was the postal clerk and Margaret Dawson continued to cook for the three spinsters. Rosa continued to serve Preston from the Post Office until her death there on 24 September 1939. It was about this time that Preston’s Post Office was relocated to 6 Chequers Cottages, Chequers Lane.
Spindle Cottage from 1950
Confirmation of Edward Swain’s connection with Spindle Cottage?
The current occupier of Spindle Cottage has written to say that on the outside of the cottage is the letter ‘E’; and to the right is an ‘S’. In 2015 the letters had both been painted black and so are picked out from the rest of the paintwork.as the enhanced photograph (below) shows. It was thought that E S referred to Edward Sadleir - however in the light of what has been researched it is more likely to refer to Edward Swain
The barn beside Spindle Cottage
The barn standing beside Spindle Cottage can be clearly seen in the maps shown above. It dates from the seventeenth century and is of dark weather-board on a flint cill with tarred brick corners. Today, the roof is of corrugated iron and is used as a garage. It is a Grade Two listed building.