A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
The changing facade of Temple Dinsley 1541 - 1907
This article draws together sketches, photographs, maps and news reports to present a picture of how Temple Dinsley was altered over three and a half centuries.
The 1766 Topographical Map of Hertfordshire by Dury and Andrews (reputed to be one of the most accurate maps to appear in the eighteenth century) appears to show the two houses and a stable block (ringed below).
In 1714, Benedict Ithell built a new mansion beside the old Temple Dinsley. Its rainwater heads bore the inscription ‘1714’. The two buildings stood side-by-side for around eighty years.
There are several points of interest. The old mansion is in the background (it is painted using a darker colour) and to the north (ie right) of the new house. The latter has wings to the east and west, each with four windows - otherwise it is similar to the house photographed in the late 1860s. Stables and the Temple Clock are shown far right. The curving wall with railings and the high gate are exactly as shown in photographs taken in around 1870 (see later).
The Temple Dinsley of the Knights Templar was probably torn down before 1536. The paper, Demolition of Former Monastic Buildings in Hertfordshire, singles out the house for special mention, including it among the ‘casualties’ of the county’s religious houses ‘well before the Dissolution’, Lawrence Weaver argued that ‘it is improbable that (at Temple Dinsley) in 1541…there was a house of any importance, for he (ie Sir Ralph Sadleir) does not seem to have ever lived there’’, preferring to occupy his seat at Standon, Herts. (‘County Life’ magazine, 22 April 1911.) Sir Ralph’s greatx2 grandson, Edwin Sadleir (1620 -1672), was the first of his family to be described as being ‘of Temple Dinsley’ - ‘he removed from thence (ie Bedford) to Temple Dinsley’. Weaver also wrote ‘(that the house illustrated by Drapentier circa 1700, see later) was built for himself (Edwin) just after the Restoration (ie circa 1660), though the casement windows and the pedimented gables may be held to suggest a builder of some twenty years earlier’. If this is correct, the Sadleir mansion was constructed in the middle of the seventeenth century. Before leaving the original mansion of the Templars, reference should be made to the coloured representation of Temple Dinsley included in his collection by Hitchin antiquarian WB Gerish (1864 - 1921), shown below. It is captioned “Temple Dinsley partly pulled down”:
There is no further description or information about this image. It is completely unlike the illustrations we have of the mansions of Sadleir and Ithell (which were built of brick) in every detail. Was this a drawing of the pre-1640 Temple Dinsley?
The Temple Dinsley built by Sir Edwin Sadleir in the middle of the seventeenth century
Temple Dinsley by J Drapentier circa 1700
As we will see, this house stood until the 1790s - although being empty from 1714. It seems that it was occupied for less than seventy-four years.
A new Temple Dinsley built in 1714 by Benedict Ithell
A water-colour painting clearly shows the two buildings:
This image provides significant information about Temple Dinsley. There has been considerable mis-information and fake history written about the two mansions. Moreover archaeological findings may have been mis-interpreted as a result. For these reasons, this image will be examined in detail and conclusions will be made.
The Sadleir Mansion
When was the water-colour painted?
Thomas Baskerfield painted this study of Temple Dinsley. A cataloguing description of his water-colour reads:
Thomas was active between 1785 and 1816. Therefore, the earliest this water-colour could have been painted was 1785. A report (circa 1993) included this water-colour with the caption:
Note that the image was captioned, ‘lately Mr Harwood’s’. Thomas Harwood died in March 1787 - so the water-colour was painted after that time. It is possible to be even more specific about when this view was painted. Writing in 1801, John Britton in The Beauties of England and Wales stated:
Thus, it would be reasonable to suggest that the painting was made in the decade between 1787 and, say, 1797. The following statements (a small sample) are therefore provably incorrect: Re Temple Dinsley: “Benedict Ithell… pulled down the old and erected the present house”. Little Guide to Hertfordshire (1903). Repeated on the Genealogy in Hertfordshire website.
Re Benedict Ithell:
Re: the two wings of Temple Dinsley built in 1714
Note that the older Sadleir house was to the north of the Ithell mansion. Armed with this knowledge, it is possible to make sense of something that puzzled Weaver in 1911. He wrote, “One odd characteristic of the old house (ie before Lutyens’ modifications) is apparent from a glance at the plan. The entrance hall was to the south and the garden front to the north, instead of vice versa.” One might suggest that the entrance to Temple Dinsley was not placed to the north because of the proximity and view of the of the moldering Sadleir house which was there.
Compare the two images of Temple Dinsley shown above dated 1787 - 1797 (left) and 1832 (right). Clearly, during the intervening years, the east and west wings have been demolished - about forty percent of the mansion - the number of ground and first floor windows, to left and right of the front door, have been reduced from five to three. Consider this, when reviewing these three comments:
“It is interesting to note that the old walls of the seventeenth century house were uncovered when the foundations for the walls of the present west wing were being excavated. Weaver in Country Life (1911)
The finds, when foundations of the west wing designed by Lutyns were being dug, could not have been remains of the Sadleir seventeenth century house because that house was to the north, not west, of the Ithell mansion, as shown by the water-colour painting. Rather, one wonders whether they were in fact the foundations of the torn-down west wing of the Ithell house. Probably, the only way historians would know about Temple Dinsley’s two wings is by finding and interpreting the Baskerfield’s water-colour painting.
Finally, two further comments to consider: when Temple Dinsley was sold in 1873, it’s history included this sentence (by ‘old buildings’ is meant the Sadleir mansion):
“In 2000, a radar survey of the Rose Gardens at Temple Dinsley (my note: to the west of the mansion) by the Temple Dinsley Archaeological Project indicated that underground remains of the Elizabethan house may survive.”
When were the two wings demolished? A survey of the mansion’s gardens in the early twenty-first century noted (with no supporting references): Amalgamating all the information written above, the data may indicate that Joseph Darton jnr demolished the old mansion and the two wings of the new Temple Dinsley in the late 1790s, after which it would have looked like this:
1767 Last sister (re Benedict Ithell’s daughters) left estate to her steward Thos. Harwood. It passed successively to his son, Joseph (incorrect, PW) (who pulled down two wings [? of old house])
Maps, news reports and other documents re: Temple Dinsley in the nineteenth century
The first views of the ‘new’ Temple Dinsley in the nineteenth century as drawn by Buckler in 1832:
The front of the house - facing south-east.
The rear of the house - facing north-west.
The house is basically rectangular with few additions to the west and east wings. The front view is symmetrical - with a front entrance and window above, flanked by three windows on both the ground and first floor on both sides. It also has three attic windows on the front and probably the rear sides and chimney slabs on both wings. The painting dated 1832 includes the stables and Temple Clock (shown right). This is significant because this outbuilding was destroyed by fire in May 1888 - which means that any image of Temple Dinsley that includes the Temple Clock must pre-date that time.
There is documentary evidence that there were at least two extensions to Temple Dinsley built between 1832 and 1907. For much of the nineteenth century, the Darton family who owned Temple Dinsley did not live in the mansion. It was rented out. Significantly (in view of what follows), two of its tenants were allowed to make extensive and expensive refurbishments and alterations to the property. This was to the mutual benefit of landlord and tenant. One such tenant was the Hitchin brewer, Henry Crabbe, who lived in the house between around 1818 to his death in 1830. Two years later, in May 1832, the property was advertised in The Times newspaper as being available again for renting. This provides a detailed description the Temple Dinsley of this era. It was described as a family mansion in an elevated and airy situation, delightfully sheltered by timber. On the ground floor were a breakfast parlour, dining and drawing rooms and a gentleman’s dressing room with adjoining bathroom. On the first floor were three large bedrooms, each of which had its own dressing room. There were six large attics. In the grounds there were two double coach-houses, stabling for seven horses (above which were four servants rooms) and large walled gardens. Near the stables was a large brick dovecote. Eventually, the house was let in mid-1839 to newly-weds Thomas and Frederica Halsey. Immediately the couple began to upgrade their new home - a process which lasted from May 1839 until January 1840. They spent an incredible £1800 (after discount) on new fittings and furnishings. There is an itemised thirty-six-page record of this refurbishment. This is introduced with the statement, “…making arrangements for several alterations and two additional rooms”. As these rooms are not thereafter mentioned in the bill, it would appear that they were further expenses. Despite this expenditure, the Halseys didn’t stay long at Temple Dinsley, probably moving out in the mid-1840s. The invoice for the work itemised purchases for each room. Perhaps room measurements can be calculated as the lengths of carpet and other floor covering were included. There was 70½ yards of Brussells carpet in the drawing room and 15’ x 14’ 10” of Turkey carpet in the dining room, together with seventeen yards of floor-cloth to fit around the room. These were the rooms that were mentioned: drawing room, dining room, library, family bedroom, closet adjoining, spare bedroom, best spare room and a dressing room. The 1851 census recorded Thomas and Maria Darton as living at Temple Dinsley, together with their five children, their governess, two servants and a farm worker. Then, in August 1853, the property was once again advertised:
From the information noted above, it is clear from the rooms which were listed that the house had been extended. (In August 1854, an advertisement stated that the mansion had been let, but no information is available to confirm this or the identity of new tenants). Thomas Harwood Darton was Lord of the Manor at this time and he held this position for just five years until his death on 12 February 1858. Almost immediately, Temple Dinsley was unsuccessfully advertised as being available for renting on 11 May 1858 - in 1861, Thomas’ widow, Maria, was still in residence there. Between 1869 and 1879, John Weeks (a retired Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society and greenhouse entrepreneur) lived at Temple Dinsley. While he was still a tenant, Temple Dinsley was offered for sale (ie not for renting) in July 1872. The wording of the advertisement is pertinent as it indicated that further alterations and redecorations had recently taken place:
Further details were given when the advertisement was repeated in the following year. It was a ‘fine, old mansion’. It had a spacious hall, drawing room (24’3” x 17’6”), billiard room (20’6” x 20’), dining room (22’8” x 21’), morning room (14’7” x 14’6”), study (15’1” x 13’9”) and gun room on the ground floor - all of which were centrally heated. On the next floor were seven bedrooms, three dressing rooms, a bathroom and two toilets. The roof space was occupied by six attics….’ Adjoining the house were a laundry, wash-room, coal cellar and a wood-house. (1873). The person who instigated these changes and when they were made can be inferred from a court case in December 1869, Leggatt v Weekes (sic). Leggatt had been employed by John Weeks of Temple Dinsley to help with redecorations of the property, so it was he who paid for the ‘substantial and decorative repairs in around 1869/70. It may be step too far to suggest that a reported garden party with around 150 guests hosted by Weeks at the mansion in July 1870 was prompted as a celebration of the completed work to the mansion (see below). We are now entering age of outside photography and two photographs of Temple Dinsley were taken, probably in the late 1860s, before the Weeks’ extension was added. There was also a detailed sketch of the mansion made at this time:
The three images shown above pre-date 1888 because the Temple Clock is included. They are concurrent, as indicated by the tall fir trees behind the mansion. In two of the images, there is a woman wearing a hoop skirt, which probably dates them to the late 1860s. Major extensions can be seen in the two photographs when they are compared with the 1832 Buckler illustration. Firstly, a two-storey extension has been added to the east side (ringed). It has been suggested that this was a service wing. Secondly, the last image (which was drawn after the top two photographs were taken) portrays another two-storey extension, this time to the west end of the house. Note the shaped wall with railings and a high gate in the second photograph - the shape is mirrored by the gravel in front of the house. This was outlined on the 1881 OS map:
Bay window
I suggest that the extension to the west side was part of the ‘substantial’ repairs organised by Weeks in around 1869 - the veranda and planting suggests the hand of a gardener. The extension to the east side pre-dated this (based on the evidence of the images above) and was perhaps part of the work initiated by Halsey in 1839/40. If true, then the top two photographs were taken before May 1869 and the sketch was made in the 1870s, and certainly before 1881. The map shown above also shows a further extension to the building which pre-dated 1881 - a bay window in the dining room. This affected the symmetry of the north side of the mansion and there was an attempt to restore the balance by growing and trimming yew trees to match the shape of the bay. These modifications were still in place in 1908, as shown below:
The next detailed drawings were made between 1894 and 1898 by EH New:
As the drawing above illustrates, many of the features depicted by the 1881 map remain - although the firs have been removed.
The extract from the 1898 OS map shown above is virtually identical to the 1881 map, except for the shaded area at the west end - which likely represents the veranda. This was evidently removed between 1898 and 1908. The photograph below is of this time, but a little earlier judging by the presence of the flower borders.
This was the Temple Dinsley that was assessed by Lutyens for alteration and improvement in 1908.