Preston is about 2½ miles south of Hitchin, of which manor it formed a part at the time of the Domesday Book. In the 12th century it was granted to the Knights Templars, who built a preceptory of the order, Temple Dinsley. On their dissolution in 1312 it passed to the Knights Hospitallers, later to the Sadleir family of Standon, and in the early 18th century to Benedict Ithell, who pulled down the old and erected the present house (now a college for girls), which has been enlarged and much modernised by Lutyens. North of it is Wain Wood, in which Bunyan, disguised and protected by loyal guards, used to preach: 'I have understood that a thousand people have met in that dale at midnight to hear Mr Bunyan preach', wrote an 18th century Hitchin Non-conformist parson. Bunyan used to stay at Hunsdon House or Preston Castle - on the site of Castle Farm - at that time kept by six brothers Foster. Nearly a century later it was the home of Captain Robert Hinde (1720-86), Light Dragoons, historian of the Light Dragoons, and original of Sterne's Uncle Toby; he embattled it, provided a drawbridge and placed guns on the front lawn. Followed by an 'army' composed of his steward, farm hands, and a group of village children, dressed in a uniform of his own design, he would descend on Hitchin with drum and trumpet, proclaim from the market place the anniversary of a battle or other notable event, and on return to Preston fire a salute of guns. The church of St Martin is modern.
Preston Village School
Philip Wray has written an excellent article on life at Preston school in the Autumn Issue of Family Tree Magazine. It paint a vivid picture of what went on at the Preston school with much of the information coming from the school log book. Truancy was common, with poor children being absent so they could earn a few pennies by, for instance, gathering acorns to feed to the pigs. Infectious diseases meant that on one occasion 30 children were off sick with measles, and deaths were also recorded.
Philip says the log book from 1873-1901 is at HALS, and the later one is still at the school.
There is an excellent web site, Prestonherts, on the history of the village which includes an excellent history of Preston with extensive information of Temple Dinsley and the activities of the knights Templars. It site also includes some important information relating to the manors around Hitchin mentioned in the Domesday Book. There is a detailed account and photographs of the ruined Minsden Chapel. Among many recent updates in includes a scrapbook giving the history of Preston produced in 1953, and the History of Stagenhoe. There is also information on work done by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the area. The page on WW1 soldiers includes photographs and biographies.
Philip Wray, who runs the web site, has now put much of the information into an excellent book A History of Preston in Hertfordshire.
There is extensive information on the Templars in Hertfordshire in the Legacies section of the BBC Web Site. [Click here]
Wikipedia has a page related to Minsden chapel.
If you know of other books, websites, etc, relating to this place, please tell me.
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