The Swains were one of the most prominent of Preston families in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. Many were blacksmiths and victuallers. They owned homes
at Preston Green including the Red Lion and farmed several parcels of land around
the village. Below are the stories of selected Swains
The birth and baptism details of Edward Swain, a blacksmith trading at Preston in
Hitchin parish who died in 1752, have not been found. (However, see new discovery.
Link: E Swain) He married Mary and the couple probably had seven children between
1707 and 1720, most of whom were baptised at St Mary’s, Hitchin.
Sometime before 1747, Edward Swain, purchased a cottage at Preston. By the cottage
were three fields of land which had an area of three acres. . The fields lay to the
west of the footpath which runs from Preston Green to Back Lane. The cottage is known
today as the Red Lion public house (see right) and the land is now occupied by the
pub car park, Pryor House and Preston School.
Edward prospered and in addition to the cottage at Preston Green, he also owned two
cottages in Ippollitts’ parish and three fields: Todds Close (one acre to the south
of Chequers Lane, see right), Three Cornered Close(which was probably near St Albans
Highway) and a field in Ippollitts. It was the usual practice of blacksmiths to have
‘another iron in the fire’ such as farming or horse-breaking.
As Edward grew old, he decided to put his affairs in order. He made a will on 17
May 1747 and nine days later he arranged for his wife Mary to be included as owner
of their home in the manorial records. Mary died and was buried at St Mary’s Hitchin
in 1750. Edward died two years later and although there is no record of his burial
at Hitchin, his daughter, Mary, stated in her will that he was buried at St Mary’s
with his wife.
The following is an epitome of Edward’s will and codicil:
SWAYNE, Edward– blacksmith of Preston, parish of Hitchin. Made 17 May 1748.
To my wife Mary - all my property in the parishes of Hitchin and Ippollitts. Then
after her death or re-marriage:
To my son James, my freehold cottage at Ippollitts occupied by William Child and
the copyhold field in Ippollitts in my occupation.
To my son John, my freehold cottage at Ippollitts occupied by Henry Merritt; the
freehold field of arable land called, Three Cornered Close and the one acre of copyhold
field called Todds Close.
To my daughter Mary, - £100
To my son James, – an annuity of 40 shillings
To my eldest son Edward, – the residue of my freehold and copyhold estate.
To my son John, – all my blacksmiths tools, utensils and trade debts owing to me.
He is to pay my debts for iron and coal.
My wife Mary is to be my executrix.
Will signed by Edward and witnessed by William Dearmer, Richard Morgan and Thomas
A codicil was added. As Mary had died, James and John were appointed executors and
all debts owed to Edward which were not connected with his blacksmith’s trade were
to be divided equally between James and John.
Codicil signed and witnessed by Robert Hull, James Elliott and Thomas Taylor.
The will and codicil were proved on 20 May 1752.
Edward and Mary Swain
Edward and Mary’s first-born, Mary (1720-1764) deserves a mention in this account
of the Swains. She was a spinster and lodged at Preston Green. Her will provides
extraordinary details of her wardrobe, as well as a raft of family data. If ever
it is thought that Emily Swain/Soldene was the first known Swain with a flair for
theatrical gestures, just imagine the spectacle of Mary’s burial when her wishes
were executed. This is a précis of her will:
SWAINE, Mary - spinster of Preston Green
To my brothers John and James Swaine, - £10
To my nephews (the children of my brother John Swaine): Edward, James, William and
Samuel Swaine - £5 when they marry or attain twenty-one.
To my nephew Stephen Swaine, son of my brother Edward deceased - £5 and the dresser
in the kitchen and the crane there.
To my niece Mary Swaine, daughter of my brother John – my best gown, black petticoat,
black cloak, best stays and worse, my best hat, white linen coat, a suit of my best
linen, a holland apron, my three longest silver spoons, my bag of cutlery (?), a
silver nutmeg grater, the bed, bedstead, coverlet and blankets in my lodging room
(?) and pair of my best sheets, my linen gown, long cloak and the chest of drawers
and looking glass in the same room.
To my niece Elizabeth Swaine, daughter of my brother John – my red gown, one white
apron, a cap, one pair of gloves, a (?) handkerchief, one fan, my white cloak and
chest of drawers
To my niece, Sarah Swain, daughter of brother John - my worst black gown, a cap and
handkerchief, one pair of gloves, my flowered apron, a desk and chest of drawers.
To my niece Mary daughter of my brother William Swaine – my best black gown, my silk
gown, my green petticoat, my second best stays, my best white double woollen petticoat,
my red cloak, a black hat, one pair of sheets, my best white blanket, one white apron,
a gold ring, a small silver spoon, a small silver case, my best chest, two new barrels,
one small tub, my large kettle, my middle skillet, one frying pan.
The rest of my household goods, linen and woollen were left to my nieces Mary Swaine
and Mary Doggett equally.
The residue of my estate to my four nieces: Elizabeth, Mary and Sarah Swain and Mary
Joint executors – my brothers James and John Swain and my sister-in-law Elizabeth
Swaine. They were to bury Mary in Hitchin church as near my father and mother and
in like manner as my father was buried and to be conveyed to the grave in a hearse
with four horses and the mourners to be conveyed in post-chaises and to give my brothers
were to be given gloves and hatbands and my sisters, gloves and ribbons.
Will dated 16 April 1764. Signed by Mary and witnessed by Thomas Taylor and Rev John
P. Morgan. Proved 11 September 1764.
John and Hannah Swain
Here is a precis of John Swain’s will:
SWAIN, John – Blacksmith of Preston, Hitchin dated 17 February 1793
My freehold dwelling house and land to my son, William Swain – to pass on his death
to my grandson, William Swain (second son of William, senior).
My other freehold and copyhold cottages and land at Hitchin, Ippollitts and Kings
Walden to my son William – to pass on his death to Stephen Swain, William’s eldest
My personal estate to my son William Swain on condition that he pays an annuity of
£2 10/- to my son Edward Swain and my daughters Elizabeth Beech, Mary Faulkner and
Executors: William Swain and my kinsman, Stephen Swain.
Signed. Witnessed by Daniel (?) Joyner, Henry Pedder and Samuel Pilgrim. Proved
18 September 1794.
William and Sarah Swain
William continued his father’s blacksmithing business and was also a cattle farmer.
He married Sarah Hughes at St Mary’s, Hitchin in 1781 and they had eight children
from 1783 to 1798.
The Hitchin Poor Rates indicate that William took over his father’s house, (Gentles
Cottage shown as X right) at Preston Green in 1794 – his name first appears then
and the rateable value of the property is identical.
In 1811, his property included his home, the fields: Todds Closeand Three-cornered
Close. He also owned a house, garden and croft and two fields: Near Pasture and Far
Pasture. This property of more than three acres was situated on the south side of
Church Lane and abutted Back Lane. It included what was later a blacksmith’s shop,
known today as The Old Forge. There is no record of any transactions relating to
this property in the Temple Dinsley, Missenden (Minsden) or Maidencroft (Ippollitts)
John continued the Swain tradition as a blacksmith at Preston, albeit not in his
father’s home at Preston Green as this had been left to his elder brother, Edward.
John had inherited his father’s tools and utensils and the two fields; Three-cornered
Closeand Todds Close. There remained the problem of where he was to live, so two
years after his father’s death, in 1754, he bought a cottage with a barn and garden
from William King which was known as Gentle’s Cottage (shown right). This was situated
on the north side of what is now called ‘Church Lane’ which was earlier known as
Like his father, John expanded his business interests, purchasing a five-acre field
called Bennetts in Kings
Walden parish from John Joyner in 1750. This was to the south of Wrights Lane (see
right) and in 1848 it was part of Preston Hill Farm and known as Swains Bennetts).
To raise £60, John then mortgaged the field to Joseph Button of Hitchin.
By 1791, when John was 74, it was time to distribute his
assets. In 1791, John sold the field, Bennetts, to his son, William Swain and two
years later, in 1793, he also sold to William his cottage at Church Road and Todds
Close. John died in 1794.
Above: William Swain’s property circa 1811
In 1826, William was involved in a bizarre court case. James Humphries, a labourer
from Hitchin was charged with giving William a farthing which was coloured to resemble
a sovereign. Humphreys was sentenced to six months hard labour and bound over for
William was involved in two property transactions: he sold Todds Close to Henry Crabbe
of Temple Dinsley for £60 in 1828 and, following the enclosure of Kings Walden, William
exchanged Bennetts for Garretts (shown right) which was a field of five acres and
one perch. This latter transaction took place at William’s home. Sarah was made joint
owner as a symbol of ‘the natural love and affection’ William felt for her. In 1832,
Garretts was sold to William Curling for £200. William died in 1834 and was buried
at St Mary’s, Hitchin on 28 July. Sarah died four years later and was interred at
William’s death was the end of the line in Preston for this branch of male Swains
as William’s eldest son moved to Harpenden where he and his descendents continued
This is a summary of William’s will:
SWAIN, William – blacksmith of Preston, Herts. Dated 30 September 1825
Entire estate left to wife Sarah - including copyhold cottages at Preston and in
parish of Kings Walden and in manor of Temple Dinsley.
On her death, the cottage at Preston previously occupied by William Gentle, now William
Joyner was left to my daughter Dinah Swain and, after her death, to my daughter Aney
The field of one acre at Preston called Todds Closeformerly occupied by my late
father John and now occupied by myself and all the copyhold closes at Kings Walden
were left to Aney Palmer. (Note: Todd’s Close was sold in 1828 after William’s will
was drawn up, see above)
All my stock in trade, cattle etc left to my wife, Sarah.
Signed by William Swain and witnessed by Catherine Brown and Josiah Ison and William
Barton of Baldock.
(Notes: In 1856, Dinah sold ‘Gentle’s Cottage’ at Preston Green to Thomas Harwood
Darton for an annuity of £6.
On 23 October 1877, following the deaths of first Dinah Swain and then Aney Palmer,
‘Garretts’ was bequeathed to John Swain, blacksmith of Preston, under the terms of
Aney’s will dated 16 January 1877. The field was then mortgaged to Edward Logsdon
for £100 which was repaid with interest on 6 December 1879. Three days later, John
Swain converted the property from copyhold to freehold after paying the Lord of the
Manor, Thomas Harwood Darton £57 10/-. The field was described as being bounded north
and east by road and south and west by land owned by Charles Hale.)
Edward and Elizabeth Swain
Edward Swain (1709/10 – 1757) as Edward’s eldest son, inherited the residue of his
father’s estate and established himself as a blacksmith at Kings Walden. He married
Elizabeth Goodwin on 15 November 1749 at St Mary’s, Hitchen. The couple had but one
known son, Stephen Swain.
Stephen and Ann Swain
Stephen Swain’s (1755 – 1835) career path was affected by disability. In the Hitchin
militia lists he is recorded as disabled, lame and having a wooden leg. Yet this
did not prevent him from farming land near St Albans Highway at Preston. The manorial
rolls describe him as late of Preston, shopkeeper in Hitchin. Stephen also held public
offices: he was a special constable, surveyor of highways and Receiver of Assize
Returns, compiling data about wheat prices and the quantity sold in Hitchin.
In 1822, he was also the master of the Workhouse as he claimed a new pair of plush
breeches to replace those stolen by William Pain. Stephen, during a highway robbery
in 1800, had his purse stolen (worth 1d) with its contents: half a guinea and sixteen
shillings. The thieves, Michael Ansell (20) and Joseph Rogers (18) of Ippollitts
were caught and transported to New South Wales, Australia on the Perseus and the
Glatton respectively. Rogers was also found guilty of stealing a watch chain (worth
2d), half a guinea and three shillings from Thomas Darton of Temple Dinsley.
Stephen married Ann Thrussell at Kings Walden on 29 September 1778. The couple had
eight children born between 1781 and 1796.
When Stephen was sixteen, he inherited the house (A -now the Red Lion) and fields
of three acres (shown as green, right) at Preston Green which his grandfather, Edward
had purchased. On 17 June 1793, he bought the house next door (B) together with one
acre of land (coloured brown, right) in what is now called School Lane for £46 at
an auction at the Swan Inn, Hitchin from Samuel Newman. This house had been occupied
by Jeremiah Gazeley, Joseph Ward and then William Ward and had outhouses barns and
stables. Two years later, in 1795, Stephen mortgaged both properties to Edward Bruton,
a Kimpton farmer, for £500 which he had repaid by 1811.
Then on 26 February 1811, Stephen sold the house at Preston Green (A), its three
acres of fields (green) and the field of one acre (brown) which adjoined the School
Lane house to his son-in-law, Joseph Saunderson, for £290. A week later, Stephen
mortgaged the house in School Lane (B - which had now been converted into three dwellings
inhabited by William Hawkins, Thomas Cain and Henry Ward) to John Witney, a grocer
from Hitchin, for £60. For this reason, in 1811, Stephen is shown as owning three
houses and gardens in only 25 perches of land (the acre of ground which was previously
associated with the property having been already sold).
When Stephen died in 1835, he bequeathed this property to Priscilla Swain (see below).
His will noted that was still divided into three separate homes. It is still shown
thus in a sketch map circa 1872.
SWAIN, Stephen - will dated 10 June 1835.
To my daughter ,Priscilla Swain, my copyhold dwelling house at Preston Green (B)
now divided into three cottages. This property was subject to a mortgage of £100.
The bequest was on condition that the rents and profits from the cottages (less the
for the first year after Stephen’s death were paid to Stephen’s wife, Ann, and that
after that Priscilla paid
Ann £2 a year.
To my son, William Swain – my freehold field in
Ippollitts parish which abuts St Albans Highway and its crops, but he is not to
take possession of the field until one year after my death
To my son, Charles Swain - £5 and all my body linen and wearing apparel.
Above, Stephen’s house on School Lane (B)
To my son, Stephen Swain - £5 my watch and silver spectacles.
To my wife, Ann – all my household furniture and the residue of my estate.
Executors: wife Ann Swain and daughter Priscilla Swain. They were directed to sell
all my farming stock, horses, cattle, ploughs, harrows and instruments of husbandry
and all the crops growing on my farm one year after my death and that my wife settle
all debts and legacies using this money.
Signed: Stephen Swain. Witnessed by Thomas Gorham Pierson, Joseph Saunderson and
William Swain, blacksmith of Preston. Probate 8 February 1836.
Harriet Swain and Joseph Saunderson
Stephen’s daughter, Harriet Swain (1784 – 1847) married Joseph Saunderson (1763c
– 1829) at St Mary’s, Hitchin on 25 July 1805. Joseph purchased the house at Preston
Green together with four acres of land around it from his father-in-law, Stephen
Swain, in 1811.
Although the transactions are not recorded in the Temple Dinsley manorial rolls,
Joseph had also bought three fields around Preston by around 1811: Breeches (four
acres) and Chamberlains Field (two acres) which lay between Chequers Lane and Butchers
Lane, and a portion of Pains Field (six acres) which was part of the Preston Hill
Farm complex. In total, Joseph and, after his death, Harriet, farmed more than sixteen
acres spread around the village.
Two months before his death in 1829, Joseph mortgaged his house and land at Preston
Green to Joseph Margetts Pierson and Henry Crabbe for £200. This mortgage was repaid
after his death in 1832 and his will was eventually proved in 1833. When this was
noted in the manorial roll, the property was described as having ‘a shop’ for the
Right, Joseph Saunderson’s land
SAUNDERSON, Joseph of Preston, Hitchin dated 5 June 1829
Entire estate left to wife, Harriet.
On her death everything was to be sold and divided equally between his five children
– Joseph, Sophia, Charles, Stephen and Alfred Saunderson. If any pre-deceased Harriet,
the residue was to be divided among the survivors.
Joseph did not sign but marked the will. It was witnessed by Stephen Swain and John
Proved 10 June 1833.
After Joseph’s death, Harriet continued to farm and sell beer in Preston. Already
in 1832, Piggotts Directory had described Harriet as a ‘beer retailer’ and the name
of her establishment, the Lion, was first recorded in 1841.
In 1844, Samuel Lucas, a brewer in Hitchin, came to an arrangement to supply beer
to Harriet. He also settled the outstanding mortgage with Pierson and Crabbe. After
Harriet died in 1847, the Red Lion and two closes of four acres were sold to William
Brown for £820. When the debt to Lucas had been settled, Harriet’s executor, Priscilla
Swain, distributed the remaining £365 to the heirs.
William (son of Stephen and Ann) and Sarah Swain
Stephen and Ann’s eldest son, William (born 1786) had inherited his father’s field
at Ippollitts, abutting St Alban’s Highway. He married Sarah and the couple had seven
children between 1816 and 1826. At some stage, he may have occupied the house and
blacksmiths shop to the south of Church/Blacksmiths Lane.
In 1841, William (a blacksmith now aged 55) and Sarah were living in Preston with
three sons, two of whom were also blacksmiths. He (as a farmer) was declared insolvent
on 10 December 1843 and his problems increased with the death of his wife, Sarah,
in 1848. Three years later, he was ‘past work’ and the business was being run by
his son, John Tolman Swain. William died in 1858.
John (born 1818) was William and Sarah’s eldest son. He married Martha Hunt from
Great Wilbraham, Cambs. in 1856. The couple had three children. John was also a blacksmith
and in 1873 he and his family were living in the cottage on the corner of Church/Blacksmiths
Lane and Chequers Lane. He inherited Garretts from Aney Palmer (his second cousin,
once removed) in 1877, mortgaged it for £100, repaid the mortgage two years later
and immediately bought the freehold for £57 10/- from Thomas Harwood Darton.
In 1879, he occupied but was not the owner of the blacksmiths shop which stood to
the south of Church/Blacksmiths Lane. The house and fields around the smithy which
had been owned by William Swain (1758 – 1834) were sold to the St Pauls Walden farmer,
Richard Jepps. Richard died intestate on 23 March 1878 and his estate was inherited
by his brother, Frederick. He immediately sold the blacksmiths shop together with
a dwelling house (occupied by Mr F. Brown), outbuildings and several enclosures of
old pasture (five acres and 34 poles, farmed by W. Jeeves) by auction at the Sun
Hotel, Hitchin on 1 July 1879. The complete lot was bought by Thomas Harwood Darton
Following the sale of his blacksmith’s shop, John moved to Kings Walden and continued
his smithing business there. In 1881 he was living at the Hollybush public house
and ten years later he and Martha were at Kingsland End, Kings Walden.
Charles and Catherine Swain
Caroline Smith (nee Swain)
Charles Swain (1790 – 1837), the second son of Stephen and Ann, led a colourful life.
At the age of eighteen, in 1808, Charles (described as a wheelwright of Luton) had
a maintenance order imposed on him by the worried overseers of the poor at Great
Gaddesdon, Herts. He had a liaison with Abigail Matthews, a single woman, and a daughter
(a bastard child) was the result. He was ordered to pay the overseers £2 towards
the ‘laying-in’ of Abigail and six pence a week for her ‘keeping, sustenation and
maintenance’ in case Abigail did ‘not nurse and take care of her’ child. Four years
later, on 6 April 1812, Abigail married Matthew Worker at Great Gaddesdon.
Shortly after this episode, on 27 July 1808, Charles joined the Nineteenth Dragoons
at Northampton and was stationed in Ireland from 1809 until 1811. Then, he married
Catherine Young at Temple Michael, Longford. A daughter, Priscilla, was born near
Stopsley, near Luton in 1812. Charles was possibly sent overseas in 1813 -15 as the
Dragoons were fighting in America and Canada. He was discharged from the army at
Romford, Essex on 9 October 1817.
Charles and Catherine had ten children between 1812 and 1831. He died of a liver
complaint at Preston in December 1837. In 1841, Catherine was a victualler at The
Horse and Groom public house on the corner of Church/Blacksmiths Lane and Chequers
Lane. Ten years later, she had moved to keep the Three Horseshoes public house at
nearby Langley Bottom.
If you find any omissions or errors please contact me (Link: Contact page) - I am
just an onlooker after all and would expect those with a personal family interest
to have researched the family in more detail.
(Sources: manorial documents for Temple Dinsley and Missenden; Swain wills; census
information, maps and Sale of Property details all held at Hertfordshire Archives
and Local Studies)
Acknowledgments: I am grateful to Wendy Dinsdale for checking the Swain tree and
the photograph of Caroline Swain,and Tony Swain and Kurt Gunzl for the information