Back Lane and Back Street are common addresses in small towns and villages - they
are roadways that run parallel to the main thoroughfare and often act as a boundary
between homes and fields.
In the nineteenth century, Preston’s Back Lane was also known as Paynes Field Lane
as a field of that name abutted the lane to the west.
Historically, Back Lane was the poor end of Preston. In the seventeenth century,
a small group of cottages there attracted a manorial rent of only 1d when even ‘a
little cottage with woodshed’ near Preston Green had an assigned rent of 4d. In 1844,
it is striking that when the rate was collected seven out of the ten households along
Back Lane qualified for relief and paid no rates.
In 1898, there were nine inhabited cottages along Back Lane. Three homes were ‘two-up;
two down’ and six consisted of just two rooms in total. They were populated by farm
labourers and widows, though the size of some families who existed here is surprising:
No photographs survive of these tumbledown homes which were demolished in around
1916. However, apart from two semi-detached homes which were built of brick and had
thatched roofs, the others were all brick-built with tiled roofs.
The record of owners in the manorial rolls is patchy - which may reflect the worth
of these homes.
Map from 1898 showing the cottages and outbuildings along Back Lane
Cottages A,B,C and D along Back Lane
These cottages are not included in the 1664 Survey of Temple Dinsley - but they do
feature in the Survey of 1714. It notes that they were owned by Edward Brooks and
by Cressy before him. A manorial rent of a paltry one penny was paid every year.
The Hearth Tax of 1674 shows Ann Cressy as having two houses at Preston. This suggests
that these homes were built between 1664 and 1674.
Edward Brooks, a labourer, died in early 1738 and in his will, proved on 28 February
1737 (which he marked), he left ‘the (tenement) I live in and another small tenement
adjoining’ to his wife, Sarah Brooks.
The Survey of 1761 shows the new owner as Daniel Joyner, carpenter of Preston (late
Brooks). When Daniel died in 1794, he bequeathed the freehold cottages at Back Lane
to Joseph Pedder, the younger.
The deeds of these four properties describe their evolution: it was ‘formerly one
cottage’ which sometime past was divided into two dwellings (A&B). Its occupants
had been Moses Palmer and James Lines, followed by William Ward and James Dollimore
and then William Ward and James Fitzjohn. Two more cottages (C&D) adjoined to the
south-east side which were built on the garden of the original cottage. William Gentle
and James Lines and then Ann Croft and William Sturges lived in these cottages.
By 1816, the properrty had been bought by John Whitney, a grocer from Hitchin. Around
this time Whitney had also loaned £60 to Stephen Swain on the security of the house
at the corner of School Lane and the Green, £500 to Joseph Saunderson on the ‘Red
Lion’ and a further £90 against cottages on the north side of Church Lane.
Whitney died on 31 December 1820 and his devisees in trust for sale sold the Back
Lane property to Elizabeth Darton of Temple Dinsley on 31 March 1830 for £130. Its
occupants in the 1830s were William Sturgeon, George Rowbottom, Thomas Rowbottom
and Mexon. Her heir, Thomas Harwood Darton now owned the four cottages. In 1844,
they were inhabited by Sturgeon, the two Rowbottoms and William Maize.
Following Thomas H Darton’s death in 1858, his son William Henry Darton acquired
the property which was becoming more dilapidated. When the William sold Temple Dinsley,
he sold it as a separate lot to the illiterate Preston labourer, Henry Jeeves, on
25 March 1874 for £125. Jeeves lived in one of the cottages.
In turn, Jeeves sold the four tumbledown homes to Ralston de Vins Pryor for just
£97 10/- on 27 June 1899. They were home to Rebecca Crawley, Ernest Jenkins, the
widow Day and Jeeves himself.
When the Inland Revenue Survey was conducted in 1910, all four dwellings were assessed
as being in a poor condition. The pair on the west (left) side were built of brick
with a thatched roof and were occupied by Rebecca Crawley (one up/one down) and Henry
Jeeves (two up/two down). The other pair were also of brick construction but with
tiled roofs. In them, lived (?) Chapple and Arthur Chalkley. Both cottages were ‘two
Eventually the homes, which were probably around two hundred and fifty years old,
were demolished in around 1916.
Cottages E, F, G, H, I and J along Back Lane
Garden for E
Garden for J
Garden for I
Garden for F
Garden for G
Garden for H
Reproduction of a plan of six cottages on Back Lane in 1883. The plot abutted to
the east the four homes discussed earlier.
Their residents were: E George Gorcher; F William Saunders; G Jane Fairey; H Samuel
Fairey; I William Maysand J John Palmer
Legal papers reveal the changes that took place to this site, and approximately when
they occurred. The first available document is dated 1783, indicating that the property
was built sometime before this date.
It was originally one house - presumably E to H shown above. In the early 1800s it
was occupied by Thomas Woodley. After his death in 1826, it was converted into four
homes. Then in the late 1830s, two more homes were added to the site, I & J above,
which were probably converted outbuildings.
Several members of my family lived in these hovels: my greatx3 grandparents, John
and Jane Fairey, my greatx3 grandmother, Mary Ward, widow; my greatx2 grandparents,
Samuel and Elizabeth Fairey and William and Ann Ward; my great grandmother, Mary
Currell and my grandparents, Alfred and Emily Wray.
This is the paper trail that relates to these dwellings:
1783 Indentures of Lease and Release: the Release (a means of transferring property
between parties without drawing up a deed) between (1) Thomas (the elder) and Elizabeth
Rowe, (2) John Saunders, (3) Joseph Godfrey and (4) Samuel Hare.
1792 Indentures of Lease and Release: the Release between (1) Thomas and Mary Carter,
William and Elizabeth Turner, Michael and Jane Renderwood and William and Sarah Barker,
(2) Mary Godfrey (widow of Joseph Godfrey), (3) Thomas Smith and James Kidman, (4)
Samuel Hare and (5) William Smith.
1808 Mortgage between (1) Thomas Smith, (2) Richard Kidman (3) Joseph Eade and (4)
1809 Assignment between (1) Joseph Eade (2) Thomas Smith (3) William Smith and (4)
1810 Indentures of Lease and Release: the Release between (1) Thomas Smith, (2) James
Kidman, yeoman of Edworth, Beds. (3) William Pinks and (4) John Witney, grocer of
1811 Indenture between (1) William Smith, (2) Thomas Smith, blacksmith of Bendish
(3) William Pinks of East India House, London and (4) Joseph Eade
1830 Indentures of Lease and Release: the Release between (1) William Parker, (2)
William Reed and (3) William Bentley
1830 Mortgage of £100 between (1) William Reed of Whitwell and (2) William Bentley
of Hitchin. The property is revealed to be originally one cottage, but had later
been divided into four cottages. It had been occupied by Thomas Woodley (who died
in 1826); then by Joseph Dollimore, James Godfrey, Thomas Rowbottom and John Bouse
and now by John Bouse, John Mays, - Wade (sic - aka Ward) and one standing empty.
It measured 15 poles.
March 1835 Indentures of Lease and Release: the Release between (1) William Reed,
(2) William Bentley and (3) Mary Sargeant
1837 Owned by William Reed. Occupied by John Bouse, John Mays, John Fairey and Joseph
1838 Owned by Mrs Reed. Occupied by William Ward, John Bouse, John Mays, John Fairey,
Samuel Currell and Widow Ward.
1847 Owned by Mrs Reed. Occupied by William Ward, Widow Bowstead (sic), William Mays,
Widow Fairey, Joseph Currell and Widow Ward.
1851 Occupied by John Palmer, John Bowstead, Ann Mays, Jane Fairey, Thomas Ward,
1854 Will of Mary Sargeant, spinster of Preston. She had died leaving the residue
of her estate to John Reed. He died in March 1854 and his estate devolved to his
only brother, George Reed.
1855 Sale by George Reed, carrier of Preston to Charles Swain, licensed victualler,
1861 Occupied by Jane Fairey, Ann Mayes, William Saunders, William Mays, William
Farr (?) and Samuel Fairey.
1883 Sale of six freehold cottages by Mrs Mary Swain (widow) to T H Darton for £210.
Current occupiers: Thomas Peters, John Jeeves, Mrs Fitzjohn, Mrs Currell
1884 Sold by Thomas Harwood Darton to Thomas Perkins.
1886 Sold by Thomas Perkins to Emily Darton.
1908 Sold by Emily Darton to RdeV Pryor
1909 Exchanged between RdeV and GIE Pryor.
1910 Owned by GIE Pryor. Occupied by Mary Currell, Hannah Crewe (James Freeman, erased),
Arthur Jenkins, L French and Alfred Wray (Ernest Bell, erased) who lived in either
I or J, or both. They were all described as brick and tiled cottages with two bedroons,
a kitchen and a scullery. They were in poor repair.
1913 GIE Pryor mortgaged several properties to George Edward Thake (stationer of
Sun Street, Hitchin) for a total of £300. They included three cottages formerly occupied
by George Gocher, William Mays and John Palmer and another three cottages formerly
occupied by William Saunders, Jane Farey and Samuel Farey (in 1855). These six cottages
(now five) were formerly occupied by Ernest Bell, Arthur Jenkins, T Young, Mrs Crewe
and Mrs Mary Currell
October 1913 the property was sold by GIE Pryor to Herbert Fenwick for £495. It Included
‘those five cottages, formerly six’ at Back Lane. Currell and now of Alfred Wray,
W Ewington, A Farey and Mrs Mary Currell.