The house and forge with associated land circa 1811
North Hertfordshire Urban District Council (NHUDC) notes that the house,The Old Forge,
was built in the early eighteenth century. This is confirmed by the Temple Dinsley
Manorial Records. The first mention of this property was probably in 1713 when Leonard
King, a wheelwright living in Preston, Ippollitts, was recorded as having been the
tenant of ‘a certain property and certain lands at Preston’. Their manorial rent
was two shillings.
NHUDC also states that shortly after it was built, the property had some additions:
‘A south-west wing and formerly separate east wing (were added) a few years later’
Leonard King was married to Elizabeth and had previously also owned The Red Lion
and associated fields which he sold to Edward Swain. Leonard also sold a cottage
on the north side of Church Lane (rent 4d) (See Link: Gentle’s Cottage) which he
bought from Richard Dearmer in 1710. The cottage had earlier been owned by John Clifford
However, Leonard had apparently died before 1713 after making a provision for his
son, William King (a victualler at Walkern, Herts), to inherit The Old Forge (rent
2/-) and the cottage on the north side of Church Lane (rent 4d) following the death
of his wife. Thus, included in the Temple Dinsley Survey of Rents in 1714 were the
holdings of ‘William King, previously Leonard King’ for which a combined rent of
2/4 was payable.
Eventually, in 1754, William King inherited the two properties and immediately sold
them to John Swain, a blacksmith from Preston, Ippollitts. The transaction was noted
by the Manorial Court of 12 June 1754 when it was recorded that Leonard King had
died ‘long before’. Thus, these two holdings were among the four assigned to John
Swain in the Temple Dinsley Rental Survey of 1761. (See link: J Swain)
When John Swain died in 1794, his son William Swain snr inherited The Old Forge and
its nearby fields. Hence, the buildings and land shown on the map above in around
1811 are noted as belonging to William in the corresponding Award. (See link: W Swain).
Following William Swain’s death in 1834, The Old Forge and fields were sold in 1836.
The sale was described thus (note the distinction between the house and the forge):
‘Brick built dwelling house, old fashioned blacksmith’s shop, six acres of rich old
sward, two barns, stable, cow house etc sold by proprietor at the White Swan Inn,
Stevenage. The house comprises a parlour, kitchen, wash-house, brew and bake-house,
dairy, cellar and four roomy chambers (conveniently fitted up with closets), good
garden, substantially built blacksmith’s shop now in the occupation of William Swain
(1786 - 1858). The six acres are divided into three enclosures ornamented with fine
thriving trees and an orchard planted with choice fruit trees. There is an enclosed
farm yard, two barns with oak plank floors, stable, cow house, wood shed, piggery
etc in excellent repair and well supplied with water. (Auction held on 15 March 1836)
Although not mentioned in the Manorial Records, the new owner was Richard Jepps,
a farmer living at St Pauls Walden - he was paying rates on the property in 1839.
However, the house and blacksmith’s shop were occupied by William Swain in 1841 (two
years later he was declared bankrupt) and John Swain (1818 - 1896) was the tenant
in 1851. The house was uninhabited in 1861, though John Swain continued to use the
Richard Jepps died intestate on 23 March 1878 and his estate was inherited by his
brother, Frederick. He immediately sold the blacksmith’s shop together with a dwelling
house (occupied now 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 for £740.
By 1881, the house had been divided into two dwellings of four rooms each. The bake-house
and baker’s home was on the west side.
In 1881, the Hitchin baker and confectioner, Frank Warren and his wife Elizabeth
Thomas were living in and trading from one house and their immediate neighbours were
the gardener Joseph Peters and his wife Sarah.. Then, on 15 January 1884 , Thomas
Darton included the property (together with the tumbledown cottages along Back Lane)
in a mortgage of £900 raised on Thomas Perkins of Hitchin. At this time, the blacksmith’s
shop was occupied by James Fordham.
Shortly afterwards, Thomas H Darton died and on 15 February 1886, his widow, Emily
Darton, repaid the mortgage.
By 1886, the baker, Thomas Ashton had succeeded Frank Grey as Preston’s baker and
was living next door to Joseph Peters and his family.
Moving into the twentieth century, the blacksmith’s shop had been demolished and
in its place stood the Preston Club Reading Room (Link: Benefit Clubs). Also, by
1911, Joseph Peters had been succeeded in the cottage to the east by his son Thomas
Peters (a horse keeper) and his family.
In September 1908, Emily Darton sold the houses, the Club Reading Room, and their
adjacent fields to Geoffrey I E Pryor for £900. The Indenture commented that the
three closes had once been known as Clifford’s Close *.
In 1910, The Inland Revenue Survey provided the following snap-shot of The Old Forge:
Left: The house and forge circa 1811. Right: The two cottages and Reading Room in
Cottage One (shaded grey) was occupied by Thomas Peters. It was of brick and tile
construction and had a kitchen and two bedrooms. It was in poor repair.
Cottage Two (shaded pink) was the home of Thomas Ashton. It too was of brick and
tile and contained a bake-house, living room and kitchen. It was in poor repair.
Attached to the building was a wood and thatched stable and a barn.
Thomas Ashton outside his cottage
In January 1913, Geoffrey Pryor raised a mortgage of £300 on his property from George
Edward Thake, a stationer from Hitchin - which he repaid on 20 October 1913. He then
sold the cottages to Herbert G Fenwick.
Thomas Peters died in 1940 and Tom Ashton in 1934
Occupants of The Old Forge after 1945
1950 - Hugh and Sybil Whitmore -The Old Forge included a garage.