A History of Preston

in Hertfordshire

Daniel Winch (aged 48, a labourer living at Preston) was placed before the Bench charged on suspicion of setting fire to a wheat stack at Stagenhoe Bottom farm on Saturday night last. No evidence was offered and Winch was told to attend at the Stevenage Bench on Thursday the 12th instant which he promised to do. (April 1860)



FIRE AT PRESTON. About a quarter to twelve on Saturday night, some of the inhabitants of Hitchin were aroused from their beds by hearing the cries of, “Fire!” in the streets and by seeing the illumination of what appeared to be a large conflagration but a short distance from town. Men who had just turned out of the public houses and a few of the more respectable people were hurrying with excitement towards the engine house. Two or three of the firemen in uniform were calling their comrades when a mounted messenger arrived bearing the news that Mr Benjamin Hill’s farm buildings (at Pond Farm) were on fire. Four horses were attached to one of the engines and the whole brigade mounted and they were soon upon the scene of the calamity, but the homestead which consisted of wood and thatched buildings had fallen to the devouring flames. As the wind was blowing towards the house and the granary at its side, the water was applied to what remained of the building and so all danger as to the house catching fire was prevented. The rest of the time, till seven o’clock, was employed pulling down burning ricks and playing on the embers. A quantity of oats and straw was consumed, two valuable cart horses and a pony were burnt, some fowls and ducks were rescued from underneath the granary after the arrival of the engine. A lot of the furniture from the house was damaged by hasty removal and nearly all the farm implements were destroyed. A man named Robert Farr was apprehended on suspicion of having caused the fire and was brought before the Hitchin Bench last Tuesday and was remanded a week for further evidence. (April 1870)



ARSON. A young man named Robert Farr was charged on his own confession with having on 23rd of October set fire to some ricks belonging to Mr Hill of Hitchin.

Inspector Young said, he heard that the prisoner had made a confession and on Tuesday morning last, he went to Luton and received the prisoner from the police there. He charged him with the offence and he did not deny it. He said, “he saw the ricks and thought he would set fire to them”. The Inspector applied that the prisoner might be remanded for a week. The Magistrates granted the request. (January 1872)

At a later hearing, His Lordship in sentencing the prisoner said: “You are one of those incorrigible persons who will not take a warning. You have already been convicted of the offences and sentences of various terms of imprisonment have been passed upon you. It becomes therefore my painful duty to pass upon you a still more severe sentence than any you have yet had and I must change the character of the punishment, since it cannot be imprisonment except for a shorter term. I sentence you to seven years’ penal servitude. (March 1872)



John Jeeves (aged 49 of Church Road, Preston) and Joshua Palmer (aged 37), both of Preston, were charged with doing wilful damage to some thatching, the property of Mr Pryor, of Preston, on the 3rd inst. Police-constable Day proved the case. Fined 5s each. (December 1872)


These articles are reproduced by kind permission of the Hertfordshire Mercury.

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Damage to Property



William Andrews (45) labourer, pleaded guilty to an indictment for setting fire to a stack of wheat, the property of Alfred George Piggott at Preston on 31 January. Mr Earle, who prosecuted said that the prisoner had set fire to and destroyed a stack worth £75.


(The prisoner was seen near to the stack a little while before the fire broke out. Being charged, he said “I did set fire to it.  Don’t know what made me do it”. The prisoner, it seemed, had worked a few days for Mr Piggott a few months ago.) It was only fair to say that had not the prisoner admitted his guilt, there would have been some difficult in tracing the culprit.


The police in reply to his Lordship said they knew nothing against the prisoner except that he was discharged from the Army 20 years ago for committing a felony. The learned judge, in passing sentence of 12 months hard labour said he had been guilty of one of the most wicked things he could do.


Mr Earle said that it had just come to his knowledge that the prisoner had an accident some two years ago and had been queer in his head ever since. Supt. Reynolds having verified this statement, his Lordship said he must take it into consideration and he should reduce the sentence to one of six months hard labour.

PENAL SERVITUDE FOR ARSON AT KINGS WALDEN. William Andrews (48) labourer, pleaded guilty to an indictment for maliciously setting fire to four stacks of corn and straw the property of Agnes Titmuss, and there was a similar charge against him in relation to four other stacks of corn belonging to William Taylor – the total value of the property destroyed being £950 – at Kings Walden on April 30th.

Mr F. Fulton who appeared for the prosecution drew the attention of the judge to the serious nature of the prisoner’s offence.

His Lordship asked if anything was known about his previous convictions for a similar offence?

Supt. J Reynolds stated that the prisoner was sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour for his previous offence but that it was afterwards reduced to six months on account of an injury to his head. (4 July 1903)

His Lordship: What was the value of the property destroyed in that case?

Sup Reynolds: £70.

His Lordship, addressing the prisoner, said he always sent a man to penal servitude in cases of this kind when there was a previous conviction for a similar offence. The prisoner must go to penal servitude for five years.

The prisoner stood motionless in the dock, apparently not realising the sentence passed upon him. His Lordship at once ordered his dismissal.