A History of Preston

in Hertfordshire

I have a Fairey grandmother.


She was born out of wedlock and was baptized as Emily, daughter of Mary Fairey. Although Mary later married Thomas Currell (and there is no doubt that he was Emily’s father) each time that she registered the birth of her children, she stated that her maiden name was Emily Fairey – a reminder of her illegitimacy. She had fourteen such reminders.


The name Fairey describes someone with a ‘fair (ie beautiful; such as the ‘fair’ maiden of the song) eye’’. As most of the Faireys of the nineteenth century were illiterate, their surname has been mis-spelt and further scrambled by transcription into a variety of forms. Perhaps the most interesting of these renditions is ‘Feary’ – which hints at how the name was pronounced. Go on, say it – ‘Feary’. Now that’s a real Hertfordshire accent!


The Faireys in the eighteenth century

In the seventeenth century, the Faireys were living 14 miles north of Hitchin. There was a Settlement Order dated 6 February 1713 which relocated Richard Farey (I) (sic) and his wife Elizabeth (formerly Homerstone) and John Homerstone (her son by her former husband) from Great Barford to Hitchin. This confirms the origins of the Fairey family. Richard, a labourer, was buried at St Mary’s Hitchin on 28 June 1742. Link: Early Faireys

Richard Fairey (II) was born three years after his parent’s resettlement and was baptized at St Marys, Hitchin in 1716. He married twice and had 10 children. He was a labourer. In 1753, he was living at Back Street, Hitchin. Unlike several of his neighbours, he was not paying Church Rates, which indicates his financial standing. There is no record of him in Hitchin after 1763. Probably Richard (II) and his second wife, Susannah, moved from Hitchin to Ippollitts around 1763 (see below) – perhaps to Preston, part of which was in the Ippollitts parish.

In 1763, Richard was involved in a bizarre incident at Hitchin’s bridewell or House of Correction which was at the lower end of Tilehouse Street. Richard and Thomas Gent were paid nine pence to carry a female inmate of the prison to the Hitchin Workhouse which was next door. This might appear to be a handsome wage for a few minutes work until we understand that the women’s quarters in the bridewell were up an outside ladder and that the lady claimed that she was in labour! A video of the evacuation







For the purposes of this website, I am concentrating on the Fairey’s of Preston. However, there is an extended family tree (link: Fairey family tree) which includes some Faireys who travelled from Hertfordshire to London to find fame and fortune. In the late 1800s, one Fairey descendent was a rag and bone man and another was a ‘street scavenger’ (1891) and cared for ‘road lattrines’ (1901) in the capital city. Fame indeed!


In today’s parlance, the Faireys of Preston would be tagged as a ‘problem family’. Several members of the family went before Hitchin magistrates on charges of poaching, drunkenness and theft. It gives me no vicarious pleasure to record these misdemeanours, but I confess that researching this branch of my family has a certain fascination.


Richard (III) and Elizabeth’s third son was John Fairey and it is through him that our interest in the Faireys of Preston continues. John was baptized at St Marys, Hitchin in 1769 and married Jane Grimes in Stevenage (which is two miles from Graveley) in 1799. John was a farm labourer and by 1803 he and Jane had moved to Kings Walden parish where seven of their nine children were born from 1803. Between 1813 and 1823 the family was living in Ley Green, Kings Walden.


John fell upon hard times and in December 1823 the family were in the Hitchin Poor House. John died in 1841 at Preston. His widow, Jane continued to live in the village (at Back Lane in 1851 and 1861) surrounded by her family. She died at Preston in 1867.

                                                               John and Jane Fairey’s children


John Fairey (1799c -1871). John lived in Preston from at least 1841 until 1871. He was a cripple who never married. He worked as a shoemaker at Back Lane, Preston, supporting his mother. He died in Preston in 1871.


Richard Fairey (1800 -1863) was baptized in 1800 at St Marys, Hitchin. In 1823, he and his parents were in Hitchin Poor House. On 18 December 1823, he stole two sheep from James Taylor, a farmer at Wellhead, Ippollitts. That day, Richard (who was described as wearing a ‘frock’) and another man drove the sheep five miles to Codicote and left them with a butcher’s son and was given a beef steak. Richard arranged to call back the following morning, but did not arrive. Suspecting that the sheep were stolen, the butcher informed the police and as a result, their details were announced by town criers in the neighbourhood. The farmer, James Taylor, recovered his sheep on Christmas Day, 1823.


In the meantime, Richard had immediately absconded from the Poor House after the robbery but was recognized by the police from the description which had been given – he was clearly known to the authorities. About two years later he was spotted by a police constable who ‘had been after him several times before’. After a short chase of 30 yards, Richard was caught and arrested. His uncorroborated testimony was that the theft had been committed a long time ago; that he had been given the sheep by a young man he didn’t know who promised to meet him later for payment. When the stranger failed to keep the appointment, Richard suspected that the sheep were stolen and so did not return to the butcher at Codicote for his money – 25s 6d for each sheep.


On 1 December, 1825, Richard was found guilty of robbery and a sentence of death was pronounced – although according to a news report the Judge said that his life was not in danger but ‘that he might make up his mind to leave the country for the rest of it’. (Read the two newspaper accounts at this link: Richard Fairey news.)


Which is how Richard found himself on the other side of the world at Tasmania on 13 August 1826. He had been transported from Portsmouth on 25 April 1826 on the Earl St Vincent and arrived 110 days later at Hobart, Van Dieman’s Land, Tasmania. He was in the colony for 13 years, received his ‘Ticket of Leave’ (parole) in 1835 and a conditional pardon in 1841. In the meantime, Richard married Annie Cassell on 2 November 1836 at Norfolk Plains, Westbury, Tasmania. They had one son, John Thomas Fary who was born in 1839. He, in turn, married and had six children which is how there are scores of Richard’s direct descendants in Australia today. They may be researched by Google-searching ‘Fary family history’.


Susan Fairey (1803 -1892) married Joseph Currell, a shepherd. The family lived in Preston from 1835 until Joseph’s death in 1863. Their story can be found at this link: Currell.


Elizabeth Fairey (bap. 1808). Married James Cranfield and Joseph Hawkins. Lived in Preston and Folly, Hitchin


Thomas Fairey (1810 -1896) was living with his mother at Preston in 1841. He married Catharine Ward (my greatx2 grandmother and sister of Elizabeth who married Samuel Fairey, Thomas’ brother) at St Marys, Hitchin in 1845. They had four children. The family lived at Ley Green, Kings Walden until Catharine’s death in 1879. In 1891, Thomas was in the Hitchin Workhouse where he died in 1896.


Thomas and Catharine’s eldest son, Thomas Fairey (1847-1913) was living with his family at Preston Hill Farm Cottage in 1881. Ten years later, the family had moved to Back lane, Preston. Thomas was before Hitchin magistrates on at least four occasions. In 1866 and twice in May, 1879 he was found guilty of poaching. He refused to pay a fine and was sent to gaol for one month in 1879. In 1875 he was fined 7s 6d for being drunk and asleep on the highway at Gosmore. Like his father, he died in Hitchin Workhouse in 1913. Thomas was also required to pay 2d towards the cost of a school slate which he broke because his son, George, had been given some words to learn for his lessons in 1881.


Thomas and Catharine’s other son, Charles Fairey (1858 - ?) had a long criminal record. On four separate occasions he was drunk. He refused to leave a beer house at Ley Green, drunkenly rowed with another customer, became abusive when the landlord said he would not allow such behaviour and then kicked in a door panel. Charles acted in a similar way at a Preston inn and when he was refused beer, he used ‘insulting, filthy and disgusting language’, threatened to strike the inn-keeper and left the inn only to return with a broom and upset a haycock at the rear of the house. Another time, he was drunk and riotous with others at Charlton, near Preston, and used the ‘most abusive language’.


Charles was also a poacher. He was fined in 1885 for setting nets for ferretting and was in gangs of four who were convicted of poaching in 1876 and 1877. The following year, he was fined for carrying a gun without a licence. He was living in a caravan at Kings Walden with his brother in 1901.


Mary Fairey (1813 – 1814). Died as an infant.


Samuel Fairey (1816 -1890) Samuel was a farm labourer who lived in Preston from at least 1841 until his death. He married Elizabeth Ward (sister of Catharine who married Thomas Fairey, see above) at St Marys, Hitchin in 1840. Samuel and Elizabeth were my greatx2 grandparents. They had seven children and the family lived at Back Lane, Preston. Samuel, like his brother Richard, also possibly had light fingers. In May 1857, he was accused of stealing 14s 6d from a Preston wheelwright, Daniel Wilston. Wilston had been drinking and had fallen asleep by the roadside in the village. He awoke at three o’clock in the morning to find Samuel putting his waistcoat into his pocket and then found his money was missing. However, the case was dismissed. Samuel and Elizabeth claimed no religious affiliation in 1884.


Samuel and Elizabeth’s sons, Alfred and Amos Fairey were fined for using a dog to take game in 1870. Alfred was also twice found guilty of poaching in 1872 and was sent to gaol for four months. When Alfred was nine years old he was indicted with another ‘urchin’ for ill treating a lamb. They had ridden it and beaten it with a stick. The lamb died. His companion was whipped.


In 1890, the widower Amos Fairey was reprimanded by the school attendance officer for not sending his children more regularly to school. Amos was living with his family at ‘The Wilderness’, Preston in 1881, but after the death of his wife he was lodging with Mary Currell at Back Lane, Preston in 1891.


Samuel and Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary Fairey, was my great grandmother. She married Thomas Currell and lived in Preston at Back Lane and Preston Green until her death in 1924. Link: Thomas and Mary Currell.


Catharine Fairey (1816c - ?) married Daniel Winch at St Mary’s, Hitchin in 1834. They lived in Preston from 1841 until 1861 – in 1851 the family were at Sootfield Green. In 1848, Daniel was suspected of setting fire to a wheat stack at Staganhoe Bottom Farm. He was fined for rabbitting with George Fairey (Catharine’s brother) in 1843. Daniel and Catharine had eight children. One, William, was inconstant conflict with the law, culminating in his imprisonment for four years for manslaughter using a gun after a drunken brawl with a police constable at Gosmore. Link: Manslaughter.


George Fairey. (1825 - ?) George was living with his widowed mother at Preston in 1841. February 1843 was a memorable month for George. He was fined 10s for trespassing with two companions in search of rabbits at Offley – a charge he admitted. That same month, he was whipped for stealing a rabbit pudding. He had gone to the taproom of the Chequers Inn at Preston and drank a pint of beer. There was a rabbit pudding cooking on the fire. The wife of the innkeeper left the room. When she returned, George and the pudding had gone. Following a brief search, George was discovered asleep in a field with an incriminating pile of bones and the pudding cloth beside him.

Later, George was fined twice in quick succession for poaching. Firstly, he was accused of setting snares to take rabbits in December, 1860. As he had committed a similar offence only a fortnight earlier, he was sent to the House of Correction at Hertford. After his release, he was imprisoned almost immediately again for three months as he refused to pay a 5s fine and costs for poaching at Kings Walden. George was also fined 5s 7d for refusing to leave the Crown public house at Ley Green, Kings Walden and breaking a pint pot.



Mary Fairey (1825 – 1865) who was the daughter of James and Elizabeth (nee Button) was in trouble with the law at Hitchin in 1844. The original written witness statements relating to her case still exist. They tell how Thomas Carter of Barnet had a stall at Hitchin market. After Mary visited the stall, Thomas ‘missed’ a pair of earrings and a single earring. Mary later went back and bought a necklace. Thomas accused her of the theft and his wife called a policeman. Thomas told Mary that she had better pay for the earrings before the policeman arrived. She pulled out some ‘halfpence’ but Thomas said that would not do as the earrings were a shilling for the pair. Mary then ‘took them out of her neck’ and at that moment the policeman arrived. The policeman, Charles Webster (a master of the vernacular) testified that he said to Mary, ‘Halloa, what’s this?’. She had her hand in her bosom and out from it she produced the earrings. She then offered to pay for the jewellery. Mary in her defence said, ‘I hope you won’t do much to me as it is the first time for me’.


The wife of another Fairey was also accused of theft from a shop at Hitchin. In May 1878, Elizabeth, the wife of Arthur Fairey (son of John and Charlotte nee Watson) was convicted for stealing three shillings from W. B. Moss’ shop at Nightingale Road. She was sent to gaol for 14 days with hard labour.


Several  Faireys were hay tiers. After hay had been cut and dried in stoops, it was stored in haystacks. It became compressed and consolidated by its own weight and by the stamping of farm labourers. Before it could be transported and sold, the stack was opened by the hay tiers and blocks of hay were cut out and tied up in trusses by twisted hay ropes.


Elsie Fairey (b 1908) was the daughter of Ezra (a hay tier) and Sarah who had a small holding at Redcoats Green, Great Wymondley, near Hitchin. Reminiscing, she told of her memories of her father leaving home very early in the morning with a huge cutting knife tied onto the bar of his bike. If there was a bright moon, he often left in the middle of the night. Elsie married her fifth cousin, my uncle Dick Wray.



A Fairey-tale ending


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would have been interesting. When she was examined by the workhouse nurse, her true condition was revealed and she was re-admitted to the House of Correction.



The Faireys of Preston

Fairey family tree

Notes re Fairey  tree

Link: Fairey family tree

Link: Notes re: individuals in Fairey tree

Richard Fairey (II) - the road worker and a notes concerning the roads of Hitchin

In the eighteenth century, Hitchin’s highways were best negotiated in the middle of the year, in the middle of town and in the middle of the road.


The Statute for the Mending of the Highways (1555) attempted to improve the quagmire which was the nation’s transport infrastructure. It decreed that, during Easter week each year, two surveyors be appointed in every parish to direct a spring clean-up of roads. Over four days (soon increased to six) all householders were required to wield shovels, swing picks or draw ploughs to repair the ravages of winter. This was known as ‘statute labour’. Those who did not work paid a due towards the cost of the maintenance.


After the Act was passed, Hitchin’s surveyors were dilatory – ‘...Hitchin is very apt to yeeld derty ways’ (1598). Its highways were churned by lumbering juggernauts carrying malt to London. Roads were obstructed by firewood, uncut hanging hedges and even dunghills. Millers allowed water to overflow onto highways. The nearby hamlet of Walsworth was described as ‘the muddiest place on earth’ and some of its field names reflected this – Wade-over Close; Puddle Acre.


The guardians of Hitchin’s roads became more efficient from 1720 and surviving surveyors accounts books dating from 1729 give details of the work they oversaw. In the spring, the roads were ploughed, the resulting furrows being cast towards the middle of the thoroughfare. They were then harrowed level for the summertime traffic. In late autumn, they were ploughed again, more deeply, and faggots (from Gosmore) were placed in the bottom to improve drainage. Large stones were piled into the deeper holes and then soil, bricks and gravel (dredged from the river) were compacted and a final layer of flint finished the job.


The casual labourers who worked on the highways were paid 10p a day. The surveyors’ accounts sometimes record the work that was done by each person - Thomas Jolley received 10d in 1754 for ‘flinging up dirt’. Several women were employed by the surveyors such as Ann Frey who was paid 8/- for eight loads of stones.


To further improve the roads, householders were ordered to sweep and clean up the street in front of their homes before sunset on Saturdays and fines were doled out if ducks fouled the pavement.


Richard Fairey was described as a labourer in parish records and worked  on Hitchin’s roads from 1852 until 1864. He may have worked on other occasions, but he is specifically mentioned in the surveyors’ accounts as follows: two days in 1754; four days in 1757; in 1758 he was paid 5/- for six loads of stones and his boys were paid 1/- ‘for picking stones after the plow’; in 1759, Richard earned 6d for laying in some faggots in Bancroft and 15/- for 18 days work on the Walsworth Road in June; in 1760, he received 11/2d for thirteen days work. In 1763 Richard worked at least for 13 days on Hitchin’s roads. That year, he was joined by a son (probably Thomas who was 15 years old and who was mentioned in the accounts). The following year Richard was paid for one day’s work on 14 October. This was his final payment for this type of work - which supports the theory that about this time the family moved from Hitchin to Ippollitts. As he was used so frequently, he was probably an efficient worker. There is a note in Hitchin’s accounts that a town’s surgeon was paid 6d in 1754 ‘for beer when Farey’s thigh was sett’.


Richard Fairey (III)

Two tragic events in 1755

In 1755 the Poor Law accounts of Hitchin portray a picture of tragedy and poverty for Richard and his family:

‘Aug 4, paid for a coffin for Rich. Farey’s wife – 7/6’; ‘Aug 9, paid Thos. Everett for a cart to bring Richard Farey’s wife to the grave – 2/-, paid two men for attendance to the cart helping to bury her – 3/-’.  Susannah Fairey was probably in her mid-thirties.  She was spared the next episode to unfold – ‘Aug 16 paid for a coffin for Rich. Farey’s child 3/6 (This was Robert, who was just ten month’s old), for the burial of the child 3/2, for the affidavit by Edward Fairbeard 6d (which refers to the wool that was used for Robert’s funeral shroud), for carrying the child to the grave by two men 2/-.’ This type of payment to the poor was uncommon in Hitchin’s accounts which, taken together with the fact that they paid no rates for their home, indicates how poor the Faireys were.


However, Richard’s mother, Elizabeth, was still alive for on 29 September 1755 she was paid 10/6 for helping the nurse at the Folly.

The branch of the Fairey family which had connections with Preston is through Richard and Susannah’s first-born son, also named Richard (III) who was baptized at St Marys, Hitchin in 1741. The Militia List

(Link: Militia lists) records him as a sack carrier (1758-61) and a labourer (1762) at Hitchin. (Note: a sack carrier was a man with a cart who transported bulky or messy goods that were not handled by standard carriers, such as grain, flour small dead animals etc.) 1763-64, Richard (III) was a labourer in Ippollitts (which may indicate that it was about this time that the family moved from Hitchin).


Richard (III) married Elizabeth Valentine at St Marys, Hitchin in 1766. He is noted as a labourer from Ippollitts in the Allen Marriage Index. Intriguingly he was described as a farmer in Ippollitts from 1768 -72. He and Elizabeth had six children who were baptized at Ippollitts between 1767 and 1778. The family then moved to Graveley (which is three miles south-east of Hitchin). There, he is recorded as a labourer in 1778 and his last two daughters were baptized in Graveley in 1779 and 1781.

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There is a reference to Richard Fairey in the Graveley Vestry records. In view of his background it is perhaps astonishing that he signed off (with others) the Parish Poor Law accounts as accurate. Not only that, but in 1779 and 1780, Richard was the appointed overseer of the poor and so paid the impoverished - controlling a budget of around £70 annually. Thus, Richard was trusted, numerate and literate - spelling his surname, Farey. When he died, he was described again in the parish records as a ‘farmer’ - which confirms that he was the same person who was at Ippollitts from 1768-72 - although probably with a small holding.


More Fairey tales

A news report from May 1875 epitomises the view that officialdom had of many members of the Fairey family. It involved two cousins,  Thomas (b 1847, son of Thomas and Catharine) and Alfred (b 1847, son of Samuel and Elizabeth).


Thomas was accused of stealing a hoe and handle - the property of James Crawley. Crawley said that on his way to work at 5.45 am he met Thomas carrying a hoe. When he arrived at the hovel where he had left his hoe the previous night, the implement was missing. Crawley and Pc Day went to the field where Thomas was working with a hoe. Thomas claimed that he had bought the tool four or five years earlier from a man named Turner. When Thomas was charged with theft, he admitted he was using the hoe and that another man had its handle. Alfred Fairey testified that he had heard Thomas ask a man named Stevens for the use of a hoe for a day, after which he would return it - a story denied by Stevens.


The Chairman said that Alfred’s story had not done him any good ‘as his previous character was known and they did not believe a word of his evidence’.


Thomas was sent to Hertford gaol for 14 days hard labour.

Richard’s wife, Elizabeth Farey, then endured three stressful events in quick succession in 1781. She gave birth to her eighth child in June. Her husband (who was only 40 years old) died in July. Then a daughter, Mary, died in August, aged 6. Elizabeth was left with seven children and a farm to manage.


She was evidently a strong and resourceful woman. Two years later, in 1783, Elizabeth (36) married Joseph Morgan in Ippollitts – Joseph (22) was fourteen years younger than his bride.  The marriage certificate states she was a widow. Joseph was the son of Daniel and Ann Morgan whose family lived in Preston throughout the eighteenth century. Perhaps Elizabeth knew the Morgan family from the time she had lived in Ippollitts parish. It is worth noting that before his marriage, Joseph was described as a servant in the Militia List of 1782. Then after his wedding, in 1784-5, he was a farmer in Ippollitts. Did Elizabeth inherit some little wealth on her farmer-husband’s death from which Joseph benefitted?


Elizabeth and Joseph had four children and between 1788 and 1793 the family moved to Stevenage. When Elizabeth died in 1815, her husband Joseph was farming at Simons Green, which is on the outskirts of Stevenage and just three miles east of Preston.



The Fairey family