A History of Preston

in Hertfordshire

Joseph Ward was my 4xgreat grandfather and the first of my ancestors to live in Preston - from at least 1751. The location of his home is known. Yet by 1891, the Ward name had disappeared from the village, although descendants still lived there.

The origins of the Ward family who settled in Preston are unclear. According to the International Genealogy

Index there were two Joseph Wards (my earliest known ancestor) who were baptized in Hertfordshire around

the time my ancestor was born i.e. 1690 -1710.


A case can be made that the Ward family were living in Cheshunt, Herts in the early eighteenth century and that Joseph Ward of this family later moved to the Hitchin area. The evidence for this theory is that there is a

baptism of a Joseph Ward at Cheshunt in 1708. However, there is no record of his death in the parish and he does not appear in the Cheshunt Militia Lists (1756 – 1801). The implication is that he moved from Cheshunt. But his destination cannot be determined. Cheshunt is some distance away from Hitchin - 20 miles south-east - and is adjacent to the border with Middlesex. In fact, London (about 14 miles away) is nearer to the parish than Hitchin and Joseph is more likely to have moved south and became lost in the sprawl of the capital.


Another theory is that Joseph was part of the Ward family who were living in Kings Walden at the end of the seventeenth century. A Joseph Ward was baptized there in 1696. In view of the proximity of Kings Walden to Hitchin, I suggest that this Joseph is the more  likely candidate to be my forefather. But, as discussed later,

there is an indication that Joseph had a brother, Henry (who married Ann), and although there is a marriage of a Henry Ward to Ann at nearby Luton in 1737, there is no record of a baptism of a Henry Ward in or near Kings Walden.


The origins of the Ward family of Preston

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Ward family


Notes re:

Ward tree

When researching the Ward family, one should bear in mind that Ward is sometimes written or transcribed

as Wade. There are several examples of this: the Temple Dinsley Manor Court Roll of 1808 refers to William Wade; a list of Preston inhabitants dated 1806 includes several Wades; the 1851 census records John Wade

at Preston; the Kings Walden Militia List notes that ‘Ward is also spelt as Wade’ etc. Knowing this alternative spelling is important when compiling a Ward family tree – as will be shown.


Joseph Ward (? - 1771)

Now we move to more definite details. Joseph Ward, my greatx3 grandfather married Mary Arnold in 1729 at

St Mary, Hitchin. This view is confirmed as Mary had been baptized in St Pauls Walden, Herts in 1706 and several of Joseph and Mary’s descendants settled in this parish.


At the time of their wedding, both Joseph and Mary were ‘of this parish’ i.e. Hitchin. After their marriage, they

may well have lived in Preston. Joseph and his second wife were certainly living there in 1751 and St Pauls Walden is less than two miles from Preston, but almost five miles from Hitchin.


According to the parish register, Joseph was a labourer. He and Mary had five children between 1730 and

1742 - the first, Mary, was baptized at St Mary, Hitchin. In 1746, Joseph’s wife, Mary died. She is recorded as Mary Wade in the Hitchin burials. About eighteen months later, on 31 December 1747, Joseph returned to St Mary to remarry. His bride was Elizabeth Hill. The couple had three children from 1748 to 1752.




Discovering Joseph and Elizabeth’s home at Preston

The manorial roll of Temple Dinsley has a note dated

21 October 1793 that a cottage at Preston Green was ‘formerly occupied by Jeremiah Gazely and

afterwards Joseph Ward and now William Ward.’

It was immediately to the left of The Red Lion. See link: Ward home.


So, when had the Wards moved to this cottage at Preston? It was another Hitchin parish record which gave the answer - an annual listing of contributors to Poor Law funds. As the property (although a small cottage) had about an acre of land at the rear, its tenants were liable for this tax. My great x5

grandfather, Joseph Ward, first appears on this list in 1751. Thus, my family lived in Preston from this time.

Joseph Ward’s children

   Mary married Jeremiah Squires and settled in St Pauls Walden.

   Ruth died a spinster aged 23.

   Ann married Robert Potton. They were living at Preston in 1768 to 1778.

   James was living at Preston in 1762.

   Samuel married and moved to Therfield, Herts (a village with other links to the Ward family).

   Daniel was lame, disabled and on crutches. He died in the Hitchin Workhouse in 1813.

   My line continues through Joseph’s youngest son, William.


The Wards at Preston

It was the ‘valuable genealogical source’  of the Militia Ballot Lists (1757-1785c) for Hertfordshire - ‘unusually comprehensive’ for the county - which provides  further information about the Wards of Preston. These lists are parish returns of men aged 18-50 (from 1762, aged 18-45) who were eligible to serve in the county militia. In effect, they are a census of the  younger male population. (Link: Militia Lists) The Milita List for Hitchin provides an intriguing snapshot of the Wards living at Preston from 1758 until 1785 - no fewer than seven male Wards lived in the village.


As Ward is a relatively uncommon name, that there were so many in such a small village would indicate that

they were related, perhaps cousins. Four Wards (Daniel, James’ Samuel, and William) were the sons of

Joseph; two Wards (Henry and Jesse) were the sons of Henry (a labourer) and Ann. The seventh Ward was John Ward who probably married Elizabeth Ward at Kings Walden in 1762.


If this reading of the data is correct,  perhaps Joseph, Henry and John’s fathers were brothers (something that may be confirmed as two of their sons were crippled) – however this is unproven and does not help in finding their parents. At this point, it is beginning to become clear that the Wards were not diligent about baptizing their children. To illustrate, Henry (born 1745) and his wife Elizabeth had no children christened, yet the Militia List notes that Henry had three children in 1784 – indeed the death of one, William, is recorded in 1804 in Hitchin.


The Wards at Preston in the Herts Militia List

William Ward (1752 - 1802)

William Ward was a labourer who lived all his life in the semi-detached cottage at Preston Green. He married Mary Humphreys  (who was christened at Kings Walden) at St Marys, Hitchin in 1772. The couple had eleven children. William died in 1802, aged 50.


Mary continued to live in Preston until about 1820. Then, her daughter, Ann, married Matthew Gudgin and moved to Barton in the Clay in Bedfordshire. Mary was living with them at her death in 1841 when she was about 90 years old.


My line continues through William

Samuel married Sarah Halsey and moved to Codicote, Herts

Mary was a spinster who was living at Preston in 1841.

Joseph married Amey Hill in Ippollitts. He died a widower at Edmonton workhouse.

Henry married Rebecca Croft at St Marys, Hitchin and lived in the cottage at Preston Green. However, he died

in 1822 aged 37 when they were living in Langley, near Preston.

Daniel married Ann from Therfield and lived in Preston until at least 1822. They had four (?) children and by

1841 they had moved to Church End, St Pauls Walden. Their descendants are featured at this link: Cornwall Wards

Ann married Matthew Gudgin at St Mary, Hitchin. The family moved to Barton-in-the-Clay, Bedfordshire.



William Ward (1776 - 1866)

My greatx2 grandfather, William Ward married Ann Braddon whose labouring family came from Charlton near Preston. (Link: Bradden FH)They had ten children between 1798 and 1819. William was a farm worker. When his wife died in 1838, William lived for more than twenty years with his daughter, Hannah Sturgess and her family at Back Lane, Preston. He was also with them when they moved to Charlton, Herts in the 1850s. He died in 1866 almost 90 years old.

Hannah married William Sturgess at St Marys Hitchin. They lived at Back Lane until the 1850s when they

moved to the neighbouring village of Charlton.

William married Emma Wilshire at St Marys, Hitchin. They lived in Preston all their lives although they did move around - Preston Green (1851), Poynders End (1861/71) and Hitchwood cottages (1881)

John Ward married but by 1851 he was a widower working as a labourer on George Lake’s farm.

My line continues through Elizabeth who was the first sister to marry a Fairey (Samuel) at St Marys, Hitchin. Their family lived all their lives at Back Lane, Preston.

To continue the story of my family click link: Samuel and Elizabeth Fairey.

Catherine married Thomas Fairey at St Marys, Hitchin. The family lived in Ley Green, Kings Walden from

1851-71. After Catherine’s death, Thomas lived with his daughter, Rachel at Holly Cottages, Kings Walden but in 1891 he was in the Hitchin Workhouse.

Thomas married Charlotte Watson at Ippollitts. The family moved frequently  ending at Luton in 1881. Thomas was a hawker and grocer.



Ward stories and reports

The Wards were not an entirely harmonious family. In July 1834, John Ward (and two of his brothers-in-law George and Thomas Watson) were fined for assaulting his uncle Daniel Ward and his wife Ann. John and George were each fined £4 10/- and Thomas was fined 6d.


Then, in May 1845, Thomas Ward (28) was charged with assaulting his eighteen-year-old niece, Elizabeth Sturgess. It transpired that she was also guilty of assaulting Thomas and the case was dismissed – although Elizabeth had to pay the Court costs.


William and Ann’s son, John Ward (born 1811) had several skirmishes with the law including the assault mentioned earlier – mainly because he was a poacher. In 1841, he and his brother, Thomas Ward, were charged with trespassing in search of rabbits on Harriet Saunderson’s land in Kings Walden. They couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the 20s fine (about two weeks wages) so both were committed to the House of Correction at Hertford for a month’s hard labour.


In 1856, John Ward was convicted in his absence of setting snares on land at Preston owned by Thomas Harwood Darton and as a result spent another month at Hertford.

































Hannah Sturgess (nee Ward) had a life of poverty. Her story is told in the Removal Orders of Hitchin parish and the 1871 census. After marrying William Sturgess (who was born at Barton-in-the-Clay, Beds) at St Marys, Hitchin on Christmas Eve, 1825, the couple had three children. On 22 March 1838, when Hannah was living in Preston, there was an attempt to remove William from Hitchin parish to Houghton Conquest which was 12 miles to the north-west in Bedfordshire.


It was recorded that Hannah was living in and chargeable to the parish of Hitchin. However, William was living at Houghton Conquest (having gained settlement in the parish because of living there and working for a local farmer,Thomas Armerage) and was in bed and too ill to come to Hitchin. He had become ill two years after their marriage and received parish relief for two weeks at Houghton Conquest. He had since lived at Hitchin. In 1831, William was again ill and received relief of three or four shillings (less than half a farm labourer’s weekly wage) for 11 or 12 weeks from the Houghton overseers, which was collected by Hannah who

travelled to the parish every two or three weeks. During the year of the disturbances at Ampthill, William was out of work for 14 weeks and received more parish relief from Houghton. The Hitchin overseers attempted to send William back to Houghton but this failed due to his continuing ill health.


Later, in 1871, William and Hannah were living in the almshouses at Bancroft Street, Hitchin many of which are still standing.



John Ward was also involved in the case of the arson attack on Parsonage Farm, Kings Walden in 1844.

The accused was Charles Stevens (19) a labourer from Hitchin whose family had lived in Preston. John was a witness and was described as a labourer from Preston. This was his testimony:


‘I knew the prisoner from a child. I remember the fire at Mr Roberts’. On a Sunday about five weeks ago I

saw the prisoner at Styles’ public house. There were several in the house. We drank together and left about half-past two o’clock in the day. Stevens left first and I followed him to his father’s house and had a bit of dinner with him. The prisoner’s father was there. The prisoner asked me whether I could keep a secret. I told him I thought I could. He said, “Then I’ll tell you what I’ve done” I set George Robert’s farm on fire on coming home from Frogmore. I struck a whole box of Lucifer matches and stuck them in the corner of the barn and ever since I did it I have not had a night’s rest and that’s the reason I listed for a soldier”. The prisoner had enlisted that morning. He said he could not sleep at night because the fire was always before his eyes. The prisoner’s father was in the house at the time but he is rather hard of hearing. The prisoner spoke low. I told it to Winch on the same night. I am on good terms with the prisoner’.


During his cross-examination, John said: ‘That is the way I keep a secret (laughter). I don’t recollect who  were in the beer shop. There were several there – perhaps ten persons. I don’t recollect exactly how long it

is since he told me. I have been in trouble three or four times, but for nothing besides poaching; don’t recollect being charged with stealing two ducks and a drake; may have been, but if so it is a long time ago and I don’t recollect it. I don’t know if I ever stole a dung fork. I know Richard Roberts. I don’t recollect saying anything to him about a reward. May have said, “If I had told a lie, I would swear to it”. I don’t know what I expect to get for this case.’ On his re-examination John said that he had never heard any reward was offered.


The judge during his summing-up said, ‘It would be necessary to see how far they could rely on the evidence of a man like Ward’. He also queried John’s powers of recollection and pointed out a discrepancy between Ward’s statement and the testimony of others.


The jury did not believe John’s evidence and found Stevens, ‘Not guilty’.

                                                Other Wards living in the vicinity of Hitchin


When trying to find the correct partners of Ward children and trace them in the censuses, it is helpful to be aware of other Wards living around Hitchin.


(1) Cornelius Ward and his wife, Mary nee Welch (married 6 November 1764 at Kings Walden) were living in Kings Walden between 1763 and 1772. They had a son, Joseph baptized in the parish in 1767.


(2) There was also the Reverend Henry Ward (born 1764c) who married Jennett Hull in Stevenage in 1795. He lived in Langley where he was also a (parish?) clerk until his early death in 1805. The couple had three daughters.


(3) At Hitchin, the lame and infirm George Ward (married Sarah Serle at St Mary, Hitchin 17 October 1776) was plying his trade as a cordwainer (shoemaker) probably at Tilehouse Street. He and Sarah died in 1811 and 1823 respectively having produced at least ten children, five of whom died in infancy.


(4) William Ward from Ickleford married Ann Cooper at St Marys, Hitchin in 1807. She died at Hitchin in 1809 and William remarried Mary Mills at Hitchin in 1817



Ward tree

Notes re: Ward tree

The nearest cottage was the home of the Wards

The Ward family

1751 saw three events that may be connected. Joseph and Elizabeth’s two children were baptized on 8 April 1751. Seven weeks later, on 26 May 1751, Joseph christened his three surviving unbaptized children by his first wife, Mary – two were in their late teens. The Hitchin parish register helpfully records their dates of birth. Also, in 1751, Joseph and Elizabeth moved to a new home at Preston Green - a cottage that was at the junction of School Lane and Preston Green next to the Red Lion. Because there was an acre of land to the rear of the cottage, Joseph began to pay rates on his home.


In quick succession, first Elizabeth died in August 1769 and then Joseph in May 1771.

William and Ann’s son, Thomas Ward, was the victim of an assault in 1856. He alleged that at about eleven o’clock he discovered that his donkeys had strayed onto Mr Wright’s land and went into the field to ‘fetch them out’. Wright approached him and after an argument struck Thomas in the face and said he would thrash him if he didn’t ‘take himself off’. Wright was fined 5s and costs despite claiming that Thomas had kicked his leg.


Two of Daniel and Ann Ward’s children also came before the magistrates at Hitchin. When Henry Ward (born 1825) was living at Whitwell in 1848, he was found guilty of setting snares in a wood and was fined £5 and

15/6d costs ‘being an old defender’. Seven years earlier, Mary Ward, Daniel’s seventeen-year-old daughter,

was charged with Elizabeth Thredder of stealing turnips from Mr Cook’s farm at Hill End. She was sent to Hertford’s House of Correction for a month’s hard labour.


William and Emma Ward were removed from Hitchin parish in 1844. They had been living at Preston in 1841. William testified that when he was about 14 or 15 years of age he started working for Robert Harwood who owned Poynders End Farm at Ippollitts. He was paid a shilling a week and given board and lodgings - sleeping in ‘his master’s house’.  Although William and Emma were removed to Ippollitts parish, by 1851 they were living again in the parish of Hitchin at Preston Green.