High Street Property Details

No.17 – Jessamine Cottage – private residence

The cottage is a Grade II listed building in the Conservation Area. Built in the eighteenth century, it was re-windowed in the nineteenth century. It is built of red brick, partly chequered, with a gable end towards the High Street. It has two storeys, with a floor band showing on the external wall and one recessed sash window. The front door on the right has a thin cut, bracketed and gabled hood. There is an eighteenth-century internal chimney stack  on the north side. The extension to the rear is mid to late nineteenth century with glazing bar casements. There are wooden beams in the ceilings of both the back room and the kitchen, making it seem older than the eighteenth century. 

The cottage grounds once incorporated all the land now occupied by Jessamine Garage. At the front was a large garden bordering East Lane. Behind that was a fire pit, a forge, a wood store, a saw pit, a tyring ring, a paint shop and a workshop. It was a working coachbuilder's premises.

This building and the garage next door were owned by the Wren family from 1878 until 1952 when it was sold to the Titmusses. The Titmuss family are currently landlords of both the cottage and the garage, also of the Riverside Cottages in East Lane and other properties in the High Street. 

The 1901 census records Thomas Wren, aged 51, living here with his wife Adela (43), their five children and an elderly aunt. Thomas is a coachbuilder and came originally from Kimpton. He had married Adela (nee Downs), his second wife, in 1893. The 1911 Census return (ii)  describes Thomas as a 'Coachbuilder and Smith'. Adela is a dressmaker and costumer as are their two unmarried daughters, Ella Augusta Wren, aged 33,  and Maude May Wren, aged 27. Their son, Hubert Oscar Wren, aged 22, is a grocer's assistant.

Kelly's Directory (iii)  lists the family business here continuously through the years from 1878. In 1912 it was Thomas Wren and Co. Coach and Carriage builders, in 1923 Wren & Son and then in 1938 it was called C V Wren (Thomas's son Cyril), which it remained until 1952 when the buildings were sold.

Margaret Wright's 1948 film (i) shows Mr and Mrs Wren appearing at the door of their cottage on a Sunday. There is also a sequence of tyring a wheel in the fire pit, hammering the metal rim onto a wooden wheel.

Amy Coburn (nee Wren, born 1927) knew the Wrens when she was a child and gave the following information: 

"I was friends with Ruth Wren [Cyril's daughter]. She was born in 1926 and is still alive.  We were family friends.  There is no connection between the two Wren families.   I knew Cyril Wren as a child.  The family had been friends for many years.  Cyril used to look after the coaches at Lamer for the Cherry Garrards when the coaches needed repairing.  Cyril had been trained in London and was an expert in that sort of work.  He trained at one of the big coach building firms in London.  He decorated with a very artistic writing the floats for the butcher and milkman and Charlie Collins' van, with gold leaf and lettering.  It was excellent work.  Turnouts they were called.  They were entered in the Hatfield Show.  The Hertfordshire Show originated in Hatfield.

Cyril Wren and his family were Wesleyan Methodists.  He was involved with the Wesleyan Methodist chapel on Wheathampstead Hill which is now offices.  When that closed down for lack of members they went down to the Folly chapel.  He was a lay reader.  No involvement with the railway.  On Christmas Day we went to the Wrens and they came to us on Boxing Day.  As I played with Ruth we knew the exact layout of the workshops.  You knew what you couldn't touch.  You looked but you didn't touch.  We had a nice tea and spent the evening playing silly games like Consequences, and just had a pleasant time together.  There was no drink, they were strict teetotallers.  He wouldn't work on a Sunday.  There was no Sunday work.

Cyril was single-handed when I knew him with no man working under him.  He owned Jessamine Cottage.  Then the Wren family owned it.  His grandfather came there around 1870.  Cyril had several siblings.  One went off to be a butcher, Hubert went to Australia, William died at the age of 21.  He's cut his leg very badly in the workshops.  The story goes that, rightly or wrongly, cobwebs were good to staunch the flow of blood.  Country folk believed in these old country remedies.  They collected a handful of webs but it developed into a poisoned leg and he died.  Septicaemia, I suppose.  William was Cyril's brother and long before my time." [William died in 1900]

Cyril's obituary in 1960 says that he was a Methodist preacher for over 50 years.  He retired from the coachbuilding business in about 1952/53

Kelly's Directories from 1956 to 1966 (iii) show Herbert W Frost and Son, Upholsterer, living at the cottage.  The 1963 to 1977 Electoral Registers (iv) show Herbert and Freda Frost in residence, known by local people to be running an upholstery business there.  Barbara De Mornay Davies (v) remembered a Glenys Frost.  Barbara once bought a "dear little mothering [nursing?] chair" at a one-off auction in the Memorial Hall for 22 1/2 pence - all the money in her purse.  Later on she managed to get it upholstered at Frosts for £80.  The Frosts attended the Congregational Church on Brewhouse Hill and their son Derek formed a little choir of Sunday School children.  Barbara belonged to this choir as a child and remembers practising in Jessamine Cottage. 

An advertisement in a church magazine tells us:


offered quite a comprehensive service from Jessamine Cottage. Tel. 2253.

Resprung  -- SUITES, BOX-SPRINGS, DIVANS, etc. recovered



Mr and Mrs Frost lived at Jessamine Cottage until about 1987.

The cottage is currently (2013) occupied by Katy and Edward Jaques and their children, Henry (9) and Elinor (7) who both attend St Helen's School.  


Researcher:  Ruth Jeavons


Sources consulted:

  • Margaret Wright’s 1948 Flim “ A Village Peepshow” (i)
  • 1911 Census Return  (ii)
  • Kelly's Directories , 1878- 1966 (iii)
  • Church magazines (various)
  • Electoral registers, 1963-1977 (iv)
  • Amy Coburn
  • Barbara De Mornay Penny (nee Davies) (v)








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