Dorothy Colville was born in the parish of North Mymms. She was educated at the North Mymms girls' school . Four years apprenticeship as a pupil teacher was followed by two years in a teachers' training college where her special subjects were English, history and needlework. She held teaching posts in Royston, Beckenham and Barnet. 1n 1949 she returned to North Mymms girls' school to be its last headmistress. Plans were then in hand to replace the little school within two years, but in fact the new school was not opened until 1960.
Table Of Contents
- Foreword - By The Lord-Lieutenant Of Hertfordshire, Major-General Sir George Burns
- Introduction - Parish And People
- Chapter I - The Parish
- Chapter II - Names And Numbers
- Chapter III - The Parish Church
- Chapter IV - The Churchyard
- Chapter V - Churchwardens' Accounts And Other Matters
- Chapter VI - Parish Charities
- Chapter VII - Our Parish Magazine
- Chapter VIII - Schools
- Chapter IX - Aerial Travellers
- Chapter X - Manors And Houses
- Chapter XI - Three Famous Writers
- Chapter XII - Mr. Capes
- Chapter XIII - The Sibthorpe Story
- Chapter XIV - The Sabine Family of Hertfordshire
- Chapter XV - The Pretty American
- Chapter XVI - Getting About His Parish
- Chapter XVII - The Story Of The Local Railway
- Chapter XVIII - From Pilot To Sky Pilot
- Chapter XIX - Arthur Young, 1741-1820
- Chapter XX - The Cottage Garden Show
- Chapter XXI - A Sunday Afternoon Visitor
BY THE LORD-LIEUTENANT OF HERTFORDSHIRE, MAJOR-GENERAL SIR GEORGE BURNS, K.C.V.O., C.B., D.S.O., O.B.E., M.E.
I am quite sure that the reason why Mrs. Colville has given up her time and study to this subject is to be found in her sincere love for and interest in the place in which she was born, the place in which she has spent all her life and in which she has done her best, and indeed successfully, to play her part.
Those of us who share the same view of affection for and interest in the parish will find this book of profound interest and will be ever grateful to Mrs. Colvilie for having undertaken this work.
February 5, 1972.
PARISH AND PEOPLE
Domesday Book of 1086 records "The Bishop of Chester holds Mimmine In King Edward’s time it answered for eight hides and one virgate, now for eight hides. There is land to thirteen ploughs. Pasture for cattle. Pannage for four hundred hogs. This Manor is not part of the See but it was Reyner’s, the father of Bishop Robert."
Nearly 800 years later the Rev Horace Meyer, who had just accepted the living, wrote in his journal "North Mymms parish in Rochester diocese was nearly sixteen miles in circumference; contained 1,300 people and was composed of four hamlets, five large places and four smaller ones, with twenty-two farms The schools were under Government, the church was nineteen miles from London the income about £275".
It is therefore a parish with a long history, but this is not a history book in the generally accepted sense It is rather a collection of facts, extracts from old parish magazines and of stories remembered by older residents, to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude for their interest and patience.
"To bring the dead to life
Is no great magic
Few are wholly dead
Blow on a dead man’s embers
And a live flame will start.
So grant him life"
Here then are some embers blown upon and brought to life.
Until the revision of the county boundaries in 1965 the neighbouring parishes of North Mymms and South Mimms were in the counties of Hertfordshire and Middlesex respectively. They are still in different dioceses, the one being in that of St. Albans and the other in that of London. The two parishes are separated by a bank running along the south side of a pleasant walk starting from the A1 at Warrengate and following the parish boundary until reaching South Lodge in Mymms Woods. This clearly defined bank probably dates from Roman times, when it would no doubt have marked the boundary between British tribes, and it almost certainly dates back to 790 when Offa, king of the Mercians, ruled over the central plain of England. In that year the great king founded the abbey of St. Albans. High on a wall in the north presbytery aisle of the abbey is a painting of him in his robes of state. If at South Lodge during July and a breeze ripples over the ripening corn just "stand and stare" at one of the loveliest sights in Hertfordshire.
With the Danish invasion of England, Mercia vanished and the territory came under the control of the Danes. Alfred the Great, chief of the non-Danish kings, consolidated his kingdom of Wessex only after bitter struggles, but by about 960, Hertford had become a fortified post with a well-organised community living around it. Our parish, though almost a "frontier post," seems to have come through these internecine troubles with some degree of prosperity, and by the time the Normans came was already in existence, to be recorded as Mimmine in Domesday Book of 1086.
For the next half-century or more it would appear that things were quiet, but in 1135 the conflicting claims of King Stephen and the Empress Matilda brought near-anarchy to the land. Mimmine was under the control of Geoffrey de Mandeville, an able man who sided first with the king and then with the empress but a "ruffian of the worst order" according to Professor Trevelyan. This duke had a castle of sorts just over the border of our parish, in South Mimms. It has been scheduled as an ancient monument despite its unimpressive appearance and its being used as a quarry for chalk as a dressing for the fields.
Geoffrey de Mandeville was killed in battle in 1144 and gradually order was restored, only to be again disorganised by the crusades of the later decades of the century. Magna Carta, 1215, brought back law and order, and fifty years later government by Parliament was established. Meanwhile Mimmine’s first recorded rector, Thomas de St. Albans, had been appointed in 1237.
In 1316 Simon de Swanland came on the scene and, to quote from a lecture given by the late Lord Clauson in 1935 to a group of the Young People’s Fellowship, "He was a London citizen and merchant and he is the first example of that which became in a great part of our county an almost invariable rule. Ever since that time each family that has settled in this parish has sooner or later, sometimes after two generations, sometimes after several generations, left the parish and handed on its property to a new owner; and almost without exception the new owner has been a Londoner, who has made in London, usually as a merchant or banker and sometimes as a lawyer, a large or modest fortune which has enabled him to come to our parish and settle in it as a country gentleman. This process has been practically continuous for about 650 years, over twenty generations, not only in our parish but in practically the whole of Hertfordshire. The pleasant scenery and prosperous look of our parish are in truth due to Londoners’ money, which generation after generation has been spent on draining, filling, planting and building in our parish, and without it our parish would have reverted to the condition of being swampy unreclaimed forest land as it must have been in early times."
It is probable that in de Swanland’s time the little parish community was concentrated between the church and the manor house. Although the plague known as the Black Death was sweeping the country and reducing the population of many villages, Mimmine seems to have escaped. Here the population was evidently increasing; clearings or "greens" were being made to accommodate the extra people and the manor of Brokemans came into being, as did Gubbins and Potterells. The battles of St. Albans (1455 and 1461) and of Barnet (1471) were uncomfortably near, and perhaps the kindly folk of North Mymms succoured the wounded who fled thus far or gathered up the bodies of those who could go no farther and gave them decent burial. It is said that the mounds to be seen in Church Field are the final resting places of some who died fleeing from Barnet. The mass of the people was indifferent to the war that was waged between rival factions of noblemen, and thankful to be spared its horrors as far as was possible. By August 1485, when the Wars of the Roses ended on Bosworth Field, our parish church had been enlarged and beautified by the Knolles family, who had followed the de Swanlands. It is to the Knolles family that we owe, among other things, the corbels - carved stone faces - built into the arcades over the arches in church. That of the man with both hands to his mouth, evidently suffering from tooth-ache, the head-dresses of the women and the mask of a fox on the north wall of the tower, all beautifully carved, deserve more than a passing glance.
North Mymms parish has no village green or common land, but is fortunate in that open spaces have been provided in the hamlets of Welham Green, Brookmans Park and Little Heath. Two hundred years ago the position was quite different, for the parishioners enjoyed rights on a common which even then measured over 700 acres despite the fact that from Tudor times landowners and farmers had bitten into this common land, stopping footpaths and roads whenever possible. Because of, to use a modern phrase, the "population explosion" more corn was needed to feed the growing nation and the old method of land utilisation was seen to be extremely wasteful, so many private Acts for the "inclosing of open fields and common wastes" were introduced during the reign of George III. From the sessions rolls we can learn a little of how the enclosure movement affected our parish.
In 1751 a writ, duly enrolled at Hertford, was obtained by "The Most Noble Thomas, Duke of Leeds, in respect of his enclosure of part of the horse-way or bridleway in Northmims leading from Water End, through five closes belonging to him called Nearer Lodge Field and Hookfield which leads to the road on Coney Heath Common leading from London Coney to Hatfield." The part to be enclosed measured 266 poles in length and five feet in breadth. In substitution the noble lord proposed a bridleway from Nearer Lodge Field through Further Lodge Field, Spooners Mead, Nearer Meadow and Great Warren Field to Coney Heath Common, a distance of 142 poles.
The inquiry was held at North Mymms Place before the sheriff, Thomas Wittewronge, and a large number of jurors drawn from the parish and from Hatfield, Shenley and Northaw, who "held that this inclosure was not to the damage of the King or of others."
By an Act passed in 1778 the common or waste land of North Mymms was enclosed and one can imagine the dismay with which the parishioners viewed the lengthy and involved award "fairly and distinctly wrote on Paper without Stamps lodged in the vestry room of the said Parish for all persons to have recourse to for information."
The preamble to the Act gave a list of those landowners and proprietors of manors with rights of common and stated that it would be of great advantage to all concerned if the common were to be enclosed and divided fairly among them all. It gave the names of the commissioners - John Bocket of South Mimms, George Maxwell of Graveley and Robert Weston of Brackley in the county of Northampton - who were to be appointed for dividing the common and it safeguarded the interests of those who had enclosed any part of the common before the twenty-fourth day of June 1777.
Having measured the common the commissioners were first to set out the public roads, which would, it was estimated, require fifteen acres of the total of 735 acres comprising the common. Ditches and fences, banks and bridges were to be arranged "so as all such Public Roads shall be and remain Forty Feet in breadth between the ditches or fences and shall be made, kept in repair and preserved in good order by the said Parish in the manner in which all public parish roads are directed to be repaired by the Laws of this Kingdom." The ruling on the width of the roads is interesting, for it indicates that wide green verges for the use of drovers were provided. Depending upon the state of the surface of the road wheeled vehicles used the part most suitable, leaving rutted grassland to the drovers. When, with improved methods of transport, cattle were no longer brought by road from Scotland or from Herefordshire to the London markets much of the waste was enclosed, leaving the delightful narrow lanes of Dellsome and Bradmore. As late as 1879 the vestry "considered the application of a local farmer to enclose a small portion of the waste land near his farm." It is worth recording that the school house at Water End was actually built upon the waste bordering the public road.
The commissioners were then to allot thirty acres to the Rev. Anthony Webster, vicar of the parish, forty-two to the Duke of Leeds and five to the trustees for the poor of the parish before allotting any land to the cottagers whose dwellings were scattered on and around the common. Of the eighty-four cottages only nineteen were owner-occupied. Of the others the Duke of Leeds owned fourteen, Charles de Laet owned a like number, Sir Charles Cocks owned three and, surprisingly, one was owned by Lord Melbourne of Brocket. The remaining thirty-three were the property of a dozen or more people who each owned one or two cottages. The parcels of common allotted to the houses were to be as near to them as convenient. The conditions were arbitrary, as for instance.
"In case any person shall refuse or neglect to accept his, hers, theirs within three calendar months, such shall be totally excluded from having or receiving any benefit, or advantage from any Estate, Interest, or Right of Common whatsoever," and "Every dwelling house, cottage or building under one roof, though occupied or divided into two or more dwellings and being the property of one owner, shall be deemed and considered only as one dwelling," and "Every person to whom any part of the Common is allotted shall inclose and well and sufficiently fence and ditch it within such time and in such manner as the Commissioners shall order and direct." As though these regulations were not enough the cottagers then read "And be it further enacted that no sheep or lambs shall be kept in the said new inclosures during the space of seven years from the execution of the said Award unless the persons keeping such sheep or lambs fence their neighbours’ quicksets at their own expense, so as to prevent any damage being done to such quicksets."
The labourers in husbandry were not so well off after the passing of the Act of 1778. There may have been compensations for those who lived in cottages owned by others, but all had lost their common rights—the pasture for cattle, the pannage for hogs which had been theirs since Domesday, the right to gather fuel and the wild fruits, and the right to walk at will on the common, for "after such public Roads or Ways shall be set out and made it shall not be lawful for any person or persons to use any other Roads or Ways, either public or private, in, over, through, or upon the said Common or Waste Ground, or any part or parts thereof, either on foot or with any horse, cattle or carriages."
Nowadays we turn a tap and water flows for our use. We take this for granted and tend to forget that piped water is a compatively modern development. At the beginning of the century some of the larger houses had their own private sources of water, but the cottagers had to depend on wells or springs. During a drought in the early 1920s water carts were a daily sight in parts of the parish. The Enclosure Act of 1778 made special provision for some, declaring "That nothing in this Act contained shall prejudice, lessen or defeat the Right, Title or Interest of the said Thomas, Duke of Leeds, in respect of his separate right to a certain pond called Myms Pond; and also to the said Sir Charles Cocks, his right to a certain Pond used by him as a Reservoir to his House: and also reserving the Right of the Inhabitants of Bell Barr to the use of the Common Well there."
Arthur Young was an advocate for the enclosure of land but was greatly disappointed at the results, for, said he, "By nineteen out of twenty Inclosure Acts the poor are injured and most grossly." Of the 1778 Act which affected our parish he reported that "the soil was so miserably poor - much has been laid down to grass. "Poor rates at North Mymms ten years ago," he observed, "were 1s 6d to 2s. 0d. and are now 5s. 0d. It has the advantage of being the residence of people of fortune whose charitable attention to the poor in the past … keeping down the Poor Tax."
He may have been right in thinking that the kindness of the people of fortune kept the poor rate at a low level compared with that in other districts, but it is significant that for nearly half a century after the Enclosure Act became law poaching and petty thieving occurred among our ancestors.
The following entries culled from the sessions rolls at County Hall record some of the misdeeds and their punishments.
1789. Thomas Rumbold and Thomas Pateman, labourers of North Mymms, stripped 5cwt. of lead, value £3, from the roof of the church porch. Both were found guilty and transported for seven years.
1790. John Halsey and John Day stole a piece of bacon, value 7d. Both were found guilty and ordered to be privately whipped and passed home.
1805. Daniel Larman, for stealing a slab of timber value 1/6 from Henry Browne, sentenced to one month in jail.
James Williams, labourer, was an incorrigible poacher and during 1817 he received two sentences each of three months. The first was for poaching with nets in Fox’s Wood and a few weeks after being released he received his next sentence for "poaching at night and killing three pheasants in the same wood" belonging to Samuel Oaussen.
1808. James March, labourer, found guilty of stealing barley, value 6d. the property of Samuel Robert Gaussen, was sentenced to one year in the bridewell.
1825. James Warner stole six sheepskins from Thomas Nash Kemble, value 7/-. He was sentenced to one month’s hard labour in the bridewell.
1831. John Pedder, for stealing a smock frock value 2/-, was sentenced to three months hard labour and to be whipped.
But when at Michaelmas 1822 Joseph Shambrook, William Finch, James Webb and William Evans were charged with having stolen ten gallons of beer, value 5/-,from William Woodward of St. Stephens they were acquitted.
On the whole the people of North Mymms were, as now, a law-abiding, hard-working, God-fearing group of citizens. If they transgressed their punishment was harsh. The Rev. Horace Meyer tells of a "dear old couple" who were members of his flock when he first came to North Mymms. Many years before the wife and a grown-up son had been transported to Australia for seven years. The young man had stolen a watch, which he had brought home. The theft had been traced to him and he had been convicted. His mother was sentenced for receiving stolen property. The story, unlike many, had a happy ending, for having served her sentence the mother returned to England and the old couple had many years together living happily among their friends and neighbours.
NAMES AND NUMBERS
"Numbering the people", has always exercised a fascination over conqueror and conquered alike, but for more than 700 years after the great accounting which formed William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book no numbering on a national scale was undertaken until 1801. Since that date in every first year of every decade, except 1941, a census has been taken, the returns for which are stored in the Public Record Office, London.
After 1086, when twenty-nine adults made up North Mymms parish, the population grew slowly but steadily. From time to time the bishop of a diocese would require his parish priests to furnish him with figures concerning communicants and dissenters, and since hearth tax and window tax returns were probably estimated by a local personage the ecclesiastical returns, where they exist, are the most reliable for studying population changes.
In 1563 the Bishop of Lincoln, of whose huge diocese North Mymms formed part until 1845, set forth an inquiry, and from it we learn that seventy families lived in the parish. Forty years later there were 306 communicants over the age of sixteen.
Nonconformity was not strong in our parish, and it should be remembered that all dissenters who practised their faith were subject to legal penalties, but in 1640 "Isabel Moore, spinster, James Butler, Richard Wherrie and Kathleen his wife had not attended Divine Service for three months" and in 1664 John How and Francis Brock were indicted for failing to attend church.
A century passed and the number of families had risen to 100, among whom were six dissenters and two Methodists, and by 1801, 150 families, 838 persons, were living in 150 houses, with four empty houses in the parish.
When the Rev. Horace Meyer became vicar in 1856 he reported that the population was 1,300, but in 1870, when the Rev. A. S. Latter conducted a private census in order to estimate the number of school places that would be needed when the 1870 Education Act became law, the population had dropped to 1,183. His numbers as published in the parish magazine are interesting and were as follows: Welham Green and Marshmoor, 357; Bell Bar and Mymwood, 157; Bradmore, Reeves and Moffats, 107; Water End and Pancake Hall, 211; Roestock and Blue-houses, 245; Little Heath, 106; making a total of 1,183 souls living in 229 houses. There were seventeen empty houses in the parish. What had caused the drop in the population? Was the Rev. Horace Meyer estimating the numbers of his congregation when he came in 1856? It is interesting to read that the official census of 1871 produced exactly the same figures as the Rev. A. S. Latter had produced the previous year.
Kelly’s Directory for 1929 gives the census figures for 1921 as being 2,013 for the civil parish of North Mymms and 1,180 for the ecclesiastical parish, showing that the numbers for Little Heath had risen to 833 in half a century. Hertfordshire, Survey Report and Analysis of County Development Plan, published in 1951, gave the following numbers for the parish: Bell Bar, 100; Bullens Green, 70; Brookmans Park, 900; Little Heath, 850; North Mymms, Water End and Hawkshead, 300; Welham Green, 700; making a total of 3,620 souls. The strange thing about this set of numbers is that Little Heath had increased its population by only seventeen in the space of thirty years compared with an increase of 727 in the years between 1871 and 1921.
According to a survey carried out by the Women’s Institutes in 1965 there were 1,996 adults living in 922 houses in Welham Green alone. Of the members of the Welham Green institute only two had been born in the parish, but the majority of the members of the older branch claimed North Mymms as their birthplace. No longer could it be said that everyone in the parish knew everyone; nor, as it could have been said with some truth seventy years earlier, was everyone related to everyone else.
As the population has increased so has the number of surnames, but it is interesting to note how the older names persist. Some of our parish families can be traced back for at least 300 years. Leonard Pratchett was appointed petty constable of North Mymms in April 1676 and for a further 250 years this name appeared regularly in parish records. Some of our older citizens remember Pratchett the pupil teacher, who was the last of his family to live in the neighbourhood. Mr. John Tyler ended his term of office as chief constable for the Dacorum division in 1702. In 1763 Dan Martin was engaged on the restoration of the church and the Marlborough family played its part in the life of the parish.
Of the parishioners who gave their names to certain parts of the district the Travellers were still farming in the parish in the early nineteenth century. Susannah Traveller celebrated her ninetieth birthday in 1817 and three years later was in receipt of Sabine’s charity. The last of the Holloway family died towards the end of the last century, but a descendant of the Vyse or Wise family, who gave their name to a lane at Water End, is still among us. The name Vyse Lane occurs as long ago as 1697, when Burgess Common also occurs. Currell, Chuck, Hickson, Bean, Pollard, Day, Bodger and Franklin are still welt-known names in the parish. Probably the oldest name is that of Nash, for the family is said to have settled here at the time of the plague, 1665. They too have given their name to a crossroad in Welham Green and the original name for Moffatts House was Nash’s.
A name that has changed with the passing years is Beresford. The land this family left for the use of the poor of the parish as long ago as 1604 was known as Barefords in 1770. One hundred years later it had become Barfords. Today the area is known as Barfolds.
Hockey Lane at Water End has no associations with the game bearing the same name. Until the mid-1940s it was known as Occupation Lane, usually abbreviated to "Ockie." The lane was used by the employees on North Mymms estate. When the American general hospital was closed its buildings became a temporary housing estate for Hatfield Rural District Council, and it was then that the name Hockey Lane came into use.
Occupation Lane is the site of a much older thoroughfare, Mimms Street, which ran from Water End past Grange Farm - now known as Home Farm - and into the woods to join the road to South Mimms.
One day in August 1876 the Rev. F. C. Cass, rector of Monken Hadley and learned historian of South Mimms, brought a party of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society along the road from South Mimms. They were coming to visit our church. The Rev. F. C. Cass "read a paper on the various monuments and brasses for which our church is remarkable and an interesting address was also given by Mr. W. Walter on the brasses, comparing their present number and condition with the notes and drawings of them which he had made thirty-eight years before" reported the Rev. A. S. Latter in the parish magazine. The visitors were shown the amber tankard and the silver-gilt chalice, which were much admired.
The Rev. F. C. Cass evidently enjoyed the drive along the narrow road, which in no place exceeded twelve feet in width. He wrote: "The scenery traversed in passing from one parish to the other is pleasingly diversified at the present day whatever may have been its aspect in the olden time. From elevated ground reached shortly after entering the park the red-brick outline of Potterells with Brookmans on a higher site beyond. are conspicuous objects to the right. Alternate woodland and park-like undulations bring one to the brow of a slope, beneath which are visible the roofs and dormers and tall chimneys of the more modern mansion of North Mymms Place."
At that slope the road from South Mimms split into two, one arm bearing right and following along Occupation Lane to Water End. The left arm led to the church and vicarage, which, said the Rev. F. C. Cass, "approached from the house by a fine avenue of limes, are picturesquely situated in a valley within the precincts of the park and are a short distance to the east of the mansion."
Towards the end of last century the road from the church as far as the foot of the slope was diverted and the western half of the lime avenue became part of North Mymms estate. In its place the well-kept, holly-bordered road is the approach to what is now termed "the bridleway," which has altered little since the Rev. F. C. Cass drove along it nearly 100 years ago.
From medieval times the upkeep of the roads was the responsibility of the parish, and householders were compelled to work on them for six days every year. Anyone who caused damage to a road or neglected his length of road was not popular. In 1635 a complaint was lodged against "John Price, husbandman of North Mymes (who) has stopped up and obstructed with a hedge and a ditch a common footpath there in a meadow called Childes Meade leading from Coney to Hatfield." In October 1672 "Edward Roberts of North Myms, yeoman, dug up a cartway from a place called ‘Gubbens’ towards Hatfield."
During the seventeenth century our parish was under an obligation to contribute towards the upkeep of the Wadesmill bridge. It would seem that the representatives of some parishes had agreed together not to pay, for at the January 1648 sessions held at Hertford…and Robert Grigg of Northmymes, now or late Constables of the said several parishes aforesaid, shall be bound over to the next Quarter Sessions to answer for not paying to the Chief Constable such money as they ought to have paid towards the repairing of Wadesmill Bridge and Ford Bridge in this county."
In 1730 the Galley Corner Turnpike Trust was formed. It took over the responsibility for the maintenance of the main road, which ran from Galley Corner, Barnet, to Lemsford mill just beyond Hatfield. By collecting tolls from all users the turnpike system eased the burden thrown upon small parishes. At a general meeting in 1770 of the "Trustees appointed for putting into execution an Act for repairing the road from Galley Corner to Lemsford Mill the following order was made: ‘That it being impracticable for any wagon or any other four-wheeled carriage with the weight allowed for the same to be drawn up certain hills without great hazard, it is ordered that any number of horses not exceeding ten to be used for drawing up wagons with nine inch wheels, and not exceeding six for wagons with wheels of less than nine inches for drawing up the following hills; viz., a certain hill from the lane leading from North Mimms, in the parish of North Mimms, to Bell Barr containing in length 80 poles.’
The liability to provide" statute labour" on the roads was superseded in 1835, when it became legal to impose a parish rate. The vestry having made and collected the rate, the parish surveyor became responsible for paying out the money, and thereafter the accounts contain frequent references to materials and labour for road and bridge repairs. In 1843 gravel, costing 6d. per yard, was caned from Fox’s pit to repair the road at "Baloone Corner." Balloon Corner was an important junction where three roads - Dellsome Lane (known as Workhouse Lane in 1817), Huggens Lane and Parsonage Lane - met to become one road which led to Potterells and Muffets. One engaged in this heavy work was Sullen Stone, who must have been well over seventy in 1843, for in the parish magazine for April 1865 his death is recorded at the age of ninety-four. For his day’s work, with his two horses and his own cart, he received a meagre 10/-, the standard rate of 4/- for a man and 6/- for two horses.
According to the charity records, three widows, namely Mrs. Whittimore, Mrs. Starkey and Mrs. Wells, who were in receipt of parish relief were living at Balloon Corner at this time. These are some of the earliest references to Balloon Corner. The 1874 voters’ list shows W. Groom as entitled to a vote by virtue of owning a cottage at Balloon Corner.
During the early days of this century the parish council was anxious that the county council should prohibit motorcars from using Dellsome Lane because of its narrowness and sharp bends. A public inquiry was held at Colney Heath, when it was agreed that the sharp S bend should be straightened and other improvements carried out. The matter dragged on from year to year. The boys, bird-nesting or nutting at the proper seasons, continued to wander along the lane from Bullens Green and Blue Houses to school at Balloon Corner. The rare motorcar chugged along, startling the horse drawing the cart used by James the baker from the mill. The S bend was not straightened and its steep bank, a mass of dainty yellow toadflax during the late days of summer, was not flattened. The lane remains a pleasant, even if somewhat hazardous, walk at all seasons.
THE PARISH CHURCH
Set upon a gentle rise and reached by a walk between sweet smelling limes arching overhead to form a cool shade, a more peaceful spot for a church would be hard to imagine. In such a spot is our parish church, away towards the western boundary of the parish. It is not the first church to have been built here, but probably the second, possibly the third.
"Our little village church is such a small cathedral, as it were, in its beautiful proportions and architectural style, wrote the vicar, the Rev. A. S. Latter, in 1879. Consisting of nave, chancel, north and south aisles, chantry chapel, sturdy tower, vestry and south porch, the church of St. Mary the Virgin is an example of the Decorated period of architecture.
The wealth of a London merchant paid for the beautiful church. It was about 1316 when Simon de Swanland acquired the manor of North Mymms, and within twelve years he had built a chantry chapel, dedicated it to St. Katherine and endowed it for the maintenance of a priest. Another twelve years went by and his plans for a large church with transepts and central tower were being modified. Perhaps the family fortunes declined, perhaps shortage of labour due to the Black Death caused the decision to be made, but traces of the original plan are to be seen in the heavy construction of the chancel arch and in the filled-in arch in the east wall of the south aisle. And so the little gem was left and the de Swanland family departed.
A hundred years went by. Another wealthy London merchant, Knolles, lived in North Mymms and worshipped in the little church. He looked at the beautiful west doorway left by Simon de Swanland and, deciding to build a tower, carefully dismantled the doorway and used it as the entrance to his addition; thus it comes about that a fifteenth-century tower has a fourteenth-century doorway.
The church is a rare example of a Decorated church almost exactly as its builders left it. After another generation the Knolles family departed, leaving a brass memorial to Sir Robert, last male member of the family, Elizabeth his wife and two of their children. The figure of Sir Robert is missing.
The exterior of the church is of flint and Totternhoe stone patched in places with harder material. Inside is much of interest. Brasses to the Knolles, Boteler and other families, showing them in the armour and dress of their day, form a picture gallery at the east end of the chancel, but pride of place goes to one that is contemporary with the magnificent Abbot de la Mare brass in St. Albans abbey. This North Mymms brass is of a priest in full vestments and is a representation of William de Kestevene, who died in 1361.
In 1846 Charles R. Manning published a comprehensive List of Monumental Brasses remaining in England. His book was reviewed in the Ecclesiologist for November of that year, the reviewer taking Manning to task, saying "It should surely have been remarked that the Abbot de la Mare and the North Mims and Wensley Priests have the Wafer in their mouths. Again it is a great omission not to notice that the North Mims Priest is mutilated by the loss of the stem on which the effigy was originally supported."
The following delightful story was found among some old papers. It is headed "Cam: Camden Soc: extract on a Priest from North Mims." It is hand-written on two small pieces of thick paper, both of which have been repaired with stamp-edging. The handwriting is firm and thick and the ink is very black. It is undated. Two words are impossible to decipher and in two places the writer used question marks. Blanks have been left and the question marks inserted in the story, which is as follows:
"The property which had descended to him and which he was still in a condition to enjoy, he took the necessary steps for devoting to the service of God. Among these provisions one was to rebuild and endow the church of his birthplace, of which he afterwards became the pastor instead of the patron. Here on the exchange for the gifts of wealth and leisure he tasted the blessedness of him who has authority to visit the bed of sickness and death, or the abode of sin and shame: the courage and oversight of an afflicted flock that took the Word of God from his mouth, and the blessed Sacraments from his hands, replaced the endearments of domestic joys, and as he ministered in holy things to them over whom he might have been Lord, he felt no doubt how much such service was above such sovereignty, and how truly that life was well spent and rich enough in blessings which had kept before his eyes so constant and promising hope of heaven. Such examples even in our days of worldly calculation and selfishness are not without their counterpart, whether we seek it among those who live in collegiate retirement, dedicate their hearts and understandings to God’s service, leaving a busy world [-] out to them an equivalent for that more durable blessedness of which so often it points the attainment; or among those who, mourning over the spiritual destitution of God’s people spare not of their substance or [-] the honours of God in the land. And thus his course finishes, he lies interred amidst the harvest of which he had sown the seed, amongst those his spiritual children whom this brass his only memorial, served to remind of him who had led as well as pointed the way to heaven. Yes (?) his only memorial; for lest the reader of these pages should marvel too painfully as to the sources from which we have penned these particulars, or, more boldly distrustful, should venture to enquire our authority, we think it right at this point to acknowledge that not one word of what we have said has any historical or traditional foundation, and in all probability not one syllable is true. But we may hope it may be pardonable to have penetrated into the regions of fancy in search of shadows of things that were, whereupon to sketch a picture of what might have been: to borrow the lights and shadows from the outline of a character to which some might probably be found in that day to answer, if not he whom it professes to recall, which might on a fair average represent the priest of many an humble village of the 14th century, ‘fit does not in every respect and with perfect accuracy recall (?) the chaliced Priest of North Mims."
Note. The Cambridge Camden Society was founded in 1839 by two undergraduates at Trinity to "promote the study of ecclesiastical art, architecture and worship and to encourage seemly church building and restoration today." In 1845 the society moved to London and changed its name to the Ecclesiological Society.
The brass of Richard Butler (Boteler) and his young wife, Martha, is 200 years later than that of the priest and has a most interesting inscription which reads:
"This tombe enclosed houldeth fast a Martha both by name an life In love sure lynkt while breath did last to Richard Butler spowsed wife, Who did not drawe full twentie yere the fatall lyne of Lachis threede, Yet did in tender youth appeare a matrone both in word and deede: Shee feared God and sought his prayse, a world it was to heare and see How godlie shee did ende her dayes, a myroure surely might she be: In birth to her he gave no place, yet shee for blood a worthie matche, He did discend of knightlie race, and she of whence she sprang did smatch. Of olyve tree she was a braunche cut of, of purpose ye may well say From worldly soyle to make the chaunge, a heavenlie place for to enjoye. And surely what of hir is said no whit to him can be disprayse: In him was such efoundac’on layd as did continue since alwaies. Ech wight in him such vertue found by tried truth to explane, For dew desert yee trumpett sounde, for to pronounce his worthie fame. In earth yt wight have ever care to lyve upright in cyvill sorte, He might of all the standert beare of faithful friendshippe by report: But shee did first begyn the daunce in flowring yeares to pass the way .…deathe dothe lyfe advaunce which he since walket and both injoy."Poor young Martha in her pretty hood and elaborate ruff!
The brass of Henry Covert (1488) shows him in splendid Tudor armour, his feet resting on a lion and with his sword suspended in front of him. Two shields bearing the Coven arms are placed on either side. For many years these shields were missing, perhaps stolen or moved and lost when all the brasses were removed from the floor. In 1955 they were recovered and placed in their rightful positions.
Below the brass of Henry Covert are four small brasses showing a man, his wife and their family of four sons and six daughters. They are unnamed but probably date from 1490, as they are wearing the everyday dress of early Tudor times.
A long narrow brass tablet placed below the piscina bears an inscription to Thomas Hewes and his wife, Elizabeth, of Uxbridge. It dates from 1590.
A memorial of an altogether different nature is the marble figure of Justice which dominates the chancel. It is the memorial to Lord John Somers, Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of William of Orange and his wife, Mary, daughter of James II. With the possible exception of Sir Thomas More, Lord John Somers was the most important person connected with English history to have lived in our parish. This great Whig lawyer was one of the seven who invited William to come to England in 1688 and for many years was a close adviser to the royal pair.
Among his friends he numbered William Congreve the dramatist, Sir Isaac Newton the scientist and Dean Swift, who dedicated his "Tale of a Tub" to him. In 1700 he fell into disgrace through becoming involved in the affairs of a notorious pirate, Captain Kidd, and a few months later he bought Andrew Fountaine’s new house at Brookmans, where he died, a saddened, paralysed man, sixteen years later.
On the opposite wall we can read of Sir Davidge Gould, Admiral of the Red, and last surviving captain of the memorable battle of the Nile, who died in 1847 when nearly ninety years old. He lived at Hawkshead, but it is not known when he acquired the property, though it was certainly before 1809, for in that year he gave £10 towards the repairs to the church spire. He was one of the trustees elected in January 1815 to manage the parish charities. His wife continued to live at Hawkshead until her death in 1855. The stained-glass window in the tower is a memorial to her.
There is one other marble memorial in the chancel - interesting because it is to descendants of Lord John Somers and amusing on account of its wording. Lord John Somers, a bachelor, left his property to his sisters Mary, wife of Charles Cocks, and Elizabeth, wife of Joseph Jekyll. Following the death of Lady Jekyll in 1745, Brookmans came into the possession of the Cocks family, who assumed the title of Somers Cocks. From the memorial we learn that Mary Judith Cocks, daughter of Charles, "had lively parts, a good understanding and the best of dispositions" when she died "in the bloom of youth" in September 1785.
The little slate tablet down in the south-east corner of the chancel is the memorial to the baby daughter of Andrew Fountaine. The beautifully incised elephants’ heads, part of the Fountaine arms, should not be missed. The baby girl with the very long name, Theophila, died in March 1671/2 when only six months old.
The alabaster altar tomb in the window recess in the north aisle deserves more than a passing glance. It is the tomb of the Beresforde or Barford family, who lived in the parish during the sixteenth century. They were early benefactors of the parish, leaving land for the use of the parishioners. A charming figure of a lady, her skirt hanging in graceful folds, her ruff framing her face, embroidered gillyflowers trailing over her sleeves and her long, slender hands meekly clasped in prayer, is incised on its top. This is Elizabeth - or is it her sister Mary, who died three months after her in the summer of 1584? Although the raised-letter inscription round the edge of this lovely tomb is almost indecipherable, the shields, all charged with the arms of Beresforde of Bentley, are in perfect condition. The arms are delightful little bears with chains around their necks.
In the chantry chapel can be seen another interesting altar tomb. It is probably that of Elizabeth Frowick, whose mother was Anne Knolles of this parish. When Elizabeth married John Coningsby of Lincoln they founded a family which lived in the parish for more than 300 years. Their grandson, Ralph, built North Mymms House; their great-grandson was the Royalist who suffered imprisonment in the Tower because of his loyalty to his king, Charles I; and the last descendant to live in the parish was Coningsby Charles Sibthorp, who in 1875 gave ground to enlarge the churchyard. Boundary stones with his initials and the date can be seen in the north-west part of the churchyard.
The stained glass in the east window is modern, designed by Martin Travers to replace a war-time loss. The lovely Nunc Dimittis window in the north aisle is a memorial to the Cotton Curtis family who lived at Potterells at the turn of the century.
A handsome oak board bears the names of all our vicars. Thomas de St. Albans, instituted in 1237, heads a long line of dedicated men. One had as his curate Henry Peacham, who had a son born in 1576. The son, also named Henry, was a brilliant scholar who settled in London, where he translated tracts for James I. John Clarke became vicar of North Mymms in 1640 and had an adventurous life. His neighbour was the Royalist, Sir Thomas Coningsby, and doubtless they had the same political views, for in 1645 John was evicted and transported to the West Indies. At the Restoration in 1660 he came back and served this parish for a further twenty-two years.
The coat of armsThe Dukes of Leeds who owned North Mymms estate for 114 years prior to 1799 were descended from colourful and able ancestors. One had had a share in altering the course of our country’s history, for he, like Lord John Somers, was one of the seven who signed the invitation (1688) to William of Orange suggesting he take over the government of England from his father-in-law, James II.
The Dukes of Leeds became owners of North Mymms by marriage. In 1658 Sir Thomas Hyde, lord of the manor of Aldbury, purchased North Mymms from the Coningsby family. His heiress was his daughter, Bridget, who, on marrying Peregrine Osborne, son and heir of the first Duke of Leeds, took the estate to that important political family. It would seem that the Dukes of Leeds did not develop affection for the place, as for the greater part of their ownership the estate was let for long periods at a time. One who rented the property was Dame Lydia Mews. That she left the lovely amber tankard to the church and a large charity to the poor of the parish would seem to indicate that she became attached to the neighbourhood.
It might be true to say that the ducal servants made more impression on the parish than did their ducal masters. A group of memorial stones in the south-east portion of the churchyard bears the names of members of the Mawe family, the earliest dated 1746, the last 1805. One, dated 1778, is that of Thomas Mawe, "late Steward to his grace the Duke of Leeds." Thomas Mawe was a churchwarden as well as the paid steward of the church charities. No doubt he was encouraged in his public work by his master, Thomas, the fourth Duke of Leeds, and when the duke decided to place a royal coat of arms in church it was Thomas Mawe who entered the details into the account book, not forgetting to add "due tome £2 11s. 6d." In the list of owners said to have a claim upon the common of North Mymms in 1778 Thomas Mawe had four cottages which were allotted two acres each when the Enclosure Act of that year became law.
During his long reign from 1760 to 1820 George III was frequently ill, and it is possible that the royal coat of arms was placed in our church after the king’s recovery from an attack in 1774. 14 years later the king had a severe attack which lasted for more than a year, but by January 1789 he was so much recovered that he was able to return to Windsor. Thanksgiving services were arranged throughout the country, and here in North Mymms the church-wardens paid 2/6 for a "Prayer & etc. for His Majesty’s Recovery" to be used on March 7. No doubt the Duke of Leeds was among those who met to give thanks for the king’s recovery, but a few days later when the king went in state to Parliament there was the duke in his accustomed place. George III was so touched by the old duke’s devotion that he sent personal thanks to him for "risking his life in his service by coming to the House of Lords at his age." It had all been too much for the old duke, now aged seventy-six, and Lady Bessborough wrote in her journal "We heard of the death of the Duke of Leeds on the following day."
Another ducal servant, the Rev. John Hickson, M.A., is remembered by a marble tablet on the north wall of the church. He "expired without a groan "in December 1794.
His master was Francis, third son and heir of Thomas, fourth Duke of Leeds, and his wife, Mary, granddaughter of Sarah Jennings, Duchess of Marlborough. Mary died when Francis was a little boy of eight and he seems to have had an indifferent upbringing. He was, we are told, amiable, of only moderate ability, very vain, wrote comedies and was a fellow of the Royal Society. By the time he was twenty-two he had married the beautiful, high-spirited Amelia, Baroness Conyers.
At the time of the Enclosure Act, Francis was listed as being one of the trustees for the poor of the parish, but as he was Lord-Lieutenant of the East Riding of Yorkshire his participation in North Mymms affairs could not have been very active.
Amelia, his wife, met and eloped with Captain John Byron in 1779, leaving two small boys, George and Francis, in the care of their grandfather. These little boys were the pupils of the Rev. John Hickson. Francis became the fifth Duke of Leeds when Thomas, his father, died in 1789, but he enjoyed his possessions for the short period of less than ten years. Within a few months of his death the sixth duke had sold North Mymms to Henry Browne.
There is no record that the Rev. John Hickson took any part in parochial affairs, and in that respect he followed his master’s example.
The amber tankard and its ownerMany ancient churches possess unusual treasures, and North Mymms church is no exception, its unusual treasure being the unique 300-year-old amber tankard. Made in Nuremberg in 1659, its eight panels of amber are set in straps of silver gilt. The panels are carved in low relief with figures symbolic of the virtues, lively animals decorate rim and base, and St. George and the dragon appear on the lid. Only one other tankard of nearly like design and workmanship is known to exist, and that has the vices where the North Mymms tankard has the virtues.
The Rev. G. Staunton Batty, vicar from 1880 until 1911, left a description of the figures carved on the amber panels. They are (1) Industry with distaff, (2) Faith with cross and chalice, (3) Fortitude with column, (4) Justice with sword and scales, (5) Charity with children, (6) Hope with anchor, (7) Temperance with ewer and goblet, (8) Innocence with book and lamb.
This unique tankard was left to the church by Dame Lydia Mews, who died in 1751. She rented North Mymms Place from the Duke of Leeds, whose family were its owners from 1685 until 1799. She was the fourth daughter of George Jarvis, of Islington, and became the wife of Sir Peter Mews, M.P. for Christchurch, Hampshire, and chancellor of the diocese of Winchester. She was born in 1676 and her will was made when she was about fifty years old. Dame Lydia had no children of her own, but she was probably a "favourite aunt" and a kindly lady to all if we believe the inscription on the memorial which her nephew, Benjamin Clerke, erected on the north wall of the church.
By her will Dame Lydia left a large charity to the poor of the parish, the amber tankard to the church and exact instructions as to her burial. This was not a whim, nor was it sentiment. As the wife of a Member of Parliament one would expect her to have had respect for the laws of the land, but, like so many wealthy people of her day she objected to being buried "in woollen," therefore she stated which of her nightdresses was to be used for her burial.
All through the Middle Ages wool had been England’s chief export, bringing wealth to Church and State alike. Many of the magnificent churches of Suffolk and of the Cotswolds were built by wealthy wool merchants, and even today the Lord Chancellor sits on a woolsack in the House of Lords, a reminder of the days when wool was our chief source of wealth. After the Hundred Years War and the final loss of Calais in Mary Tudor’s reign the wool trade with Flanders grew less and less until in 1666 an Act of Parliament was introduced decreeing burial in woollen as an "encouragement of the woollen manufactures of the kingdom and prevention of the exportation of money for the buying and importing of linen."
A special register of "burials in woollen" was to be kept and a penalty for disobedience imposed. The penalty, a fine of £5, was to be divided equally between the poor of the parish and whoever informed that the burial was not in woollen. Although the Act was not repealed until 1814 it had fallen into abeyance long before that time. The North Mymms register for burials in woollen dates from 1679 to 1749 and is now at the County Record Office. Dame Lydia did not die until 1751, but one has the feeling that her nephew, Benjamin, would have respected her wishes had she died earlier and her name would not have appeared in the register as having been buried in "woollen."
Two other clauses in the will of this interesting, strong-minded lady are part of the history of the parish. The large sum of £200 left to be invested and the interest to be spent on buying bread for "distribution on Sunday to such poor as attend Divine Service at the Church of this parish" was faithfully observed. Her "bread charity," with those of Mistress Anne Hunter and Miss Holmes, was dispensed regularly until 1932, when all the charities were consolidated with the approval of the Charity Commissioners and the funds used in other useful ways.
The story of the amber tankard, however, is very different. The original use of the tankard was as a beer mug, and although Dame Lydia’s executors were instructed to see that it stood upon the altar of the church it is doubtful if this was ever carried out. Usually it was kept in a safe place and only brought out to show to important visitors, though it would seem that it did at some time receive rough treatment, for in 1806 the churchwardens paid £2/l/- for repairs.
The years went by, until at the end of the nineteenth century the tankard became "news." The bells needed repairs - nothing had been done to them since Briant, the famous bell-founder of Hertford, had rehung them in 1806 - and the question arose of where to get the money for the needed repairs. The suggestion was put forward that the sale of the tankard would produce more than enough to repair the bells and the vicar, the Rev. G. S. Batty, wrote to the bishop, whose reply was as follows:
"My dear Batty, - You know my opinion about the tankard. I don’t believe the donor gave it in order to save the pockets of those who desire to rehang the bells, but I do not stand in the way of the case going to the chancellor by application for a faculty. So please do not think yourself bound to oppose the church-wardens’ idea. Let them do what they wish and think right. I thank you for your kind letter and your loyalty. Yours sincerely, J. W. Alban."
This was the Bishop’s second letter on the subject. His first, dated July 1899, indicated that he was opposed to the sale of the tankard.
Mr. Batty, however, bustled off to London, where he had a talk with the curator of the British Museum. He was shown the other tankard and he came home bursting with the news that our tankard was probably worth £400. The matter dragged on until the Easter vestry of 1901, when churchwarden Mr. Cotton Curtis, of Potterells, formally proposed the sale of the tankard and called a special meeting for April 24 to discuss the proposed sale.
The parish magazine for May 1901 reports as follows:
"The vestry meeting called for the 24th ult. to decide whether the amber tankard was to be submitted to the chancellor’s decision as to his permitting its sale to enable us to ring with safety our church bells proved rather a stormy one, but as it has been reported in the Herts Advertiser at length it is only needful to say that a poll has been arranged for Saturday the 4th inst. from five to eight in the afternoon, in order that each person who is on the list of parochial electors may freely give his own individual and independent opinion as to what he or she thinks advisable in the matter. May all uncharitableness, as we so often pray, be put entirely away from us and let us give one another credit for voting in the way our conscience and sense of right may direct us!"
By this time the news had found its way into the national press and the vicarage was visited by a constant stream of reporters and others, all anxious to see the tankard that was causing such a storm in a tea-cup. The vicar was apprehensive for the safety of the tankard, and his daughter, when recalling those days, wrote in 1965:
"My father was afraid it would be stolen and he used to bring it into the vicarage at night and place it in his bedroom. I know amber tankard thieves were a real fear when I was young. Now, there is a memorial to Lady Mews on the north wall of the church and in the midst of all this upheaval an urn from its top fell down and cracked the seat below. Some people said Lady Mews was angry at the thought of her gift being sold. Others said she wants to show that she knows that the bells and church need repairing, but this did not decide the controversy."
The June issue of the magazine tersely reports another stormy meeting: "The poll demanded at the vestry meeting, held on the 24th April, as to whether the sale of the amber tankard for repairs in the belfry should be submitted to the decision of the chancellor of the diocese, resulted in a very decisive opinion against the adoption of such a course, the number being 36 for and 103 against it. The amber tankard remains, therefore, the property of the church."
But the bells still needed repairing and an appeal was launched for voluntary subscriptions. To make the appeal topical and attractive it was launched as a "memorial" to Queen Victoria, who had died on January 22. The money was raised, the bells were repaired and a little brass tablet, costing £6/1/6, bought from the Army and Navy Stores is the only tangible memorial North Mymms has to Victoria’s long and glorious reign.
As so much anger and dissension had been caused among the parishioners, and as the amber tankard was a very valuable piece of property which was never used in the way its donor, Dame Lydia Mews, had desired, the vestry consented to the tankard being offered on permanent loan to the British Museum. It is safer there and many more people can enjoy the beauty of it than would be the case were it always at home in North Mymms.
A glance up at the little urn which tops Dame Lydia’s memorial will show that that part nearest the wall is chipped and removal of the cushion on the seat below will show the crack made so many years ago - proofs, if needed, of a little story disclosed so short a time ago.
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In addition to the amber tankard the church possesses some beautiful silver. This has been displayed at the flower festivals organized by the church council and has excited much interest and admiration.
No doubt the commissioners appointed by Henry VIII removed much of great value from the church, and to judge from the vestments depicted upon the brass of William de Kestevene rich embroidery and gorgeous materials must also have been removed. A quarter of a century later, during the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI, the commissioners reported that they had found a chalice of silver gilt and another of silver, a cope of crimson velvet embroidered with gold, another of damask embroidered with flowers and "an old one of green silk" together with six other vestments, a cross of copper and gilt, some candlesticks and two censers. William Dodde, second husband of Elizabeth Frowyke, signed this inventory, but gives no clue as to the fate of the goods. None of the silver now belonging to the church is of pro-Reformation date.
The oldest piece of silver is the chalice made in London about 1570, having two bands of strapwork round the bowl but no other marks. A copy was made from it during last century. A flagon of 1707 and a paten of 1717 bear the device of six ostrich feathers enclosed in a lozenge. This is part of the Jarvis arms as shown below the memorial to George Jarvis and poses the question "Who gave them to the church?" They were in secular use, it would seem, before they became the property of the church, and one wonders if they, like the tankard, were a gift from Dame Lydia Mews, daughter of the said George Jarvis.
A dainty covered cup of silver gilt made in Nuremberg in 1610 was left to the church by Charles de Laet, who lived at Potterells from 1753 until his death in 1792. It is strange that, although there are memorials of the 1750-1800 period to be found in the churchyard, there is no memorial, either inside or outside the building, to any member of the Coningsby family. It therefore seems safe to assume that Charles de Laet and the other members of the Coningsby family were buried in the vault below the floor of the Lady chapel. When the Coningsby family sold their North Mymms estate to Sir Thomas Hyde in 1658 they reserved to themselves the right of burial within the chapel and Cussans, the most learned of our county’s historians, gives the names of some of the Coningsby family who were buried below the floor of the Lady chapel.
Of the modern silver the most interesting is the altar cross often thought to be contemporary with the seventeenth-century candlesticks and, like them, to have been made in Germany. The cross was, to quote from the parish magazine for November 1926, "designed by Mr. Blacking to harmonize with the ancient silver candlesticks presented by Mrs. Burns a few years ago. The work is now in hand and is being effected by Mr. Knight, of Wellingborough, a master of his craft. The council expressed their gratitude to Miss Gaussen for this magnificent gift, which will complete a set of silver ornaments such as is seldom seen in any church."
The beautifully modelled figure superimposed on the cross is of even later date, having been made in 1949. The figure is iridium plated (iridium is an element of the platinum group) and it too was a gift from Miss Gaussen.
The magnificent candlesticks referred to by the Rev. Charles Gordon Ward were made by Johann Wolfgang, of Augsburg. A pair of lovely lidded cups each bearing the inscription "This Kup is my gift to thee, when ye raise it to thy lips, pray ye, think of me" and dated 1614 were gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Walter Burns in 1919.
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When the commissioners of Edward VI came to North Mymms in 1553 they reported that they also found "a Saunce bell in the Steple" (sic). Presumably they left it as being of little value. This is the sanctus or saint’s bell and was originally rung at the act of consecration at mass to call all who heard it to join in the act of worship. This little bell, measuring fourteen inches in diameter, is probably a century and a half older than the other bells in the tower and may be as old as the tower itself, which was built about 1450. The saintly Sir Thomas More may have heard this little bell when he worshipped in his parish church in the country.
Sir Henry Chauncy, a famous Hertfordshire historian, visited our church towards the end of the seventeenth century, and he found "a square tower wherein is a ring of five bells with a fair spire of lead erected upon it." Bellringing as we know it was not practised until long after the Reformation, although "ringing days" occurred throughout the year. The number of days varied from year to year, but always included the sovereign’s birthday, coronation day, oakapple day and Guy Fawkes day. From the churchwardens’ accounts we learn that the ringers were paid in beer, five shillingsworth for every ringing day; thus this entry confirms Chauncy’s statement that there were five bells in the tower.
By 1806 the bells were in need of repair and the famous bell-founder John Briant, of Hertford, was entrusted with the work. It is assumed that in the process of recasting Briant made six bells from the metal at his disposal, for the beer allowance was increased to six shillings for every ringing day after 1810. Into the moulds of the bells was incorporated the inscription "John Briant, Hertford, fecit 1806." The tenor bell, which weighs l3cwt. and has a diameter of 421 inches, has an additional inscription, "Gloria Deo in excelsis," and the names of the churchwardens, Joseph Sabine and Richard Mason. The little sanctus bell was also rehung, and while work was proceeding on the bells extensive repairs were being carried out on the tower. It was at this time that the fair spire of lead recorded by Chauncy was replaced by an even fairer spire of copper. It weathered to a delightful shade of green and was a landmark for miles around, but ravages by death-watch beetle to the timbers supporting it led to its removal in 1953. Its loss is still mourned by our older parishioners.
The old custom of ringing the "harvest bell" to tell the women and girls that gleaning could be started in the fields was carried out in our parish until 1860, when the churchwardens’ accounts show that the ringer was paid in money, not in beer. The Rev. T. Hans Satheby had abolished the unsatisfactory method of paying by means of an allowance of beer and had insisted that from 1845 ringers should be paid in money.
The parish magazine for October 1867 records the formation of a "ringing class" (two names in that class, Nash and Groom, are known in the parish today), but no change ringing was attempted until 1911. With the two additional bells given by Lord and Lady Clauson at the end of World War I, the tower has a ring of eight bells. The first peal on the eight bells, Stedman triples, 5,040 changes in two hours forty-seven minutes, was rung on April 21, 1921, while the first peal by an entirely local band was of bob triples, 5,040 changes, on January 17, 1924.
Throughout the years, in addition to the major repairs which have been carried out on the bells, there have been what might be called the day-to-day expenses. In 1846 the churchwardens were presented with a bill which read:
"6 new bell ropes with best worsted Sallies .. £3 5s. 0d.
Rope for the Ting-tang 2s. 0d."
By 1870 the price had risen to £3/10/- and the "sallies" had become "lollies," but there was no mention of rope for the ting-tang.
A Churchyard is part of the history of a parish, and its memorials to former parishioners are the products of local craftsmen. Large, carefully tended and particularly beautiful in the spring when its drifts of snowdrops and daffodils delight the eye, our churchyard is typical of country parishes. The Churchyards Handbook 1962 suggests that a record should be made of memorial inscriptions, especially any that are of local interest. One who would have agreed with this suggestion was Frederick T. Cansick, who left a list of those he found in our churchyard in 1888.
Time and weather have done their worst, and many of the inscriptions are now illegible, while some have disappeared altogether, but of those that are still legible the oldest is on the slate ledger stone of Thomas Huxley, who lived at Skimpans and died in the eighty-ninth year of his age in March 1695/6.
Cansick noted the following:
"Censure not rashly, Nature’s apt to halt, That man’s not born That dies without a fault."
This unusual epitaph, often quoted in books of reference, is not unique to our churchyard. There is, or was some years ago, a memorial stone bearing these words to be found in Essendon churchyard and no doubt there were and are others.
The North Mymms example is on the memorial stone to "Mr. Joseph Hawkes, Wheeler, of this Parish," who died in August 1798, aged seventy-three. It shelters beneath the fine giant redwood which is to be seen on the left of the path as one approaches the church.
We know very little about this wheelwright who lived in our parish, but that he was a good one we may be sure. He may have lived in Welham Green, for it is recorded that at Michaelmas 1775 he was paying £5 rent "for the closes by the workhouse." He served his church as a churchwarden. In 1771 be travelled to London with Thomas Mawe, his fellow warden, and their total expenses on "Church business amounted to 12/6. He served his fellow men, and as parish overseer in 1777 be dealt sympathetically with his poorer neighbours.
One who served his fellow men in a different capacity lies but a short distance from the wheelwright. "Mr. John Cobourne, sergeant in the North Mims Company of Volunteers" died on January 2, 1806, aged twenty-three. His memorial stone is a reminder of the threat of invasion by Napoleon.
At least four of the vicars who served the parish "lie amid their flocks," and the beautiful Renaissance altar tomb of the Rev. John Alkin, who died in 1749, can be found in the south-east corner of the churchyard. He had "for forty years conscientiously discharged the duty of vicar" and was "universally lamented by his parishioners who knew and felt his worth."
Memorials to "valued servants" were noted by Cansick, among them one to Elizabeth Bunning, who died in 1859, aged sixty-one, and who for thirty-eight of those years had "lived a valued and attached servant in the families of 0. J. Bosanquet, C. Franks and H.. W. Gaussen, Esquires," local wealthy families who were interrelated by marriage.
There are few crosses in the churchyard, but two that were erected by public subscription are interesting - one to a loved schoolmaster, George Foster, "fourteen years the faithful schoolmaster of this parish," who died in harness in December 1880, and the other, a little cross placed near the fence under the old elm tree, the memorial to a little boy who died from hydrophobia on New Year’s Eve, 1884.
"O base ungrateful thought
To call the grave the last long home of man,
‘Tis but a lodging, held from week to week
Till Christ shall come."
These words occur on the gravestone of two young girl friends who died within a week of each other and who were buried together a few paces from the west door.
Unusual names and forgotten names of places can be found on some memorial stones, thus Crammer and Shirtclilt surnames, and Market Street, the old name for the village of Markyate, are to be seen in our churchyard. Market Street became the home of Elizabeth, the daughter of Joseph Hawkes, the wheelwright. Elizabeth’s husband had the unusual Christian name of Barnset.
In the north portion of the churchyard there is a memorial stone to Charles Flint, who died in 1836. He is recorded as being of Delsome Cottage, a property that has long since disappeared but whose site is shown on old maps. A few paces away can be seen a small marble tablet built into the fabric of the exterior wall of the chantry chapel. Its inscription is simple: "Hatcher Farmer, the Son of Edward Farmer, Gent. Obit Sep. 10. 1702."
The two wives of Thomas Smith lie beside each other by the path in the south-east corner of the churchyard. Dorcas, the first wife, died on January 31, 1747, aged fifty, and Sane, the second wife, died six years later. On the memorial stone to Dorcas her husband is said to have been of Water End, but on that of Jane his home is given as North Mimes. Was the spelling a mistake made by the mason?
There is an unusual epitaph on the memorial stone of John Welch. It is a variant of one that had been popular for a century and a half before John Welch died in 1753. Instead of the more usual wording - a fine example of which can be seen on a magnificent altar tomb in the church at Arkesden, Essex - the epitaph in our churchyard reads:
"As I am, so must you be, Therefore prepare to follow me."
The unknown mason who cut the delightful cherubs on the memorials to the Wood family and he who cut the lettering on the memorials in the south-east portion of the churchyard were masters of their craft, for though more than 200 years have gone by since the stones were placed in the churchyard the cherubs are still there for us to enjoy as we wonder at the skill displayed by rural craftsmen.
The changing pattern of country life, however, meant that no longer could a master mason with an apprentice or two hope to gain a livelihood in his home parish, for by the early 1820s iron foundries were manufacturing cheap memorials with prongs to be inserted into the ground. One only remains in our churchyard and it is now fastened to the western boundary fence. Wooden "bed-rails," too, were to be seen; the last, a memorial to Sarah Giles, disappeared some fifteen years ago.
"Praises on tombs are trifles vainly spent, A man’s good name is his best monument."
These words occurred on the tomb of Mr. James Goddard, who died in 1754, and were, perhaps, intended as a gentle sermon to those who passed by.
* * *
CHURCHWARDENS' ACCOUNTS AND OTHER MATTERS
The churchwardens' accounts of yesteryear provide interesting side-lights on the day-to-day life of the parish, while the bills paid by those officials are in striking contrast with today's cost-of-living and labour charges. The accounts that have survived commence in 1762 and the book is at County Hall, Hertford.
In 1763 the church underwent extensive repairs, and among those who contributed to the cost were the. Duke of Leeds, of North Mymms Place; Mistress Sambrook, of Gubbins; Charles de Laet, of Potterells; and John Cocks, of Brookmans. (John Cocks's mother had inherited from her brother, Lord John Somers.) Another contributor was Mistress Mary Biddulph, sister of Dame Lydia Mews. Mary's first husband was Gilbert Browne, of Skimpans.
The work of restoration seems to have taken six or seven months to do. The lead was removed and the Duke of Leeds and Charles de Laet carted it, free of charge, to Hatfield, where it was weighed and recast for further use. The first expense was incurred, for the people's warden made the entry "June 4th. Putting up my Horse two days at Hatfield to weigh the Lead, 0. 1. 0." Three weeks later: "Paid a man for carrying a letter from the committee to the plumbers 6d." and on the same day the curious entry “Workmen to drink at ye Church by Consent of the vestry Is. 6d."
Three workmen whose names are given were probably local men. Dan Martin, the bricklayer, was paid £48/10/6 for work done between July and December; John Shepard, the carpenter, received £36/14/9 for work which took a year to do; and Cornelius Nicholas, the painter, received £14/9/6 for his work. The unnamed plumber was paid £40/10/- from the total cost of £155/18/2.
It would appear that by the autumn the repairs were complete, for on October 25 "William Hurrill for fetching water to clean ye Church" was paid 10/10. Betty Underwood used the water to do the cleaning and was paid £l/2/-. She was assisted by "John Hawkes's daughter, who received seven shillings." A final bill for various locks, bolts, staples and "iron handle to open the door : the screen in the chancel" was settled in November.
Nearly 100 years later extensive repairs were again undertake and again subscribers paid the bills, which totalled £1,186/18/7. Whereas in 1763 the highest amounts contributed were £21 frcm the Duke of Leeds and ten guineas each from Charles de Laet and John Cocks, in 1859 five subscribers each gave £100 and Mr. Gaussen also gave two windows and a pew, while Mr. Daniell, of Mofatts, gave the font that is in use today. It was during this restoration that the brasses were taken from the floor and place: on the walls of the chancel.
The Bishop of Worcester preached at the reopening of the church which took place on Tuesday, May 17, 1859, but it was a very sad vicar who took his part in the service. His much-loved mother had died during the previous week and he had had to take the funeral service on Monday. His thankfulness at the restoration of the church was further marred by a dispute that had arisen with one his parishioners. The record is as follows.
On Friday, January 13, 1860, the Archdeacon of St. Albarns visited North Mymms church to investigate certain complaints made by Mr. Lysley on the subject of the allotment of pews. Mr Lysley's tenant at Mimwood Farm, Mr. Milward, complained of his allotted pew being behind those occupied by Mrs. Kemble’s and Mr. Lysley's servants. This complaint was sustained and a change made.
Churchwardens were warned "to give precedence to resident occupiers and ratepayers over servants of private families when allotting pews." The seating plan made at the time is framed and is preserved in the porch.
Throughout the accounts there are entries of payments made to the poor and to itinerant travellers. In 1773 "Gave to the weaver: and other travellers 5s. Od." and at Christmas 1793 "four distrest sailors" received 2/6. Dames Knight and Johnson and Wide Nicholls received small amounts from time to time. When J. Flacon had to be taken to Bethlem hospital the churchwardens paid F Hart 10/- for carrying out the melancholy service. The following entry refers to a tragedy which befell a little family during February 1847: "1847. Apr, 2. Paid to persons engaged in the recovery of the bodies drowned at Water End and to John Massey for refreshments, £3 17s. 9d." A mother and her two children who were crossing the frozen ford in a pony-trap were swept away and drowned, though the husband was saved. The men who were engaged in the rescue work were Gower, "Marlbrow" and Groom — all local men. John Massey, landlord of the Maypole, was paid 18/5 for the refreshments he served and the men shared the rest of the money allowed by the churchwardens.
When the vicar, the Rev. Anthony Webster, needed a new "surplus" in 1789 Mistress Dillin, who made it, was paid 10/6 and when, four years later, it needed mending it cost the churchwardens another half-crown.
The beadle must have been an impressive figure as he went about his parochial duties. Payments for new coats and hats are frequent, but only in 1843 and 1848 are we given details. In the earlier year Boddington, the beadle, had a "new Blue Coat with Scarlet Collar and Gilt Buttons" costing £2/10/- and five years later Hankin of Hatfield supplied a "Stout Paris Hat with Gold Lace Band and Buckle" for £4/14/-.
Whitewashing the church, quarts of "oyl" for the bells, faggots for the "stow" in church, mending the amber tankard, "Prayers" for the young Princess and for Admiral Jarvis, organ blowing and chimney sweeping were naturally the responsibility of the churchwardens, but as members of the vestry their powers were very much wider. Until 1894, when it was "shorn of its civil functions though still a recognized legal assembly," the vestry was the sole means of government in parish affairs and on it depended the smooth running of the secular matters of the community. The vestry was the rating authority, and it appointed overseers and guardians, waywardens and surveyors of roads, advertised for and appointed the workhouse master, elected the trustees for the charities and appointed and paid the village constable.
The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw a spate of house building. Mr. C. C. Sibthorp was modernizing his workpeople's cottages and Mr. J. E. Gray was developing the Pancake Hall area. In 1874 St. Paul's Cottages, with communal laundry and bakehouse, were rated at £5/10/- each and two years later the house built and occupied by Mr. J. E. Gray at Pancake Hall was assessed to the parochial rates at £30. The house was originally called The Laurels, then Welham Lodge, and is now known as Welham Manor.
In 1865 the vestry met to consider the state of the bridge at Water End, part of which had been washed away during the January floods; in 1885 it accepted the resignation of its faithful clerk, Mr. Goulburn who had served for forty-seven years; in the following year a special meeting was held at the vicarage "for the purpose of taking into consideration the best means of preventing the disturbance of the bed of the torrent at the entrance of the Church Avenue befcre injures the foundations of the Bridge . . . agreed that our Road Surveyor be empowered to do all that is necessary"; and in 1893 it agreed that "It is desirable to construct a footpath from Wellham Green to Hipgrave's Lodge" and gifts of gravel with which construct the said footpath were begged from Mr. Gaussen, of Brookmans, and from Mr. Bruce, of North Mymms Park.
The passing of the Local Government Acts at the end of the nineteenth century relieved the vestry of duties it had carried out from at least Elizabethan days.
|St. Mary's church from the south-west. Photograph by Geo.Knott. 1896.|
Photograph of the Somers memorial. Photograph by Geo.Knott. 1896. (still to be sourced)
Photograph of North Mymms House from the south-east. 1902. (still to be sourced)
|North Mymms House as seen from the north, 1902. Note the Coningsby crest of three cronies above the front door.|
|The Octagon Lodge and the then new bridge as seen from Church Avenue, 1902.|
|Water End school, circa 1850. Pencil drawing by Mrs. F. R. Faithfull.|
|Mrs. M. A. Cooke, headmistress of Water End school 1902-22, who was a pioneer motor-cyclist. This photograph of July 1907 shows her with her husband. She had been elected a member of the Motor Cycling Club of Great Britain during that year.|
|Mother Chuck's Cottages on Water End green. Photograph by Geo. Knott, 1900.|
|Folly Arch, built about 1740. The Arch may have been designed by the famous architect James Gibbs (1682-1754). Photograph by Geo. Knott, 1896.|
|South-west view of Gubbins, Buckler, 1840. By courtesy of the County Records Office.|
|An early-eighteenth-century print showing the canal at Gubbins. Later prints show the alcoves to have been furnished with statuary.|
The records of the charities or gifts left by kindly people of days gone by make interesting reading. The benefactors were concerned for the welfare of their poorer neighbours and their gifts were intended to alleviate the, hardships of those then living and to make life easier for some members of future generations. It is always worth while when in an old church to look round for a charity list.
North Mymms charities are listed on a collection of blackboards that hang in the church porch. The earliest charity is of land given in 1604. This was a "messuage and garden called Barefords, near Welham, with three crofts of land adjoining thereto" and was for the use of the parishioners. On that land a workhouse was built and there the poor lived and worked (mainly at spinning if we are to believe Clutterbuck), the sick were given aid and the aged poor were given shelter for the rest of their days. The early Poor Law Acts of Victorian days closed all small workhouses and then the building became the village school, the forerunner of the present Church school.
In 1655 Sir Thomas Hyde, lord of the manor, left £100 to be invested and used for "putting forth children of the parish apprentices." The gift was " used to purchase a messuage with its appurtenances at Waterdell together with five closes of land and three pieces in Angerland Common … for the benefit of the poor of the parish and for putting forth children of the parish apprentices." At the 1815 election of trustees the wording of this charity was revised to read as follows: "To put out annually at Easter a boy apprentice to some tradesman with the fee of £20 and to furnish him with proper clothes at his first setting out." The master was to allow the boy "meat, drink, wearing apparel, washing, lodging and all other necessaries," while the boy for his part was not to "embezzle or waste his master’s goods; not play cards, dice or any other unlawful games; nor haunt or frequent taverns or ale-houses … nor contract matrimony." The master was to allow the boy to come home to North Mymms on the Saturday before Easter Sunday and to stay until the Tuesday following.
The churchwardens’ accounts have some interesting references to the apprentices of Victorian times. By this time girls were also eligible for apprenticeship to milliners or dressmakers, and in 1883 to the indentures of one girl the following was added: "and she shall not attend any classes for the purpose of learning dancing." The next year the trustees fitted out a boy with one pair of trousers 6/9, one suit 19/6, four shirts 8/8, three pairs of socks 2/-, six collars 2/- and two ties 1/1 - a total outlay of £2.
Although the Sabine charity does not appear on a board in the porch the widows of the parish were grateful to the kindly church-warden who left "two pounds of beef, a sixpenny loaf and a small quantity of potatoes" to all widows who went to church on Easter Eve.
Lady benefactors have always been generous. Dame Martha Coningsby, wife of the famous Sir Thomas Coningsby, was the first of a line of kindly ladies who have lived in our parish. Dame Martha had a very large family of six sons and twelve daughters and was responsible for the estate of North Mymms when her husband was in the Tower, a prisoner because of his loyalty to his king, but she thought of her poorer neighbours and in her will she left £105, the interest on which was "to pay the rent yearly on Shrove Tuesday, with the approbation of the churchwardens, to ten of the poorest inhabitants of the parish who receive no relief from the overseers." Dame Martha died in 1674.
Two ladies left money which was to be used to buy bread. Dame Lydia Mews, who died in 1751, desired that the bread should be "distributed every Sunday to such poor as should attend the service of the church at North Mimms," but Mistress Anne Hunter wished her charity to be given at Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide in every year. Mistress Anne Hunter, who was the wife of John Hunter of Gubbins, died in 1786.
In 1847 Miss Holmes, a relation of Mistress Anne Hunter, left a small charity to the widows of the parish and Miss Caroline Lydia Casamajor started to build a school for girls at Water End. In addition to the endowment of the school she left a certain amount for clothing, and for a number of years the girls who attended her little school wore warm red cloaks in the winter and print dresses and chip hats in the summer.
In these days of the welfare state, however, there is no place for these relics of days gone by and the Charity Commissioners are persuading trustees to consolidate their charities and use the money in other ways. The North Mymms charities were consolidated under a scheme dated September 13, 1932, and the income was to be applied for the benefit of such poor persons as were qualified in making payments under one or both of the following heads: (a) for the assistance of young persons entering upon employment: (b) apprenticing of young persons. Today payments in grants towards equipment or special tools are more usual than premiums towards apprenticeships.
OUR PARISH MAGAZINE
Our parish magazine has appeared regularly since it was first issued in January 1865. The Rev. Arthur Simon Latter introduced the magazine, saying "The opportunity being given of circulating in the parish once a month a magazine of sound religious doctrine and healthy tone, I have resolved on trying for one year to what extent such a plan will be acceptable to you."
He was a man of zeal and energy. It was said that his day started in his study at 6 a.m. and frequently did not end until midnight. Improvements to the church building and the extension at the west end of the vicarage were carried out during his incumbency, which lasted from 1864 until 1880. Despite the large and very scattered parish of which he had the care, in common with many Victorian parsons he coached "young gentlemen." They used Church Cottage as their dormitory. It is tempting to speculate upon the curriculum of the lads who were coached by Mr. Latter. Did it include local history and were the results of their researches the series of articles that appeared in the first numbers of the magazine?
The magazine was very good value for money. It cost one and a half pence, had a neat blue cover, measured six inches by eight inches and contained thirty-six to forty pages. A typical number had four to six pages of local news, and an inset of at least twenty-four pages with the regular features of a map of the parish, a list of endowed charities, rainfall and weather, timetables of the local trains and the postal arrangements. Magazines were frequently bound into handsome volumes as prizes for night-school progress, and with the wide range of subjects covered in the insets were veritable encyclopaedias.
However, it is the local news that is of absorbing interest and gives us glimpses of a way of life that has gone. The "simple annals of the poor" found their way into the magazines, and as we read we sympathise with the parents who watched their little boy die from hydrophobia, enter into the fun of the ventriloquist with the black doll, glow with pride to read of the men who marched away to the wars, and are shocked that a soup kitchen was an annual necessity when "a quart of good soup and half of a half-quartern loaf bought for a penny was for many families the principal meal of the day." All aspects of parish life are reported upon, as for many homes the parish magazine was the only printed material that found its way through the doors; besides, many of the older people found difficulty in reading 100 years ago.
But they were not ignorant, those forebears of ours, though they lacked book-learning. They were, perforce, jacks of all trades, but many of them were masters of more than one trade. The men could plough, sow, reap and mow as well as improvise simple tools in wood or iron for use in field or home. They could "doctor" their sick cattle, "lay" a hedge and thatch their barns and stacks. They made their own baskets from the osiers that grew locally, twisted their own ropes and made their own bricks.
When Lady Greville built the schoolmistress’s house at Water End a village mason carved 1850 on a slab of stone which formed the door lintel for more than 100 years, and the same mason, father-in-law of mine host of the Maypole, produced most of the Massey memorials to be found in the churchyard. The house built by Lady Greville is now known as The Pound House.
The women could bake and brew (and in farming circles home brewing of ale was the rule rather than the exception), make cheese and butter, plait intricate patterns in straw and prick equally intricate patterns for fine lace, and produce beautiful sewing and embroidery; and, like their husbands, they had an elementary knowledge of nursing which they used in the care of their families. Old Mrs. Monk, of Water End, who rebuked the Rev. Horace Meyer because six weeks had elapsed between one pastoral visit and the next, was the parish midwife for a number of years and had great knowledge of the use of herbs.
Living in the midst of a famous wheat-growing area it followed that straw-plaiting, a by-product of wheat-growing, should become a cottage industry in our parish. This industry was already well established in Stuart times and flourished for a further 200 years. The earnings of the women were considerable when compared with the wages of their menfolk, and farmers complained of it as " doing mischief, for it makes the poor saucy and no servants can be procured or any field work done where this manufacture establishes itself"; but, though he recorded the farmers’ views, Arthur Young himself approved of the industry. He said "Straw-plaiting is of very great use to the poor and has considerable effect in keeping down rates, which must be far more burthensome without it," and continued "Good earnings are a most happy circumstance which I wish to see universal."
It is known that a straw-plaiting school existed at Hatfield. It may have taken pupils from North Mymms, but the craft was kept alive by the mothers and grandmothers who passed on their techniques to the children. Lovely-sounding names such as double pearl, moss-edge and Coburg were given to the different plaits, which were exclusive to a certain area.
Hertfordshire was practically untouched by the industrial revolution, but by the middle of last century a straw-hat factory was established in St. Albans and the city became the centre from which bundles of prepared straw were collected and to which the finished plait was taken once a week. With their comparative affluence due to the earnings of their womenfolk the Hertfordshire labourers in husbandry were indifferent to the agricultural struggles of neighbouring counties, and the Rev. A. S. Latter was not slow to foster this apathy among the men in his parish. The parish magazine for July 1872 records "A meeting was held on Saturday, June 22, at Colney Heath at which an attempt was made to induce the agricultural labourers of this and neighbouring parishes to take part in the agitation that is being carded on in Bedfordshire to raise the rate of wages."
The vicar warned his flock of the consequences of joining such a union and reminded his readers of "the most kindly feeling which has hitherto subsisted between employers and employed," adding that "anything which would tend to introduce discord is most earnestly to be avoided." Changes in agricultural methods and the importation of foreign plait brought about the decline of straw-plaiting. Until 1939 more than half the male population of Hertfordshire were husbandmen, and not until 1951 did agriculture cease to head the list of occupations carried on in the county. Straw-plaiting disappeared from the cottage homes, but straw-plaiting implements are still to be found among the treasures of our older parish families and a fine collection was shown at "Expo Old North Mymms" in September 1970.
Defoe, who toured Great Britain in 1724, asserted that straw-plaiting spread from Hertfordshire into Bedfordshire. Could lace-making have taken the reverse route? In 1957, during modernisation of Steprow Cottages, Water End, two lace bobbins, one with a wisp of pale green cotton still attached, were found beneath the floorboards. These, with a "pillow" on which was a length of lace of a distinctive Bedfordshire pattern in the process of being made, were also to be seen at the local "Expo." Photographs of the 1880-90 period show the girls of Water End school wearing beautiful lace collars and arc in striking contrast with the rather drab photographs of 1910, when lace-making had disappeared from all but a few homes in the parish.
Could a little band of Huguenot refugees have settled on part of the waste land bordering the drove road which led from Hatfield past Traveller’s Farm on its way to Bell Bar? In the course of time did the place of the Huguenots become Huggens Lane (1880) and ultimately Huggins Lane as it is known today?
Until the coming of the railway the ordinary countryman did not travel far from home. Young men were sometimes dazzled by the recruiting sergeant and accepted the queen’s shilling or were press-ganged into the Navy to serve for seven years, but the majority were home-keeping youths. Ladies’ maids, butlers, coachmen and valets were the exceptions, for they accompanied their masters and mistresses on the annual trek to spend the season in London or to take the waters at Bath or some other fashionable spa or to make a round of visits to relations and friends. Much later came the sportsman’s holiday, when the family would take a lodge in some remote part of Scotland where shooting or fishing was plentiful. In this way those who stayed at home learnt something of the outside world from their luckier friends.
In the days before the 1914-18 war Banffshire and Ross and Cromarty were favourite holiday places for the local gentry, and although so far away from North Mymms the fortunate holiday-makers did not forget those at home. Sir William Leese, of Welham Lodge, it is remembered, would send home a haunch of venison "to be shared among his neighbours in St. Paul’s Cottages," Mr. Seymour would send a salmon for his outdoor staff, and, what is perhaps best remembered, Lady Clauson would send a big box of Edinburgh rock to the girls at Water End school.
One hundred years ago there were no Girl Guides, Scouts or youth clubs, no Women’s Institutes or organisations for adults except those sponsored by the church. The Band of Hope catered for the young people and the early numbers of the parish magazine abound with accounts of their treats and activities. The Mothers’ Meeting, with its emphasis on sewing while listening to a "good book" being read to them, served the women’s needs. Night school for the young man, working on his garden allotment for the older man, with bellringing and cricket in season, filled the little leisure time of the menfolk. All these activities were sponsored or encouraged by the vicar, and it was due to the enterprise of the Rev. A. S. tatter that the garden allotments were introduced in 1871. The vicar himself took one plot of ground.
From time to time a quoits team would be organised by one or other of the public-houses, and it is remembered that both the Maypole and the Sibthorp had teams. Matches would be arranged between the teams. The Maypole men played on a flat piece of land in the dells behind the house, but the Sibthorp men pitched their rings over the public road on to the green where the communal well stood. The quoits clubs did not flourish, probably because they were not looked upon with favour by the vicar, whose aim it was to wean his flock from visiting the public-houses.
The cricket club was formed as long ago as 1861 and had the encouragement of the vicar and the gentry. All paid their subscriptions and most played at some time. The club’s triumphs and defeats as well as its financial affairs were duly reported in the parish magazine. Probably because it had no settled home ground the report frequently stated "The cricket club has been reorganised," but the club survived. In the early days of this century there were three cricket clubs in the parish - the North Mymms Estate Club, the Brookmans Park Estate Club and the North Mymms Club. The estate clubs recruited their members from their own staffs, and when making any new appointments preference was usually given to any young man who could play cricket. Stars of the North Mymms Estate Club included the brothers Wheeler. Both had served in the Army, both were accomplished musicians and both became members of the flourishing local Y.M.C.A. band when they returned to civilian life in 1902. Fred brought with him a reputation backed by a silver-mounted bat presented to him by his commanding officer after he had scored fifty-one for the Army against the M.C.C. at Lord’s in 1896. Another star was a very young man, F. J. Smith, who left North Mymms early in 1910. He became wicket-keeper for Warwickshire and two years later played for England in Australia. He collected a total of eleven caps. There are references to him in old parish magazines, and on one occasion when some of the North Mymms Club met him at Lord’s he gave them a bat for competition among themselves.
The captain of the Club at that time was the vicar, the Rev. C. 0. Ward, who had spent his childhood at Braughing, where his father was the vicar. Mr. Ward had at one time played for Hampshire and was captain of the Hertfordshire county team when he lived in our parish.
The Brookmans Park Estate Club also recruited its members from its staff, and among its " professionals" were some of the first coloured players to be seen in this part of the country.
The 1914-18 war saw the end of the estate clubs. The North Mymms Club welcomed members from the disbanded clubs and through the generosity of the late Mrs. Burns was able to use the ground at Water End - the ground that gained for the club "the good reputation among other clubs for providing the best cricket pitch to be found in village cricket in this part of the country" wrote the vicar in 1920. After a successful run for a number of seasons the September 1923 magazine reported "We have lost several matches, which is as it should be. Constant success is bad for cricket clubs, as it is for individuals." The following June the vicar and choir of Christ church, Somerstown, were invited to spend an afternoon in North Mymms and the account of this pleasant occasion is as follows: "It was a glorious day. The party arrived in a bus at about 2.30, and were soon busy with sandwiches. By kind permission of Mr. and Mrs. Seymour, who were waiting to receive us, the company visited Potterells in the afternoon and a stroll through the lovely gardens was immensely appreciated by our visitors. Meantime the boys of our church were inflicting a crushing in the cricket field upon the boys from Somerstown, the North Mymms demon bowlers dismissing the other side for the not very large totals of seven and nine, and running up a large score themselves. They showed excellent form, some of them, but let them remember that their opponents usually play in a back street with a lamp-post as wicket, and the size of their heads will remain normal. Many ascended the church tower and were charmed with the view. The musical service at 7.30 was a fitting conclusion to a very delightful afternoon - and a large congregation joined in the corporate act of worship. The happy party returned to their London home we hope and believe cheered and uplifted by this friendly mingling with their choral brethren who live in the beautiful country."
From the parish magazine, October 1929
"We can no longer refrain from, alluding to Bracelet. Bracelet is not, as might easily be imagined, a piece of jewellery. Bracelet is a cow. Look at her and you would think she was just an ordinary nice-looking Jersey cow. You would never dream of the worlds of ingenuity lurking beneath that placid exterior. But Bracelet is unique, there could never be another Bracelet. The trouble began last November. At that time a much-harassed vicar was approached by a very old friend, who complained that the wallflowers on the best-kept grave in the churchyard had been ruthlessly destroyed and he (the friend) was much hurt because he thought ‘an enemy has done this.’ When the damage was brought home to Bracelet he was mollified; no one could be really angry with Bracelet. Bracelet is supposed to graze in Church Field, but there is something wrong about the grass there to her sensitive palate; she much prefers a more mixed diet. In those early days the gate was carelessly left open as often as not and it was very easy to walk through it. Then the owner of that field fixed half a cwt of iron on a chain which acted as a spring to pull the gate to. Bracelet quietly inserted the point of her horn and used it as a lever and through she went. A strong steel spring was then fixed and we thought surely that would stop her. Not a bit of it. A horn that can unlatch any gate can easily manipulate any spring, and the asters and dahlias in the vicarage garden were very succulent and the herbage in the churchyard was greener than any to be found elsewhere. And now every morning when the writer is shaving he watches Bracelet helping herself to his apples, and he is wondering whether when she has finished all those within reach she will be able to get a ladder so that she can dispose of the remainder."
Until the middle of this century two schools had sufficed for the needs of the children of the parish - the boys were taught at Welham Green and the girls and infants at Water End. Built in 1847 by Caroline Lydia Casamajor and generously endowed by her, the little school at Water End served the community for well over a century, training successive generations of girls in the Christian principles their benefactress desired.
The following quotations from the log books - which unfortunately date back only to 1897 - give some interesting sidelights on the day-to-day activities of this country school. The weather then, as now, was of general interest, but when going to school involved possibly an hour’s walk along roads that in summer were thick with white dust but in winter were ankle deep in soft wet clay the weather was of supreme importance.
The early autumn of 1898 was presumably one of long golden days carrying the summer well on into winter, a blessing to the farmers who were still gathering in the harvest, but it provoked the headmistress to record: "The great heat affected all. The younger children were allowed to sit under the trees in the playground, where they tried to work," underlining the word "tried." Poor little children in their thick "stuff" frocks, long black woollen stockings and strong, serviceable boots trying to work!
In January 1900 and again in February 1901 deep snow prevented the children from attending school, and on one day in the latter year only nine pupils out of 106 managed to struggle through the snow to take their places on the long, hard, backless benches ready for lessons.
Due to the nearby swallow-holes and the surrounding low-lying ground, flooding - always sudden and surprisingly deep - has been a problem with which Water End has had to contend over the years, and in June 1903 we read: "School was not open yesterday owing to the rain. The floods were so high it was not possible for any child to get to school", but in March 1916 "only fifty children were present on account of the terrible snowstorm and consequent floods and the children had to be carted over the flooded roads." When old girls forgather a gleam comes into their eyes as they remember that exciting day. The strong arms that lifted them up on to the school wall, the equally strong ones that swung them from the wall over the swirling water into the safety of the farm cart, and the unusual view over the hedges as they rode along, gently swaying to the rhythmic lift of the heavy hooves—all this they remember, forgetting the anxiety of their teachers and parents, forgetting too the name of the kindly bailiff who was worried about their plight that rainy day so long ago.
Reasons for absence from school sound strange in our ears. Thus July 12 to 16, 1897 "the haymaking is lowering the attendance of the upper standards" and in October 1899 "a few absentees are acorning." The Education Act of 1870 had made education compulsory as well as free for all. Regularity of attendance was required, but the few pence earned by a day’s haymaking or by the collecting of a bushel of acorns became a valuable addition to the family income and more than compensated the risk of a possible visit from a zealous attendance officer.
Attendance was invariably poor in the upper standards at the end of the week, and a glance through any old issue of the parish magazine will give the probable reason for this. "Board day" - that is of the management of the poor-law institution - was on Thursday, and no doubt the bigger girls were kept at home to care for the babies while their mothers trudged to Hatfield to obtain "relief."
Two world wars occurred during the years covered by the log books, but it is surprising how little space is devoted to war. On November 12, 1915, the education director "expressed a wish that the children should work for the Red Cross" so from then onwards the bigger girls met at eight o’clock in the morning and sewed shirts, knitted socks or padded splints until school lessons started. On October 2, 1916, "teachers and children were quite unfit for work, having been up all night through the bringing down of a Zeppelin, therefore it was thought advisable to close school for the day." This was the Zeppelin brought down at Potters Bar, shot down by Lt. W.J. Tempest, D.S.O. "Numbers are low, attendances very poor and the weather severe. Some of the older girls are kept at home to bring coals from the siding as they cannot now be carted" is the entry for February 2, 1917. These entries cover World War I, and those of World War II are equally terse, containing reports of two-shift days worked in order to accommodate "evacuees" and references to trenches and black-out curtains, while potato picking in October, unlike the acorning of fifty years before, received official approbation.
Visitors to the little school have been mystified by the deeply scored marks to be seen on the external walls of the building and have been surprised when told that these are marks left from the slate-pencil sharpening of days gone by. During the days preceding the diocesan inspection of 1906 no doubt the pencils received extra sharpening and so helped to earn for their owners the report that "the writing was neat and deserving of considerable praise," but only two months later his majesty’s inspector sternly decreed: "Slates, if used at all, must be cleaned in a proper manner." One can only guess at what Mr. Wix saw, but no more is heard of slates until May 1916, when they came back into use, "the county council having requested it as an economy measure.
* * *
How times have changed since the first pupils entered North Mymms girls’ school, but the kindly lady who gave the school to the parish would have been gratified at the results of her experiment in providing education for the local girls, for "This is a pleasant school to inspect" was the verdict of all inspectors who entered its doors.
Memories of two headmistressesWith the closing of the little school at the end of 1960 it was perhaps inevitable that many of its past pupils should think back to their schooldays and of the teachers who ruled their little world. Two headmistresses whose combined years of service spanned more than a third of the school’s life are remembered with awe and affection, with pride and some amusement. They are Mrs. flames, headmistress from 1880 to 1902, and her successor, Mrs. Cooke, who stayed until 1920.
These two ladies, if one can judge from the anecdotes of their pupils and the entries in the log books, were vastly different in character and in outlook. Indeed, it could be said that Mrs. Flames was the last of an era - that of the dame school - and Mrs. Cooke the first of the "new look" in education.
Both were strong disciplinarians - they had to be when classes might number as many as sixty - and the cane, seldom used but always near, and known as " the doctor" in Mrs. flames’s day, was an essential part of school equipment. Although always known as the girls’ school, in actual fact little boys up to the age of seven were allowed to attend though the kindly founder left no funds for them. Strangely, it is a little boy who provides a vivid memory for one old girl. She remembers Mrs. Haines actually washing out his mouth with strong soapy water because he persisted in using dirty words!
Although so near London and with a railway running through the parish, North Mymms during the later decades of the nineteenth century was an isolated rural area and its little school was largely governed by the local gentry, who looked upon it as a training ground for their maids and seamstresses. By the terms of her will the founder had laid down exactly what proportion of her endowment was to be spent on "tapes, needles and threads" and had stated that the girls were to be taught " marking," that is cross-stitch lettering. It is significant that until 1900 the most important post after that of the headmistress was that of the sewing mistress, and the accounts for the year 1885 show the salaries to have been £73 for the headmistress, £50 for the sewing mistress and £9/6/-for a monitress.
Beautiful samplers and "specimens of needlework processes" testifying to the thoroughness with which this subject was taught are to be found in the homes of some of the older village families. An entry in the log book tells us that "Goult, Kate, sewed neatly for Mrs. Cotton-Curtis" and that" one and a half dozen linen towels were made and marked" for the same lady, while "Chuck, Agnes, has darned some table cloths very neatly, others have patched sheets." Sewing those linen towels would have earned Kate Goult just ninepence according to a price list in an old parish magazine, with an extra farthing for every letter marked on in line red cotton.
It is difficult in these days of sewing machines and a bewildering array of ready-made garments to remember that at the turn of the century "piece goods" had to be laboriously hand sewn by the women and girls of the household. Even as late as 1914 an old farm labourer in Welham Green was still wearing a hand-sewn smock, and many a schoolgirl spent her playtime turning the heel of a long black woollen stocking.
North Mymms Women’s Institute - now, alas, disbanded - was justifiably proud of the beautiful plain sewing of one of its members, Miss Eleanor Vyse. Her work has won a national award and has been exhibited in London. She learnt her craft at Water End and she has lively memories of her schooldays.
That Mrs. flames was held in high esteem is clear, for at the time of her retirement a terrace of cottages was being built for the baker, Mr. Chuck, and he gave instructions that one was to be offered to Mrs. Haines for her use as long as she needed it. A former pupil who was then at Cambridge University wrote to the vicar: "I shall always gratefully remember the skilful and loving care bestowed upon me, and I am quite sure that any success I have since gained is due in no small measure to the thorough and devoted attention 1 received there at Water End."
Trained at St. Hild’s, Durham, young and energetic, a wind from her native Cumberland fells seemed to sweep through the little school when Mrs. Cooke became its headmistress in 1902. Ahead of her time, she introduced school meals in 1903, and a mid-morning drink of milk - brought in a large chum straight from the farm - or of hot cocoa was available for a penny a week. "Modern subjects" were introduced into the curriculum and, with the help of the Misses Seymour, of Potterells, country dancing became and remained a favourite one. School visits to exhibitions in London were made as early as 1907. As these visits entailed walking to and from Potters Bar station, after what must have been a tiring day for girls and staff alike that weary walk home must have taken some of the gilt off the gingerbread.
By May 1916 girls of the upper classes were walking to Hatfield to attend cookery classes and for the second year four girls were entered for the National Society’s examination in religious knowledge. These girls travelled to St. Albans in comfort, for Mr. Nash, the builder, lent them his pony-trap, but they walked home from Colney Heath. Billy, the pony, would not come beyond the blacksmith’s shop! One of Nash’s men had to walk to Colney Heath to bring home the pony and trap.
Though it continued to be well taught, needlework did not now have the amount of time spent on it as in former days, being practised on only two afternoons a week.
But Mrs. Cooke was not content with the four walls of her school. Her energy seemed boundless. She became one of the small band of pioneer motor-cyclists and, dressed in a long dust-coat and with a veil over her hat, soon became a familiar figure all over the country wherever enthusiasts met. In 1907 she had the honour of being elected a member of the then exclusive Motor Cycling Club. In a letter dated May 1953 Mr. Harold Karslake, then librarian of the Association of Pioneer Motor Cyclists, wrote: "I knew Mr. and Mrs. Cooke very well from 1908 to 1914 and was on visiting terms at their house at North Mymms. Mrs. Cooke was an exceptionally skilled rider and competed in a number of road trials, but not in hill climbs or racing. She also contributed a number of articles to the motor-cycle press." Her nom-de-plume was Atalanta.
Two such different ladies, Mrs. Haines and Mrs. Cooke, but true sisters to the lovable clerk of whom Chaucer wrote "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly wolde he teche."
* * *Still known as the boys’ school to the older residents of the parish, the Church school stands on land left for "the use of the poor of the parish" as long ago as 1604. On that land a workhouse was built and there the poor lived and worked until the early Poor Law Acts of Queen Victoria’s reign abolished all village workhouses. The building then became the school for boys. That it was not satisfactory is clear from entries in the Rev. Horace Meyer’s life story and in early numbers of the parish magazine, but nearly half a century was to go by before a new building was provided in 1887. It cost £1,312/5/4 and was "entirely free from debt" when opened.
The vicar was so proud of this new building that all his visitors were taken to see it and the parish magazine carried the statement "Our new school premises are already claiming to be reckoned among the principal buildings of our country village and may in some distant century - should the world last so long - be pointed out as a specimen of honest English nineteenth-century work" - a graceful compliment to the village craftsmen. In its turn the 1887 building has been enlarged and modernised until today the Church school is one of which the parish can be proud.
Its log books date back only to 1868, and almost the first entry made by the headmaster, Mr. George Foster, is "Small attendance as the boys are having to fetch soup" - a reference to the village soup-kitchen, which was always established during any hard winter when the "labourers were necessarily out of work." By June it was the bad weather, the hay-making, the flower show or the choir outing to the Crystal Palace that was causing small attendances. A race on the London road or a cricket match in the village proved to be greater attractions than school lessons, and in February 1871 truants John Nash and Fred Dickens "followed the hounds." The various village ponds were never-failing attractions. Every winter the Rev. G. S. Batty warned against" sliding on Pancake Hail pond, which is dangerous because it is so very deep." Parish pond just over the school fence produced the best "efts," with high crests and orange chests, while damming the moat round Mr. Parsons’s farm was a favourite pastime.
Bird-minding of pheasants and bird-scaring of rooks, setting of potatoes as well as picking them, gleaning, acorning and gathering blackberries were all reasons for absence. "The rich man in his castle" expected the services of the boys when he had a shooting party, lasting perhaps three or four days, and on occasions school was closed for a week to enable the boys to go beating. School holidays were arranged for the convenience of the local farmers, and on June 25, 1886, the headmaster wrote "School closed for a fortnight’s holiday. This will form part of the usual harvest holiday. As the hay harvest is more important than the corn in this parish the managers think a fortnight now that the hay-making is in full swing will be as beneficial to the boys as the holiday coming in the corn harvest." The small amounts earned by the boys were valuable additions to the miserably meagre wages of their fathers.
The Education Act of 1870 evidently brought in a few backsliders, for in 1873 Jacob Webb, aged eleven, and Joseph Day and William Adams, both aged nine, were admitted and "all knowing nothing." If William, always known as Billy, knew nothing when admitted to school he soon learnt about "Captain" Webb and his exploits, and Billy longed to sail in a tub on the floods at Water End! Mimmshall Brook fascinated him and he knew it in all its moods, especially when in flood, and much concern was felt for his safety.
That the masters of those early days of education for all were able to maintain the high standards they set themselves was due in no small measure to the work of the monitors, who would listen to the " tables," spelling or reading of the younger pupils, thus leaving the master free to work with the older boys. The names of the monitors appear fleetingly from the pages of the log books. George Bligh was an admirable one and in 1877 was given leave of absence so that he could go to St. Albans to witness the historic enthroning of the first bishop of St. A]bans, but Ernest Goult belied his Christian name and was not serious enough. Besides, he had a tame jackdaw, which he would bring to school, thereby creating unnecessary disturbances!
George Knott, a former pupil and a keen pioneer photographer, left a most interesting pictorial record of the parish covering a period of nearly forty years ending with the opening of Brookmans Park station in 1926, but it is those photographs taken at the end of the last century that are eagerly scanned by today’s parishioners, for they show a village which is fast disappearing.
The early schoolmasters of this little school, like the majority of teachers, were expected to take a full share in the religious and cultural life of the district, and indeed were appointed on that understanding. Here in Mymms they were organist and choirmaster, unpaid trainer of the drum and fife band run in connection with the Band of Hope, master of the night school and collector for the various benefit clubs, while royal weddings and local flower shows all gave extra work to one who must have already been overworked.
Mr. George Foster died in harness in December 1880 and the parish placed a memorial stone to him in the churchyard, but the one who is remembered today, although half a century has gone since he retired from active service, is Mr. Benjamin Mallett, the master appointed in June 1889. He filled all the posts his predecessors had filled and found time to indulge his hobbies. He was unmarried when appointed, but brought his bride with him in September to the school house, which was to be their home for more than thirty years.
He was a competent organist and choirmaster and had had musical compositions, mainly chants and anthems, accepted by leading publishers, and within a comparatively short time the Rev. G.S. Batty was recording "Our choir led us successfully in Jackson’s Te Deum on Whitsunday." He was successful, too, in arranging attractive annual outings for the choir. There was always the element of surprise in these, such as when in 1893 the choir saw the wedding presents of the Prince and Princess of Wales displayed in the Imperial Institute and went by steamer to Kew, where "in the orchid houses the Victoria Regia had that very day bloomed for the first time this season." This was the magnificent lily, which had captured the imagination of all Victorian horticulturists.
In 1894 the Prince of Wales opened Tower Bridge and during the weeks that followed the choir went to St. Leonards, but at some time during the journey they had time to pause and "had seen the arms of the lower bridge open to allow a vessel to pass through." The following year, unfortunately, the vicar was not able to accompany the choir to Dover. He had been ill for several weeks, so" a message of hearty greeting was wired to him, who though absent was not forgotten. The telegram, consisting of eighty-one words, was the longest ever received at the North Mymms post office."
Mr. Benjamin Mallett was a strict master – "I punished severely" he used to say - but he won the love and respect of his pupils. Manly sports were encouraged, and singing, naturally, found a place in the rather dull curriculum of the three Rs of those days. His pride in his "old boys" who joined the armed forces on that August Sunday in 1914 when the recruiting sergeant visited North Mymms found expression in a telegram sent to Lord Kitchener. The telegram was as follows: "Over sixty men of the parish of North Mymms, Hatfield, having a male population of between three and four hundred, have answered your call to rural England, by enlisting and volunteering to serve in His Majesty’s Forces. All other men awaiting your further call." The following reply was received: "I congratulate North Mymms on their response to their country’s call and their example to others - Kitchener."
Mr. Mallett would have been the last to call himself a poet, but his "Reminiscences of August ‘14," dedicated to Major Bryan Laing, of Abdale, Who was at the time serving with the Sherwood Rangers, was an immediate success in the parish. Every household bought at least one copy, for in it Mr. Mallett bad used the names and nicknames as well as the characteristics of many who had enlisted. From its sale the nucleus of a "welcome home" fund was formed. The thought that it would all be over by Christmas receded from everyone’s mind, but the fund gradually increased. Every man who returned from the war and the relations of those who died received a copy of the" North Mymms Roll of Honour 1914-1918" compiled. by Mr. Mallett. Bound in red leather and beautifully produced, it contained biographies of all those who had served. A copy is preserved in the vicar’s vestry in the parish church.
Mr. Mallett resigned his teaching post in 1922, but continued to live in Welham Green for some years. When he died in 1950 he had lived to the advanced age of eighty-six. He was buried in North Mymms churchyard.
The roll of honour compiled by Mr. Mallett included the names of some who were not former pupils of the boys’ school in Welham Green. There were postmen and railwaymen, gardeners and others in private service living in the parish. There were, too, the sons of estate owners, whose schools were likely to have been Haileybury, Merchant Taylors or Eton.
One whose name was included was Oliver Leese. Living with his parents at Welham Lodge, he had been educated at Eton. With his father he had helped to form the first Scout troop in the parish. He was a natural leader. August 1914 saw him a very young lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards. During the 1914-18 war he was wounded three times, was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the D.S.O. When the war ended he had attained the rank of captain.
The Army was his career, and he saw active service during the second world war, being successively C.O. Guards Armoured Division, commander of the 8th Army and Commander-in-Chief Allied Land Forces in S.E. Asia. When he retired in 1946 he was G.O.C.-in-C. Eastern Command.
He is now a famous cactus grower, living in Shropshire, and any Mymnsian who visits him at his stand at Chelsea is warmly welcomed.
Perhaps the English nation never witnessed upon any occasion such a number of persons being collected together … . as were to be seen yesterday within the environments of Moorfields: not a plain or an eminence, a window or a roof, a chimney or a steeple, within the sight of Bedlam, but was populously thronged." So reported the Morning Post in its edition for September 16, 1784.
The great number of people, said to have been 200,000, had gathered to see Vincenzo Lunardi ascend in the huge red and blue striped balloon which had been a floating captive in the Strand during the month of July. No doubt many of those gathered together had paid to see the balloon at its moorings, for it had earned Lunardi £900 in admission fees. It had been deflated and brought to the Artillery Ground - "ground which should have been liberally offered but was most unhandsomely rented" commented the Morning Post.
Lunardi, a handsome young Italian attached to the Neapolitan embassy, had many friends among the leaders of fashion and had met the king, George III, and the Prince of Wales. George Biggin, who gave his name to the "coffee-biggin," was one of Lunardi’s closest friends.
At about 1.30 the Prince of Wales arrived at the Artillery Ground, the king adjourned a conference, saying "We may resume our deliberations but we may never see poor Lunardi again," and Lunardi, fashionably attired as usual, checked his equipment and soothed the cat and dog which he planned to take with him on his historic flight. "Shortly after 2 o’clock, Mr. Lunardi, having embraced his friends and all matters being adjusted … cannon was fired as the signal of ascension …a most beautiful ascension. After he had cleared the buildings he saluted the populace with great elegance and gallantry by waving a blue flag" said the Morning Post. So the intrepid young man floated away.
One Hertfordshire man who saw him was John Carrington, of Bacon’s Farm, Bramfield. He wrote in his diary "He assended to a great Hithe over Barnat, North Hall [Northaw] then went for St. Albans. . . . I saw him plane as he came over Bacons, he was at a Great Hight for his Boloon was 30 feet round but apeard no biger than a Boys Kite."
At 3.30 on that "very fine hot day" here in North Mymms farmer Whitbread, of Parsonage Farm, was busy with his men in a cornfield near the workhouse. The first balloonist to land in England was slowly floating down to land beside them. The cat was suffering from air-sickness and was left in the care of a woman, and after throwing out ballast Lunardi continued his flight, leaving the amazed labourers to stare after the colourful object, which eventually reached Colliers End about an hour later. There, according to farmer Carrington, "he throwd his line out & was pulled Down by a young woman in the meadow, who was fritned at first & Run away, thought it the Devell, till he made her sencable & gave her five guineas … Wm Baker Esqr of Bayford Bury took him home in his carriage to the Bury . . . and was their some time, a weak or more.
A seven days’ wonder which gave its name to a district of our parish. The commemorative stone at Balloon Corner was placed there in 1960.
Nearly 100 years later on a beautiful Saturday in June another intrepid young man ascended in a balloon, but he was "unhonoured and unsung." Alfred Longstaff, aged about twelve, whose home was one of the picturesque cottages known as Pancake Hall Cottages, idly watched a speck in the clear blue sky. It grew bigger as it slowly moved from the direction of London and Alfred realised it was a balloon. "It’s coming down" he shouted to his mother as he raced away towards the church. The parish magazine for July 1882 tells us "About six o’clock on Saturday evening, the 24th ult., a balloon was seen to cross the Church Field, and to attempt, by throwing out the grappling iron, to descend in the opposite field belonging to Mr. Sinclair. The anchor, however, not gaining a hold in the ground, at length became securely fastened to the boughs of one of the trees in the wood, which skirts the field on its eastern side. Many of the villagers had noticed the descent of the balloon and hastened to the spot, while a committee of gentlemen who were assembling at the vicarage, about the parish charities, were also speedily at the place and joined in doing all in their power to help the aerial voyagers to make good their descent and to rescue the balloon from dreaded entanglement among the trees. For this purpose it had to be towed through the field by the party assembled, and during the process Alfred Longstaff, at the invitation of one of the aeronauts, took a seat in the car and rode through the air amid much maternal anxiety. North Mymms Park was thus reached, the car was detached, the gas pressed out of the balloon and the silk case neatly rolled up and packed in the now empty basket. The voyagers afterwards left with the balloon in a cart—to meet the 9.44 train from Potters Bar. The ‘Dudley Castle,’ it should be added, had ascended from Alexandra Palace at 5.35 p.m. and had made the voyage to North Mymms in twenty-five minutes. The repetition of an event which for many years has given a name to one part of our parish can scarcely be uninteresting to our readers."
During the early days of this century "aeroplane spotting" became a pastime, and one or two aeroplanes made forced landings in the parish. One is remembered as having come down in Church Field and another which landed at Parsonage Farm was the subject of a poem by the local schoolmaster, Mr. B. Mallett. He wrote:
"An aeroplane descended on Tuesday afternoon Near the spot where people tell us the very first balloon That went up in this country came down long time ago, We call it Balloon Corner, as local people know.
‘Twas really most amusing to see the people run, They all were keen and anxious to witness all the fun, The men and women hurried, their excitement was intense, The children fairly scurried, their enjoyment was immense.
O’er fields and lanes and hedges they came from near and far, From Welham Green and Water End, from Roestock and Bell Bar, On foot, on bikes, in motor cars they came in eager haste, They thought such opportunity it would not do to waste.
The mothers left their housework, the ploughmen left their ploughs, The gardeners left their spades and forks, and the cowmen left their cows. Through mud and ditch and stubble they hurried up and down, So anxious all to reach the place where the aeroplane came down.
Oh many things will be forgotten as the years roll by, The young will soon be middle-aged, the older folk will die, And some will leave the country and go to live in town, But they never will forget the day when the aeroplane came down."
MANORS AND HOUSES
In 1500 the More family still owned More Hall the head of the house at that time being Sir John More, citizen of London, a judge. He was the father of a son, Thomas, who was destined to incur the displeasure of his royal master, Henry VIII. After the execution of Thomas in 1535 the estate was confiscated, but when Mary Tudor became queen she restored it to the More family, who continued to live there until 1649.
By that time Brokemans has a new owner, Sir Paul Pindar, to whom Henry Peacham, the brilliant son of the local curate, dedicated two of his works. Sir Paul Pindar was a bachelor and at his death Brokermans was inherited by his sister, Lady Dudley. Within a few years the estate was sold to Andrew Fountaine, a lawyer of the Inner Temple, and according to Chauncy he "built a fair house upon his manor in the year 1682."
Andrew Fountain's fair house became the home of Lord John Somers in 1702 and about the same time Gubbins was bought by a wealthy young bachelor, Jeremy Sambrooke. He could command the services of less a man than James Gibbs, architect of St Bartholomew's hospital, London, of the Senate House, Cambridge, and of the Radcliffe Library, Oxford. Within a few years the home of the More family had been transformed. In his memoirs Gibbs writes that he "added a large room for Jeremy Sambrooke and did other buildings for that gentleman," while the Gibbs collection in Ashmolean museum there are designes for a dovecote and a coved ceiling for the same gentleman.
But Jeremy Sambrooke had antiquarian tastes, and he retained an austere little room which contained a small stone altar said to have been used by the famous Sir Thomas More for his private devotions. The mantelpiece that Holbein had used as the background for his picture of Sir Thomas was also preserved. The extensive grounds were laid out by Bridgeman, a famous gardener of the day, and on July 19, 1732, Jeremy Sambrooke was honoured with a visit from Queen Caroline. With the three eldest princesses she came "to view his fine gardens, waterworks and collection of curiosities."
In 1740, when his nephew died, Jeremy succeeded to the baronetcy. What is popularly called Folly Arch was built in the same year and it is generally believed that it was designed by James Gibbs. Practical Husbandry, published in 1763, states: "Gubbins, in Hertfordshire, the seat of Sir Jeremy Sambrooke, is another charming example of elegance, though less extensive than the former." Gubbins was being compared with Boughton in Northamptonshire.
Hadley Highstone, another extravagance of Jeremy Sambrooke, was built at about the same time as Folly Arch.
Although it has been frequently stated that Sir Jeremy Sambrooke was a Lord Mayor of London recent research makes it clear that in fact he had no connection with the city of London. During his later life he suffered from blindness, which would have been a serious handicap in public life. Presumably he lived the quiet life of a country gentleman. He never married. His two sisters lived with him at Gubbins and when he died in 1754 his estate passed to them. From his sister Judith it passed to a nephew. Sir Jeremy and his sisters were buried in North Mymms churchyard, the slate ledger stones marking their graves being a short distance from the west door. The lettering on the slate is bold and beautifully cut. Only name and date are shown. Had he been a Lord Mayor such an honour would have been recorded.
In 1777 Gubbins was bought by a wealthy East India merchant, John Hunter. He had amassed a great fortune and on returning to England became interested in farming and fattening oxen for the London markets. His wife left a charity of bread to the poor of the parish and his name appears in the churchwardens’ accounts as being a subscriber to the organ fund. Mistress Hunter died in 1786 and her husband died in 1802. The marble memorial to the Hunter family is now on the south wail of the church, but was originally on the east wall of the south aisle. It was moved to its present position in order that the space could be used for the oak war memorial erected after the 1914-18 war.
Meanwhile Lord John Somers had died at Brookmans in 1716 and, as he was a bachelor, his estates had passed to his sisters and their descendants. After various changes of ownership Brookmans was acquired by Samuel Robert Gaussen in 1786. He was a descendant of a wealthy Huguenot family which bad settled in England in 1739.
In 1838 Gubbins came on to the market and was described by the agents, Shuttleworth and Son, as "being upon the scale of a nobleman’s establishment." It was bought by Robert William Gaussen, of Brookmans, and the fortunes or misfortunes of the two manors were united. The new owner of Gubbins proceeded systematically to demolish it. Many of its treasures, including the famous mantelpiece, were used to enlarge and beautify Brookmans. A very fine staircase became part of a new house, The Hook, then being built at Northaw. Lead pipes with ornate heads, carrying the Fountaine arms and the date 1682, were transferred to Brookmans.
Beatrix Potter, in her journal, records visiting Mrs. Cotton Curtis at Potterells in 1881 and says "Potterells, an ugly house outside but good in … has two very handsome chimney-pieces which were brought from another old house which was pulled down." The chimney-pieces may well have come from Gubbins, for at the time Gubbins was demolished the Casamajor family was living at Potterells and a daughter, Elizabeth Christian, became the wife of Robert William Gaussen. The fate of the little stone altar is not known. The gardens which had been famed throughout the eighteenth century were allowed to return to nature, although plantings of shrubs and trees were retained in outlying parts of the estate. As late as 1930 it was said to be possible to find seedlings of choice azaleas in Oubbins woods, where snowdrops and primroses abounded. The magnificent avenue of elms that stretched from Folly Arch to Gubbins was felled during the early days of the 193945 war and the drive has been allowed to fall into disuse.
For more than a century the Gaussen family exercised great influence not only in the parish but beyond~Samue1 Robert Gaussen, who bought Brookmans in 1786, was M.P. for Warwick. He left a family of seven children of whom four were sons. Armytage, the youngest son, married Sarah, the daughter of Rear-Admiral Thomas Sotheby, and became the vicar of Meesden, Hertfordshire. Sarah had a young stepbrother, Thomas Hans Sotheby, who in the course of time became vicar of North Mymms. He was here from 1834 until 1844.
Robert William Gaussen, a grandson of Samuel Robert Gaussen, who demolished Gubbins and opposed the coming of the railway, was a little boy of four when his father died. His mother, née Cecilia Franks, of the neighbouring hamlet of Wood Hill, was clever, very musical, exceedingly pretty and so attractive that the Lady Salisbury of the day said of her " She is a regular witch." The rose gardens at Brookmans were planned by this lady and were the admiration of the county according to Cecilia Faithful!, who left a most interesting account of local life during the late Victorian era.
Robert William Gaussen married Elizabeth Christian Casamajor, sister of Caroline Lydia Casamajor, who built and endowed the school for girls at Water End. The east window in our church replaces one destroyed during the 1939-45 war which was a memorial to Elizabeth Christian, who died in 1864. There were two sons of this marriage - Robert George, who was born in 1843, and Casamajor William,. who was born two years later. Robert George Gaussen married Selina Cole-Hamilton, of Beltrim, County Tyrone. There were two daughters of this marriage - Emilia Christian and Cecily Anne.
The parish magazine for March 1884 tells us: " So interesting an event as the marriage of Casamajor William Gaussen, Esq., with Mabel Constance, third daughter of Sir William Miles, Bart., M.P., must not pass unnoticed in the pages of our parochial record. The long list of presents headed by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales," etc.
We now come to the year 1891 in the story of the two manors. During the summer of that year the Gaussen family planned a cruise in their yacht, Myrtle, and while they were away the exterior of the house of Brookmans was to be completely redecorated. The family set off and the painters took over. They had the advantage of a comparatively new tool—a blowlamp—and all was going as planned.
July 11 was a lovely summer day. In nearby Hatfield the school children had had a week’s holiday. The German emperor was on a visit to Lord and Lady Salisbury and he had graciously said he would review the Hertfordshire Militia on that afternoon. Children and parents and all who could possibly get there flocked to the park to see the show.
At Brookmans at midday it was found that a small fire had started below the eaves and the alarm was raised. When it became clear that their own staff could not cope with the blaze a stable lad was sent off to Hatfield to get the fire brigade. By the time he had scoured the park and rounded up the firemen much time had been lost. Water was low in the lakes and the fire had got such a hold that by the time the brigade arrived it was plain that the house could not be saved. Effort was concentrated on saving furniture, and among the things saved was the oak mantelpiece which had originally belonged to Gubbins. Of this mantelpiece Maberly Phillips, writing in the Home Counties Magazine in 1902, said "It is still in existence, as it was fortunately saved at the time of the fire." The parish magazine for August 1891 states that "a fine specimen of the rare Huguenot Bible was saved the valuable deeds, jewels, etc., deposited in the strong room were also found intact."
After the fire which destroyed Brookmans House in 1891, the stables were remodelled as a dwelling house. The house is now the clubhouse of Brookmans Park Golf Club.
The mansion was never rebuilt, but the stables were converted into a dwelling house, and it is this conversion which today is the Brookmans Park golf clubhouse. Unfortunately the oak mantelpiece was too large to be used in any one of the remodelled rooms and for some years was stored in a barn. In 1923 the estate was sold and among its attractions were listed "a rare old cork tree and a large tulip tree" and" a pretty Dutch garden with lily pond occupying part of the site of the old house," but no mention was made of the oak mantelpiece, so presumably it was disposed of as "contents of a barn."
Robert George Gaussen died in 1906 and his elder daughter, who had married Hubert Ponsonby Loftus Tottenbam, then assumed by royal licence the names and arms of Gaussen. His younger daughter, Cecilia, did not marry. She had a house, which she called The Myrtle, built in Holloways Lane, and lived in the parish she loved until she was an old lady. The Gaussen family had made many gifts to the parish church, and in the summer of 1914 the widow of George Robert Gaussen gave the fine oak doors at the west end of the church. As she was then living in the Isle of Wight and had had no opportunity of seeing her gift, her daughter employed a noted artist to paint a picture showing the doors in their setting. He strolled around wearing a big floppy felt hat and wrapped in a black-and-red-striped blanket, and caused much wonderment to the villagers at a time when their thoughts were preoccupied with the war that had taken many of their men away from home.
North Mymms Park
Sir Ralph Coningsby, Elizabeth's grandson, inherited the property on the death of his father in 1590. He was high sheriff of the county, and whether it was because of his position or because of the prosperity that was sweeping the country he decided to build a new manor house farther west from the church. The Rev. F. C. Cass, in his history of South Mimms, says of North Mymms manor: "The former manor house is said to have stood somewhat farther towards the north-east and nearer to the church, probably filling the space now occupied by a deep pond shaded by trees." Sir Ralph died in 1615, therefore it is safe to assume that the present house was probably built in 1600.
In 1658 the Coningsby family sold the property to Sir Thomas Hyde, of Aldbury, whose heiress, his daughter Bridget, by marrying Peregrine Osborne, son of the Duke of Leeds, took the estate to that family in 1685. The house remained unaltered throughout the next two centuries until 1846, when the new owner, Baron Greville, added the corridors and the copper-covered turrets to the east and west wings. Coningsby C. Sibthorp bought North Mymms in 1871, and as he already owned Skimpans, Potterells and Hawks-head he became the largest landowner in the parish. The beautiful manor house remained unaltered. There was a grandiose scheme for diverting the course of the Mimmshall Brook to provide a " canal " and boating lake, but the planners had reckoned without the temperamental Mimmshall Brook and the scheme was abandoned.
In 1893 the property was sold to Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Burns, and they made extensive alterations and added several wings to the west side of the house, but these latter were practically all removed in 1947, leaving a house more suitable to present-day needs. The cool marble loggia with its vaulted mosaic ceiling and ornate bronze door remains from the 1893 additions. Professor Pevsner says of the house: " It is one of the best examples of the late Elizabethan style in the county, inferior perhaps to none but Hatfield."
The gardens, especially the rose garden of North Mymms Park, are known and admired by many, some of whom come from a distance on days when the gardens are open for the British Red Cross Society. The late Queen Mary was a regular visitor during the summer months when the roses, in a garden specially designed by Sir Ernest George, were at their most colourful. The garden itself was the work of William Robinson, "the reformer of the English garden at the end of the nineteenth century " (Pevsner).
During the early years of their ownership of North Mymms Park Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Burns made extensive alterations and additions to the pleasure grounds. The planting of choice shrubs belongs to this period, and it is to " old Mrs. Burns," as she is still remembered, that we owe the trees on the war memorial triangle—trees that are such a joy in the autumn.
Two extracts from parish magazines tell us something of the wealthy American lady who made North Mymms her home. During the summer of 1899 her daughter was married to Mr. L. Vernon Harcourt, and " in honour of her daughter's marriage Mrs. Burns gave a treat to the children, tea to the mothers in the afternoon and supper to the men employed on the estate in the evening . . . calculated that no less than 663 persons were thus entertained. . . . The men felt grateful not only for the day's pleasure but for the continuous employment provided for them through the winter as well as the summer months " (September 1899).
Twenty years later the parish magazine for August 1919 tells us: "It was with deep regret that the parish learned early on Sunday, 20th July, that Mrs. Burns had passed away quite suddenly at her residence in London in the early hours of the morning. . . . She had been able to view the procession during the day. Two days previously the vicar had received from her personally a most kind note in which she expressed the wish that the local peace celebrations would be a great success and enclosed a handsome cheque to help defray the expenses. That the happiness of the parishioners should thus be in her mind during the last days of her life will be remembered with appreciation ... The benefactions of Mrs. Burns in the parish were numerous. She maintained the parish nurse as her sole expense; she presented the Men’s Institute; and was always ready to respond to any appeal for help. She subscribed largely to the restoration of the church in 1913 and the churchyard was kept in order at her expense."
Potterells had a carriageway through its own grounds to within half a mile of the parish church. It wound its way between highly cultivated fields dating from Mr. Casamajor’s time and skirted a "lake" where the stream from Brookmans widened out before joining the Mimmshall Brook at Water End. Little rustic bridges spanned the "lake" at its narrow ends, and although very shallow it was an attractive feature of the park and was a favourite skating place. The little bridges are still there, but the lake is reed-choked and a haven for moorhens.
The carriageway entered the public road a short distance north of Teakettle bridge. Along this drive Caroline Lydia Casamajor came to visit the school she had built in Water End. She passed the village pound less than 100 yards from her school. The pound was still standing in 1900. It has been suggested that the cluster of trees near the bridge marks the site of a cottage occupied by one who combined the work of a gate keeper with that of the pound keeper.
Until the coming of the motor-car this carriageway was used by all who lived at Potterells. Wedding processions and funeral cortégés alike traversed the gravelled drive, the last funeral to come that way being that of Mrs. Cotton Curtis, who died in 1903. In 1950 the drive was still very clearly defined.
During the incumbency of the Rev. Horace Meyer Potterells was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wheen, whose’ daughter, Hondtia, died in July 1867. The lectern in church is the memorial to this young girl who died before she was twenty.
Set in a mellow red-brick wall which was probably half a century old when Arthur Young visited Mr. Casamajor is a charming little relic of the Seymour family, who owned Potterells from about 1909 until 1934. Gone are the colourful herbaceous borders, which have been replaced by a wide sweep of closely mown grass, but there it hangs, a dainty wrought-iron gate - an elongated S superimposed upon a decorative heart-shaped motif, flanked by the dates 1884-909 and over it all a graceful H supported by two R shapes, a symbol of twenty-five happy years of marriage.
This cultured aristocratic family played a prominent part in parish affairs. Mr. Hugh F. Seymour was a churchwarden for many years, one daughter made the beautiful Mothers’ Union banner for the parish church and another ran the local Girl Guides. The daughters regularly visited the school at Water End, where they taught country dances to the girls. The musical talents of Mrs. Seymour and her daughters were always available for any good cause. The name of one son can be seen on the war memorial.
|Brookmans House in 1864. The hatchment above the front door is that of Mrs. E. C. Gaussen, who had died during that year.|
|Muffets (Moffats) Farm at the beginning of this century.|
|After the fire which destroyed Brookmans House in 1891 the stables were remodelled as a dwelling house. The house is now the clubhouse for Brookmans Park Golf Club.|
|Bell Bar by Buckler, 1840. By courtesy of the County Records Office.|
|Balloon Corner, Welham Green. Lunardi is said to have left his cat in the care of a woman living in one of the cottages, now demolished. Photograph by Geo. Knott. 1900.|
|Dellsome Lane, formerly known as St. Albans Road. Photograph by Geo. Knott. 1906|
|Welham Green crossroads by Geo. Knott. 1905|
|Bell ringers in about 1900. W. Nash, G. Harrow, G. Wren, C. Nash, B. Marsden - Nottingham, B. Smith, R. Honour.|
|North Mymms Cricket Club 1905. A. Marsden, C. Canham, W. Smith, H. Nash, J. Capes, H. Matthews, W. Aslett, F. Nash, H. Good, B. Rogers, B.Smith, C. Wheeler.|
|The North Mymms brass band which flourished for about thirty years. H. Good, ? ?, A. Marsden, C. Hickson, R. Canham, T. Pollard, W. Collins, B. Young, C. Wheeler, F. Wheeler, F. Aslett, H. Page, R. Marsden. Picture taken about 1910.|
Hawkshead House was the home of Lord and Lady Clauson from early 1900 until their deaths within six weeks of each other in the spring of 1946. They were always closely involved in parish affairs.
Lord Clauson was educated at Merchant Taylors and Oxford. He was called to the Bar in 1891 and took silk in 1910. He had a distinguished career and was made a C.B.E. for his services to the Admiralty. He became Lord Justice of Appeal in 1938 and retired in 1942, when he was created a baron. Of him the Dictionary of National Biography says "He had a clear logical mind finding felicitous expression in apt and lucid language." Lady Clauson was a charming and gracious lady, interested in the local Women’s Institute and the girls of Water End school, while be "by a kindliness of heart imperfectly concealed by a somewhat austere manner won the affection of a large circle of friends." (D.N,B.) Their memorial in church bears the words "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their deaths were not divided."
One Christmas season during the 1939-45 war Abdale sheltered a very important young man. A party of the Young People’s Fellowship touring the parish singing carols in aid of the Red Cross called at Abdale, although the house was thought to be empty. They were greeted by a young woman, who exclaimed
"English carol-singers." Interviewed by an interpreter, the little group was eventually ushered in and invited to sing to the company of staid men assembled in the hall. Soon the young people and the obvious foreigners were singing each in their own language the carols of their own countries. The young woman, dressed in an unfamiliar costume, produced a tray on which were tiny glasses of " sweet water" and a dish of unusual biscuits. A car was heard and in came a slim young man. It was noticed that the older men treated him with great deference. Hosts and visitors toasted each other in the sweet water, the collecting box received a gift and the bemused young people left, speculating upon the strangers.
During January a national picture magazine had a four-page spread showing King Peter "of Yugoslavia and members of his Cabinet. There was his Minister for Defence, there his Education Minister—they had mimed the Christmas story so short a time before. The strangers at Abdale were identified.
Moffats House and Muffets Farm
There was a Dr. Thomas Muffett, entomologist, whose Insectorum Theatrum was published posthumously and whose admiration for spiders has, it is said, "never been surpassed." He is said to have owned Muffetts and to have practised in London and Ipswich. He died in 1604. For nearly a century after its publication his Health’s Improvement was very popular. He seems to have had very decided opinions with regard to cooking. He evidently enjoyed "the fair lidded oister," which cost two shillings a 100 in Colchester, but "powdered""- that is salted - meat for use in winter was tough, hard, heavy and ill of nourishment, requiring rather the stomach of another Hercules than of an ordinary or common ploughman."
It has been said that the nursery rhyme "Little Miss Muffet" was written by Dr. Thomas Muffett after Patience, his little daughter, had had an encounter with a spider. The first known printed version of the rhyme appeared in 1805 in an American book Songs for the Nursery. The good doctor had then been dead for 200 years, but his rhyme, if indeed it is his, could have travelled orally from England to the New World and could have returned home in printed form.
At the time the printed version of "Little Miss Muffet" appeared the sheriff of the county, John Michie, was living at "Muffatts, Hatfield." He was interested in the enclosure of North Mymms common and had been concerned regarding the administration of the charities, at one time actually ordering that the apprenticing should be continued and that the bread should be distributed to the poor. This was at the time when the trustees had dwindled to one only.
In the middle of the nineteenth century Moffatts was the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Daniell, who at the time of the restoration of the church in 1859 gave the font that is in use at the present time.
Of later years the most interesting family to live at Moffatts was that of Wilson Fox. Mr. Arthur Wilson Fox was the son of Dr. Wilson Fox, physician in ordinary to Queen Victoria, for which appointment he received a retaining fee of £200 per annum. Mrs. Arthur Wilson Fox was a direct descendant of Sir Thomas More - strange that she should live so near Gubbins, the ancestral home of the More family - and, like her famous ancestor, was interested in the social problems of her day. She spoke to Women’s Institutes on local government and became a school manager. She wrote short stories, always with a high moral tone and usually having an historical background, for children, but being paper-backs not one of her tracts has survived. Her more serious writing was "Notes" contributed to the East Herts Archaeological Society. These dealt with Northaw, where she went to live in about 1920, and were the results of historical research.
At the turn of the century it was the home of three brothers, Horace, Hugh and Claude Lermitte. Claude was captain of the cricket club for a time; Hugh was musical and was always willing to have his piano taken round to the boys’ school in order to help some good cause and at the same time give the parishioners a musical treat; Horace went to "business."
They were a generous trio. Every June the head teachers of the two schools recorded in their log books "Six pecks of strawberries sent today by Mr. Lermitte." When in April 1906 a disastrous fire destroyed two picturesque wooden cottages in the middle of Welham Green and rendered the families homeless it was the brothers Lermitte who organised a fund to help the unfortunate ones. For a number of summers two boys from the boys’ school and two girls from the school at Water End were sent, in charge of a lady teacher, to spend a fortnight at the seaside.
After the Lermitte brothers left Frowick a grandson of the family who gave the font to the church went to live there. He was Mr. Harry Daniell, and of him Lord Clauson wrote "Mr. Daniell’s father was for many years chief constable of Hertfordshire and lived at Hatfield. Mr. Harry Daniell was on the Stock Exchange. He had served in the Herts Yeomanry and reached the rank of major, retiring before the Great War. In 1914 he rejoined as a lieutenant. He had considerable antiquarian tastes and formed a large collection of book-plates." Mr. Daniell did a great deal of work on our churchwardens’ accounts, and extracts from them were published in the Hertfordshire Mercury in November 1917. When he left Frowick he went to live on the outskirts of Welwyn Garden City, where he died in the early 1930s.
Rostock Hall, off Powder Beech Lane
Admiral Sir John Fellowes, K.C.B., was born in Brighton in 1843. He was educated at the Royal Naval Academy, Gosport. As one of Queen Victoria’s aides-de-camp in the early 1890s he was a familiar figure in the social and official life of London, but "he loves the sea and prefers the quarter-deck to a waxed floor for dancing" (Gaskell, Hertfordshire Leaders, published 1907). This statement confirms that of one who as a boy worked on Saturday mornings at The Grange: "The admiral set great store by the title ‘Admiral’ because he had worked for that one but had only inherited the other."
Admiral Sir John Fellowes retired to civilian life in 1897 and took an active part in parish affairs, being a churchwarden for some years. He was buried in North Mymms churchyard.
The unusual name Powder Beech Lane has fallen into disuse and is now known as Fellowes Lane. The block of flats for elderly people is known as The Grange and is in Admiral’s Close, compliments that would have given great pleasure to the admiral who once lived there.
Where did the children of Bell Bar go to school in those early days of education for all? To Westfield, walking the mile or so either by the "bottom fields" from the gate diagonally across the road from the Swan or by the "top fields" from opposite the north lodge. This school had been built by Miss Franks in 1850 and had been eulogised in Parliament by John Mundella, M.P., a leading light in the struggle for education for all.
In the North Mymms parish magazine for September 1888 we read: "It should not be forgotten that we are indebted to the excellent school founded by Miss Franks of Westfield for the education of many of the children residing at Bell Bar … indeed one-fifth of the children educated at it come from our own parish. Mr. Mundella, speaking in the House of Commons some time since, said ‘I have recently been in Hertfordshire during the holidays and I found just on the border of Lord Salisbury’s Park one of the best schools in England.’"
At the beginning of this century the villagers of Bell Bar could stand at their cottage doors and look across a narrow field to see the rare motor-car travel along the Great North Road, but it was more usual to see the droves of cyclists on their high machines riding along in orderly fashion to spend a day in the country. Fifty years earlier their grandparents had stood at the same doorways and had watched great coaches lumber by, sometimes so close that it had been possible to touch the sides of the vehicles as they went by on what was the North Road. Glimpses of the famous and of the not so famous had rewarded those who stood and stared. Mail coaches had raced down through the village, scattering the geese that gathered at the pond at the bottom of the street. Who knew who it was who cantered through in the middle of the night when all good people were in their beds? Their grandparents had told them that Dick Turpin, who had had a liking for a village girl, had sometimes passed through on his way to meet the girl at the Greyhound, the old name for Woodside Place. This inn had once been the home of Ben Caunt, a famous pugilist, and followers of the "Fancy" had been seen in Bell Bar.
The coming of the railway had changed all this and had left Bell Bar in a quiet backwater. Prior to 1840 five roads had met near the sixteenth milestone north of Swanley Bar Farm. One had climbed in a north-westerly direction to pass in front of the front door of Brookmans to emerge into the rick-yard and out into the village that had taken its name from the Bell. The road had been diverted and a new piece of turnpike constructed from the junction of the five roads at the sixteenth milestone to the Eight Bells at Hatfield, thus avoiding Brookmans and the Greyhound as well.
Although out of the main stream of traffic when the new stretch of road was opened in 1851, Bell Bar was not always quiet. Six years later the churchwardens paid Isaac Tadgell, the constable, to "convey a woman and child from the roadside at Bell Bar to Hatfield Union" and in 1869 they had to foot the bill for "three visits by Constable W. Cozens to the Swan Inn, Bell Bar, in cases of disturbance," each visit costing 5/-.
In June 1878 no doubt all the villagers turned out to watch a little cavalcade of men who were taking part in a walking match. Hugh Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale, had challenged Edward Payson Weston, a famous American walker, to a walking match from Knightsbridge to the Ram Jain Inn, approximately 100 miles along the Great North Road. The challenge was accepted, the referees (Sir John Astley and the Duke of Beaufort) were chosen and a wager of £5 was agreed. Weston was a picturesque figure, five feet eight inches in height, with white hair and white moustache, wearing a velvet tunic and high gaiters and carrying a small "swagger" cane. With their referees mounted, the two walkers came past the Swan at the rate of a little less than six miles per hour and all through the night they walked, Hugh Lowther, the winner, reaching the Ram Jam inn in seventeen hours twenty-one minutes.
The Bell became the Lord Melbourne and is today known as Elm Tree Farm, though for years it was called Upper Bell Bar Farm. The Swan became the home of Mr. Gaussen’s coachman and a rendezvous for wagonettes, but is now an attractive dwelling house with a mysterious twenty-first milestone beside its front door. The smithy, the bakehouse, the post office and the mission room have all gone, but in their place is a delightful hamlet, cared for and loved.
THREE FAMOUS WRITERS
During the century and a half of uneasy peace that preceded the civil war of 1642, three famous writers lived and worked in North Mymms. One was the son of a judge, one was the son of the curate and the other was one of whom so little is known that his birth-place is given as "perhaps London, perhaps North Mymms, perhaps Essex." All were famous in their day, not only in this country but throughout Europe.
Thomas More was the son of the judge Sir John More, citizen of London and a mercer. Thomas was born in London in 1478 and his education followed the pattern of those days - school, then a period in a nobleman’s household, in this case in that of Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, followed by University. Thomas went to Oxford, then to Lincoln’s Inn, and after being called to the Bar followed his father’s profession as a judge.
The More's ancestral home was a small property, More Hall, sixteen miles north of London, set in a pleasant glade a short ride from the Bishop of Ely’s residence at Hatfield. The Mores were deeply attached to their country home, spending in it whatever time they could spare from their duties in London.
A brilliant career seemed assured to Thomas when Henry Vl1I became king in 1509, though Thomas himself had no desire for public life. Indeed, he seems to have led a somewhat retired life at More Hall during 1515 and 1516 when he wrote his most famous work Utopia. Written in Latin, it was printed at Louvain under the supervision of his friend the Dutch scholar Erasmus. Utopia purported to be an account of life on an imaginary island and provided its writer with an outlet for his views on such modern-sounding problems as unemployment and old age, the enjoyment and use of leisure and racial discrimination. "War and Battle as a thing [are] very beastly."
It was probably at this time that Thomas More met the young John Heywood, just down from Oxford, and despite the great difference in age, about twenty years, the two men became firm friends. Thomas introduced the young man to court, doubtless keeping an eye on him for some time, and a few years later gave his blessing to the marriage of John with his niece, Elizabeth Rastell.
Henry VIII was not willing to forgo the services of so able a man as he found Thomas to be, and various diplomatic missions were assigned to him. Honours came as the missions were successfully concluded, and when Wolsey fell from favour Thomas More became chancellor of England.
History tells of Henry’s delight to visit his witty, gentle chancellor at his Chelsea home, but it is said that in 1530 the king came to the country to visit him. How we would like to know who accompanied the king on this jaunt. Was Holbein, the Dutch painter, among the gay crowd, and did he see the wonderful oak mantel which he used as the background for his picture of his friend Thomas? The mantel was at More Hall for another 300 years until it was moved into Brookmans when More Hall was demolished in about 1840, and it was saved when a disastrous fire destroyed Brookmans fifty years later. Did the fourteen-year-old Princess Mary Tudor accompany her father on this visit? It is said by Henry Peacham that Mary was on a visit to More Hall when she was introduced by Sir Thomas More to the poet John Heywood. In 1530 Mary was still in favour, though four years later, after the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, the princess was in disgrace. It says much for the loyalty and courage of John Heywood that he wrote a poem in honour of Mary’s eighteenth birthday at a time when she was in disgrace.
We can only speculate upon the events of that day in 1530 when the king is said to have visited More Hall, but the hard facts of history tell that in July 1535 Thomas More was beheaded to satisfy the whim of a ruthless master.
Meanwhile John Heywood continued at court in favour with Henry, then with the young Edward VI and lastly with Mary Tudor. Doubtless he had to tread warily at times, for his old friend and uncle-in-law was still thought of as a traitor. John had a pleasing singing voice and played on the virginals (an early form of spinet in a box used in the 16th and 17th centuries - usually by young women).
He amused by his wit and repartee in the manner of a high-class jester, and he wrote little "interludes" for the company of child players of whom he was master. His most famous interlude, "The Four PP.," was a debate between a palmer, a ‘poticary and a pardoner with a pedlar as judge to see who could tell the biggest lie. His humour was whole-some and was appreciated by Mary, who enjoyed innocent fun. It is said that even on her death-bed John was admitted to her room, where he amused her with his pleasantries.
John Heywood was an ardent papist, and on Elizabeth Tudor’s accession he exiled himself to Malines, where he died about 1580. To the end of his long life he was able to joke about his own misfortunes, but there is a pathetic undertone in his letter to the great Lord Burleigh thanking him for attending to his financial affairs in London after he had "been despoiled by Spanish and German soldiers of the little I had."
Henry Peacham, 1576-1643, was the clever son of the curate. Henry Peacham the curate was a good classical scholar and in 1577 published The Garden of Eloquence, a treatise on rhetoric which he dedicated to the Bishop of London.
The young Henry went to school in St. Albans and then to Trinity College, Cambridge. He could compose, could write poetry in Latin as well as in English, and was a mathematician, a botanist, a student of heraldry and a competent artist, illustrating his writings with his own wood-cuts. On leaving Cambridge he became a schoolmaster at Wymondham, Norfolk, but London and the court called him and by 1610 he was translating tracts for James I. In November 1612 he was writing doleful "mourning hymnes" on the death of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales, but by St. Valentine’s Day of the following year gay wedding songs were flowing from his pen in honour of the marriage of Elizabeth Stuart to Frederick of Hanover.
Henry may have been among those who accompanied the sixteen- year-old princess to her new home in Heidelberg, for his patron, the cultured Earl of Arundel, with his countess, made the journey. Henry became tutor to the earl’s young sons. Progress to Heidelberg was slow, a circumstance that Henry turned to good account, for he and his charges had time to become familiar with the chief cities of Holland, France and Bohemia. He was a keen sightseer and during a short period of freedom he made a journey to Italy, where lie met a famous music teacher, but he rejoined the party and so was able to visit the elector’s court at Heidelberg.
By 1616 he was settled in London and was following a literary career. His humour, like that of John Heywood, was wholesome, as the following story from his Dispute between Coach and Sedan shows: "And now I speak of whispering. I remember a good fellow of Goosetoft neare Boston came to a Fishmonger in the market who had mackerels to sell (a fish very rare in those parts) and taking up a mackerel in his hand, whispered in the mackerel’s eare, then he laid the mackerel’s mouth to his eare; which the fishmonger observing said "Friend doe you make a foole of my fish and of youre selfe too?’ ‘No,’ said the fellow, ‘I make bold but to aske him when hee was at Sea and hee tells mee not these three weeks’ - but this is by the way."
Sad to say, he became very poor in his old age, but it is pleasing to think that Sir Paul Pindar, then owner of Brookmans, may have relieved his distress, if only temporarily, for in 1639 Henry dedicated to Sir Paul a tract, "The Duty of Subjects to their King and Love of their Native Country in time of Extremity and Danger!’ Henry knew that the streets of London were not paved with gold, and he knew of the temptations that faced young men on their visits to the capital, so for their guidance he wrote two little booklets, "The Worth of a Peny" and "The Art of Living in London."
Cosmopolitan though he had become, he retained a love for his birthplace and at a time when he had seen many of the beauties of Europe he wrote:
"I thinke the place* that gave me first my birth
The genius had of epigram and mirth,
There famous More did his Utopia wrighte
And thence came Heywood’s Epigrams to light
And then this breath I drew …
*North Mimmes near S. Albanes.
Those lines occur in Thalia’s Banquet, written in 1620, and two years later in his best known work, The Compleat Gentleman, he wrote "Merry John Heywood ... wrote his Epigrammes as also Sir Thomas More his Utopia in the parish wherein I was borne; where either of them dwelt and had fair possessions."
I first heard of Mr. Capes when I was a little girl of eight or nine, a pupil at Water End school. I did not need to go to him, for I had no warts, but we all knew of girls whose warts had been charmed away by Mr. Capes. I was much too frightened to put my hands into water in which eggs had been boiled - a sure way of getting warts, so we were told - so I would never have to go to Mr. Capes.
Some thirty-five or forty years on I returned to Water End to be its last headmistress. The American general hospital had been opened as a temporary housing estate and we welcomed little girls and boys from Islington and elsewhere. As the months went by we all settled happily together. Greeted one morning with "Oh, you should see Brenda’s hands. They are covered in ‘delible pencil," a quick glance at Brenda’s hands explained the marks. "It’s all right. She’s been to the doctor to get rid of her warts." Wide-eyed astonishment from my "locals." "Why? She should go to Mr. Capes, shouldn’t she?"
I had forgotten Mr. Capes and his special ability, but it was still well known to many who had "consulted" him with success.
THE SIBTHORPE STORY
In 1777 a newly married couple travelled from Lincoln into Hertfordshire to take up residence in a property which the family had inherited years earlier. The man was Humfrey Sibthorp, his bride - young, pretty and with charming manners - was Susannah Ellison, of Thorne in Yorkshire, and the property was Skimpans.
The Skimpans of those days must have been a much bigger place than the rather sad-looking farmhouse, which bears that name today, and the Dury and Andrews map of 1766 gives the impression of a property of some importance. Skimpans had been left to the Sibthorp family by Gilbert Browne, brother of Humfrey’s grandmother Mary. Gilbert and Mary were descendants of the cavalier Sir Thomas Coningsby, whose loyalty to his king had led to imprisonment in the Tower.
Humfrey and Susannah settled down among their neighbours - Charles de Laet at Potterells, the Duke of Leeds at North Mymms Place and Mr. and Mrs. John Hunter, comparative strangers like themselves, at Gubbins.
On St. Valentine’s Day 1783 their third child, a son, was born and in April was taken to the parish church to be baptised. When William Hawtayne, the curate, took the child into his arms he did not guess that he was holding one who would grow up to incur the deep displeasure of his sovereign but would earn the gratitude of many a clergyman’s widow. As he looked down at the little face, long and narrow and with slightly protuberant eyes, the curate probably thought that Charles de Laet was an unwieldy name for such a small bundle. He glanced at the infant’s brother Coningsby, an unsteady toddler clinging to the hand of his four-year-old sister Mary, and he recalled the little he knew of the history of the parish and its people. He knew that Mary Browne, great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas Coningsby, had married John Sibthorp, M.P., of Lincoln, in 1702 and that ever since there had been a Coningsby in every generation. Roger Coningsby, a bachelor, last male member of that illustrious family, had lived and died at Potterells. He had left all his wealth to Charles de Laet, said to be his natural son. It was said that Charles de Laet, also a bachelor, intended leaving all his wealth to the Sibthorp family. If so, what more natural then than the compliment of giving this small child the name of his "gossip"? The curate shrugged off any uncharitable thoughts and in his flowing copper-plate handwriting entered the name - Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp - in the register, shook hands with the parents and with Charles de Laet and then watched the party drive off to Skimpans.
Four more sons were born to Humfrey and Susannah, three of whom were baptised in the parish church. One was named Henry, the next was named after his grandfather, Humfrey, and had the Archdeacon of Bedford as his godfather, then came Jarvis, whose name could have been a compliment to the family into which Gilbert Browne had married or could have been the curate’s way of spelling Gervaise, a traditional family name occurring regularly for more than 200 years. The youngest son was Richard.
When the little Charles was nine years old his godfather died and his will was not quite as had been expected. There had been another godson, Justinian Casamajor, of Shenley, and it was to that godson’s male heirs first and then to the Sibthorp family that Charles de Laet’s fortune was left. Strangely, all Sustinian Casamajor’s seven sons died leaving no male heirs, and after more than half a century the remote possibility of 1792 became the certainty of 1849 when George James Casamajor died, unmarried, in India.
When the Sibthorp family returned to Lincoln they lived in Canwick Hall. Set on a steep hill overlooking the city, Canwick Hall had been bought by Mary Browne and the Sibthorps were beginning to think of it as their ancestral home, though they still had that stake, Skimpans, in Hertfordshire.
Little is known of the childhood of Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp, but like most of the family he went to Oxford, his college being Brasenose. He entered the Army when quite young, serving in the Royal Scots Greys. During the Peninsular War he served with the Dragoon Guards.
In February 1812 he married Maria Ponsonby Tottenham, who was of remarkable beauty, and by her he had four sons. Until the death of his brother Coningsby his life seems to have been typical of that of the second son of any wealthy family. The Sibthorps followed the convention of the period, which decreed politics for the eldest son, then the Army, the Navy and the Church in that order. Henry entered the Navy and served in H.M.S. Ajax, which was blown up in the Dardanelles in 1807. Humfrey and Richard both went into the Church, Humfrey becoming the incumbent of Washing-borough, where he remained for forty-eight years. Jarvis had died in infancy and had been buried at North Mymms.
By 1826 Charles had been elected Member of Parliament for Lincoln, thus following his father, his brother and his great-uncle, and like them he became colonel of the South Lincolnshire Militia. The Gentleman’s Magazine for January 1856 remarks: "Colonel Sibthorp ever retained a strong affection for his original profession - shown in the ardour and profuse liberality with which he endeavoured to advance to perfection the militia regiment of his county after his appointment as colonel." He was a deputy-lieutenant of the county and a magistrate. He possessed great personal as well as family influence and was popular due to his habit of "calling a spade a spade."
His election to Parliament came at the time of the debates on the Reform Bill. He opposed it in all its stages, though the clause regarding better provision for the residence of clergy and enabling their widows to retain possession for two months after the death of their husbands is said to have originated with him. Despite his personal influence, and although according to a letter-writer of the time " no one could kiss the girls better than Sibthorp at the last election," he lost his seat at the next election, being defeated by Sir Edward Bulwer, who later became the famous author Lord Lytton. His popularity among the ladies of Lincoln led them to present him with a costly diamond ring, hallmarked 1832 and inscribed "The ornament and reward of integrity presented to Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp by the grateful people of Lincoln, Christmas 1832." The ring and other Sibthorp relics can be seen in the Usher gallery, Lincoln, which also contains many paintings by Peter de Wint collected by former Sibthorps and given to the city by later members of this well-known local family.
Two years later Colonel Sibthorp was re-elected and continued to represent Lincoln until his death in 1855. Those were the days of rotten boroughs and absentee members, but almost every day when Parliament was sitting he could be seen in his place listening attentively to its business, ready to spring to his feet in defence of the "old order" of rural life which was rapidly disappearing as machinery became popular and industrialism spread. He was punctual and indefatigable and his bitterest opponents paid tribute to his honesty of purpose. Completely sincere, no prospect of place, honour or pension could induce the colonel to vote contrary to his opinion. Sir Robert Peel once said of him "There goes a man who is always fearlessly and solitarily wrong," but it was with Peel’s support that he was able to carry his amendment to Melbourne’s proposal to grant £50,000 to the Prince Consort as a yearly allowance. Rising to his feet, standing rigidly erect and emphasising his remarks with violent jerks of his huge square gold-mounted quizzing glass, he denounced the proposal as a "Whig job" and succeeded in getting the allowance reduced to £30,000 a year. This served to increase Queen Victoria’s dislike of the colonel, who a few months earlier had asked why England should pay the expenses of the visit of the prince of Saxe-Coburg to this country. She had been most annoyed and had said "We have been most distressed by the ill-natured remarks of the member for Lincoln, and as long as Colonel Sibthorp is the representative of Lincoln We shall decline to visit that loyal and ancient city." And she never did!
At the time of the debates on the emancipation of the slaves there was a group in the House known as the Saints. Colonel Sibthorp was of this group, whose leader was Wilberforce. In his diary Charles Greville tells a story that throws a light on the character of this unusual man: "I sat next to Stanley, who told me a story which amused me. Macintosh in the course of the recent debates went to the House of Commons at eleven in the morning to take a place. They were all taken on the benches below the gangway, and on asking the doorkeeper how they happened to be all taken so early he said ‘Oh sir, there is no chance of getting a place, for Colonel Sibthorp sleeps at a tavern close by and comes here every morning by eight o’clock and takes places for all the Saints.’"
The years from 1830 to 1850 were years of acute agricultural depression. The corn laws of 1815, which had aimed at preserving the farmers’ monopoly of wheat, had brought untold misery to the farm labourers. Tenant farmers and those with small acreages also felt the pinch, and Cobbett had reported from Lincoln that the greater number of farmers in that area would be found to be insolvent if they were to be sold up. Many Tories, including Lord Aberdeen, who had turned Free Trader, supported the move to repeal the corn laws, but Colonel Sibthorp made a furious attack on Peel’s turncoat policy.
The repeal came in 1846, the year when the railway mania was at its height. Among the many petitions to Parliament during that year was one presented by Lord Grimston, M.P., on behalf of the parishioners of North Mymms, who objected to the plans for a railroad to run through their parish. This petition had the utmost support from Colonel Sibthorp, especially when the engineer’s plan showed the exact direction that would be taken by the proposed London to York railroad. But the petition was not allowed and the engineer, Cubitt, built the railroad exactly where and how he had planned. It cut through the orchard at Skimpans and it spanned with a hideous bridge the pleasant grassy track that led to Foxes Pit and Bell Bar and on to the turnpike along which, as a child, the colonel had travelled to Lincoln to visit his grandparents. "I hate the very name of railroad" shouted the colonel, and in his loathing opposed its coming at all times both in and out of Parliament. Punch produced two cartoons at this time, one showing the colonel as a mourner at the funeral of the corn laws and the other showing him as a "bobby" arresting a railway engine.
In 1851 Paxton built the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park to house the great exhibition planned by the Prince Consort. Queen Victoria was delighted with it all and Disraeli fulsomely called it "that enchanted pile which the sagacious taste and prescient philanthropy of an accomplished and enlightened Prince have raised for the glory of England and the delight of two hemispheres," but the colonel declared furiously " I have never set foot ... and nothing would induce me to go within a mile of that obscene and insanitary structure."
When approaching his seventieth birthday, and although suffering from the effects of a mysterious accident, his attendance in the House was as regular and his outbursts were as frequent as ever. He was one of a minority of fifty-three who censured the Free Trade Bill introduced by Earl Grey in 1852. Punch depicted him as being one of Peel’s "dancing dogs," but he was a man of strong, often misguided, convictions, a Tory champion of all that was gracious and peaceful in rural England. an individualist unlikely to" dance" to any man’s tune. The autumn of 1855 saw the immaculate blue frock-coat and neat light cravat, the huge quizzing glass and the almost feminine display of flashing rings for the last time. A character passed from the House.
Although Colonel Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp did not live to enjoy his Hertfordshire inheritance his grandson, Coningsby Charles Sibthorp, was for many years the principal landowner in our parish. In addition to Skimpans and Potterells he owned the smaller estate of Hawkshead, and in 1870 he was able to purchase North Mymms Place from Baron Greville. For a time, therefore, the two portions of the original manor were reunited and Coningsby Charles Sibthorp returned to the ancestral home of the Coningsby family.
Born in 1846, Coningsby Charles Sibthorp was vastly different from the flamboyant colonel. He would appear to have been of a retiring nature, but he had his grandfather’s sense of public service. He was generous in his subscriptions to any local good cause. His name appears in many old parish magazines, and in March 1880, after heading the subscription list with a donation of £125, we read under "Boys’ school" that " Mr. Sibthorp with his usual kindness at once entered into the plan of endeavouring to erect a room adequate to the purpose," and seven years later "the gravel which has been given by Mr. Sibthorp for the ample playground which thanks to him now surrounds the school."
The girls’ school underwent extensive improvements and repairs in 1887 and "to Coningsby Sibthorp, Esq., we are indebted for some of the materials in carrying them out."
On February 8, 1876, at Scawby church in Lincolnshire, Coningsby Charles Sibthorp was married to Mary Georgiana, eldest daughter of the Rev. R. Sutton, and a month later "friends and tenantry" met to present a silver inkstand to him. The presentation was made by the vicar, the Rev. A. S. Latter, who referred to " Mr. Sibthorp’s kindness and consideration" and to "the improvements which he had made, at great cost to himself, in the cottages on his estate."
Gradually he cleared the old black wooden cottages that had caught the eye of Buckler, the artist, in 1838, and his plan for a model village began to take shape. Welham Cottages and The Watersplash, with their little plaques bearing the initials C.C.S. and the dates 1872 and 1884, indicate that they were built by Coningsby Charles Sibthorp. He replaced the farmhouse in the middle of Welham Green. Here lived farmer Smith and his wife. She is remembered as being a dainty Dresden china figure of a little old lady who still wore pattens on her feet as she went about her work in the house or dairy and still wore the bonnet and ringlets of her youth. The farmhouse was replaced by the substantial building which has lately been converted into two houses. He bought and modernised the Black Lion and in typical Victorian manner he gave it a new name and sign - the Sibthorp Arms. Typically Victorian too are the boundary stones in the churchyard indicating the amount of land he gave to enlarge it in 1875.
In 1889 he returned to Lincoln and the North Mymms estates passed into other hands. After more than three centuries the Coningsby-Sibthorp connections with our parish came to an end. There were no children of the marriage of Coningsby Charles Sibthorp and Mary Sutton, and when he died in 1932, aged eightysix, his property was inherited by his nieces, daughters of his brother Montague.
It would seem that the Sibthorps had an affection for North Mymms, for on the memorial tablet that his grandson erected in Canwick church the colonel is stated to have been of "Canwick Hall, Lincolnshire, and of Potterells, Hertfordshire" and as having been born in North Mymms.
Of the black-boarded cottages one remains, but it has undergone a transformation. It is the attractive white cottage opposite the Hope and Anchor public-house. One hundred years ago it was the home of John Chuck, woodman to Coningsby Charles Sibthorp. There John brought up his family and there Mrs. Chuck baked the "bonny loaf" which caught the eye of the vicar at the cottage garden show in 1872 - the loaf that earned a "first." The card awarded on that occasion is now in the Women’s Institute scrapbook.
THE SABINE FAMILY OF HERTFORDSHIRE
One would expect the bearers of such an unusual name as Sabine to be unusual people, and one would not be disappointed. Sabines or Sabens or Sabyns or any one of a dozen other variants of the name are to be found scattered about the world, and wherever they have settled they have become useful and honoured citizens.
Bertha Wenham Sabine, born in Montreal in 1844, spent twenty-five years of her life as a missionary in Alaska and was the first white woman to penetrate as far north as Anvik. Robert Sabyn, aged thirty, was stated in a "muster of the inhabitants of Virginia, 1625" to have arrived in that country three years earlier. Of Frederika Victoria Sabine it was said that she "was born with the British flag at the head of the bed" in Philadelphia in 1863.
Hertfordshire was the home of at least five generations of Sabines, who were descended from Joseph Sabine, himself a descendant of some settlers from England. There was at least one Joseph in every generation, so for convenience they are numbered one to five throughout this account of the Sabines. There were also always an Amelia and a Diana. Such unoriginality must have made life complicated at times.
Joseph 1, of Wicklow, had at least three sons - Rawlins, Joseph 2 and Henry. Henry’s son William became the second husband of the lady who was later to become Lady Cathcart and whose unusual life story was the theme of Castle Raclcrent, a best seller by the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth.
Joseph 2, born in Ireland in 1661, famous soldier and M.P. for Berwick, was a product of the times in which he lived. Capable but flamboyant, he saw service under the great Duke of Marlborough. He was wounded at Schellenberg but recovered and four years later, in 1708, led the attack at the battle of Oudenarde, where on the heights above the little town "Sabine’s brigade of Welsh fusiliers fought and defeated seven French battalions and forced them to beg for quarter and lay down their arms" (Narcissus Luttrell). Promotion followed rapidly, and by 1713, when the war ended, he had attained the rank of major-general. In 1715 he bought Tewin House, which was completely rebuilt at a cost of £40,000. George I twice visited Tewin House in order to admire its marble hall and staircase, its fine frescoes and the general’s fine collection of pictures and to stroll in the grounds, which were laid out in magnificent style. To enlarge his garden the general had closed the village’s main road down to the River Mimram but had given land to make the wide drive down to the church.
Joseph’s portrait was painted by the court painter, but he had no coat of arms. He remedied that by taking part of the arms of the Kent family and combining it with part of the arms of the Ipswich family on the same shield, though they were related neither to each other nor to him. In 1730 he became governor of Gibraltar, where he died nine years later. He had made his will a few months before and had mentioned an estate in Kildare and "my silver bason and ewer which the magistrates of Ghent presented to me when I commanded as Governor of that city." His body was brought home for interment at Tewin, where a large marble memorial was erected by Margaretta, his widow. In her will she left a sum of money "to buy Yellow serge or Woollen stuff to cloath poor Tewin boys," a condition of her bequest being that the memorial to her husband be kept in good repair.
Of the many children of the general and his lady, Joseph 3, a dashing young soldier, was killed at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. His brother John, who inherited the Sabine estates, seems to have been a quiet country squire, living at times in Ireland, where his eldest son, Joseph 4, was born, and at other limes at Tewin, where four sons were born to his second wife. One of the sons is known to have been a soldier towards the end of the American war and another, Robert, became a naval surgeon. John, their father, was a colonel in the Guards, and when the Hertfordshire militia was formed in 1757 he became its colonel. He died in 1771 and was buried at Tewin.
Joseph 4, cornet in the Horse Guards, a young man of twenty-eight when his father died, found the estate so encumbered when he inherited it that he was eventually forced to sell Tewin House. Sabines continued to live in the county, however. When Joseph 4 died in 1814 he left a family of at least five children - Joseph 5, who never married; Caroline, who married Henry Browne, of North Mymms Place; John, an officer in the Grenadier Guards, whose wife was Maria, daughter of Admiral Pasley; Diana Amelia, who became the wife of a wealthy Devon man; and Edward. Their mother had died a month after the birth of Edward. Caroline, then aged seventeen, had kept house for their father and had "mothered" the younger children until her marriage to Henry Browne in 1797. Joseph made his home at North Mymms after his sister’s marriage to Henry Browne, a man whose tastes were similar to his own.
In 1806 the bells of our church were recast by the famous bell-founder John Briant, of Hertford, and into the mould of one bell he incorporated the names of the churchwardens, Joseph Sabine and Richard Mason. Joseph was essentially a countryman, with an absorbing interest in horticulture and rare plants and in ornithology, especially British birds. He was an original member of the Linnean Society, which was founded in 1788. As the honorary secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society he straightened its accounts, its affairs and its methods, for which services the society presented him with a gold medal. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and from his sixtieth birthday until his death seven years later he was actively interested in the Zoological Society. He was an authority on the flora of Hertfordshire and he provided Clutterbuck with a list of eighty-eight rare flowering plants and four rare lichens for inclusion in his history which was published in 1815.
Henry and Caroline Browne had a family of six children. Were they the first of a long line of young botanists to know of a secret patch of wild orchids, the whereabouts of which was revealed to one’s dearest friend only on condition that "you don’t tell anyone"? Did their uncle encourage them to make collections of pressed wild flowers and did they wander from Teakettle bridge across Potterells Park picking lovely quaking grasses to decorate the pages?
Despite his wide interests and the voluminous correspondence in connection with them he was a faithful churchwarden. His important contribution to parochial affairs was the unravelling of the tangle into which the ancient charities had fallen. Joseph had been called to the Bar and had practiced until 1808, in which year he had been appointed inspector general of taxes. He held this position until 1835. This early training stood him in good stead, for it needed many months of patient work before his searchings were complete.
To the ancient charities Joseph added one more: "2 pounds of meat, a sixpenny loaf and a small quantity of potatoes to be distributed to poor widows on Easter Eve."
At the time of his marriage Henry Browne had bought North Mymms Place from the Duke of Leeds. Henry was a very wealthy man, being chief of the East India Company’s settlement at Canton, China. He was keenly interested in new farming methods and in the experiments of’ Turnip’ Townshend, of Bakewell. As he aimed to make his estate a model one it must have been a grievous loss in August 1800 when, as recorded by John Carrington, farmer, of Tewin - "15 of this month the Great Fire at North Mimms near the Church begun about 10 at night after they left Harvest Cart the Boys fell asleep in stable with Lantron and Set fire Burnt 12 Large Hay Reeks I Large Wheat Stack I Peas Do, all the Barns and Outer Buildings 2 Horses Hoggs & etc. Carts and Waggons fowls to a great amount." The loss of the barns gave an opportunity to replace outdated buildings, and when Arthur Young published his General View of the Agriculture of Hertfordshire in 1804 he reported that "Mr. Browne’s farmyard and offices now building ... are the most considerable which I have seen in the county." Henry, like his brother-in-law, had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society and was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. It was to him that Clutterbuck was indebted for the pedigrees of the former families of North Mymms.
When the long-drawn-out struggle with France was over men were once more thinking of such adventures as the finding of the North-west Passage. Edward Sabine, eighteen years younger than Joseph and even more years younger than his brother-in-law, Henry, had had his studies supervised by these two cultured men. Edward was an officer in the Royal Artillery, but the Duke of Wellington granted him general leave of absence on the understanding "that he was usefully employed in scientific pursuits." On May 9, 1813, the packet Manchester sailed out of Falmouth bound for Canada. The surgeon aboard was "Mr. Sabine," and his cousin, Edward, was also aboard in the official capacity of astronomer. Eight days out from Ealmouth Manchester was attacked by an American privateer, Yorktown, and in the ensuing running battle, which lasted twenty hours, Edward Sabine and his young soldier attendant handled a gun "to good effect." Manchester was, however, "compelled to strike her colours." Two months later she was recaptured by a British frigate, and after a short spell of military service at Quebec, Edward returned to England.
Two expeditions to the Arctic followed - in 1818 under Commander Ross in Isabella and in May of the following year under Sir Edward Parry. This second expedition lasted until November 1820, and during the long, tedious winter, when for ninety-six days the sun did not appear above the horizon, he produced a weekly journal for the amusement of the party. Known as the "North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle," this journal is said to have run to twenty-one issues, and one wonders how Edward Sabine could possibly have had enough material at hand to amuse for so long a period spent in the semi-darkness of the Arctic wastes.
The favourite studies of this brilliant man were astronomy, terrestrial magnetism and ornithology. He was an authority on Arctic bird-life. Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1818, he was its treasurer from 1850 until 1861 and its president for the next ten years. He was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and was created a K.C.B. in 1860. His wife, Elizabeth Juliana Leeves, an accomplished woman whom he married in 1826, helped him in all his scientific work. Their happy partnership lasted for more than fifty years, ending with her death in 1879. His death occurred four years later when he was ninety-five years old. The Royal Society has a portrait of him, and another, painted by G. F. Watts, R.A., when Sir Edward Sabine was eighty-eight, hangs in the mess-room of the Royal Artillery at Woolwich.
Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) cannot truthfully be called a Hertfordshire man. We in North Mymms have a nodding acquaintance with him, for his grandmother was Diana Amelia Sabine, sister of the churchwarden who left the charity to tie "poor widows." Sabine Baring-Gould was a well-known cleric, collector of folk-songs and writer of hymns. His ancestral home was Lew Trenchard, a village set in beautiful surroundings about ten miles from Tavistock, Devon.
The little Sabine had a carefree childhood and all the advantages that money could buy, including continental travel so extensive that by the time he was fifteen he could speak five languages. He was, however, handicapped by lack of regular schooling. When he was seventeen the family finally settled in Tavistock and it was then that one of his main interests was born - that of collecting folksongs from road-menders and stone-breakers of the moor.
He left Cambridge with firm religious convictions, and after his ordination went to Horbury, near Wakefield. It was there that he wrote the hymns that were to make him famous. It is said that "Onward, Christian soldiers" was first sung at the Horbury "wake" when the aristocratic young curate led his congregation through the streets of the little town. At his side marched a young mill girl with whom Sabine had fallen in love. He had her educated, sending her to a ladies’ academy in York. He left Horbury, took charge of Dalton, a very small parish near Thirsk, and then married Grace Taylor.
When his father died he became squire of Lew Trenehard and in 1881 became its vicar. His early interest in the folk-songs of the countryside reasserted itself. In his little dog-cart he travelled hundreds of miles, noting songs that would otherwise have been lost for ever. Within seven years he had published his Songs of the West. Perhaps the most beautiful "folk" prayer in the English language, ranking with the haunting Negro spirituals that were being rescued at the same time, is "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on" noted by Sabine Baring-Gould.
Grace, his wife, died in 1916. He lingered until early in January 1924 and was then laid beside her in the churchyard of the little church they had loved and in which they had worshipped. Appropriately his choir and his friends sang "Now the day is over," another of his hymns. But his hymns know no county boundaries. They are part of our heritage.
THE PRETTY AMERICAN
Born in Messina in January 1826, Frances Ruth Payson was the third child of a young American couple who had gone to live in Sicily after their marriage in December 1821. Her father, John Larkin Payson, six feet tall, dignified and courteous, traced his descent from Edward Payson, a young Puritan, of Nazeing, Essex, who had gone to the New World probably in the company of the famous Rev. John Eliot, "aposte to the Indians," not later than 1631. Her mother, Frances Lithgow, of Augusta, Maine, was of Scottish descent, a charming, cultured woman of attractive appearance and stately carriage, who when presented at the Neapolitan court was hailed as "La bella Americana."
At the time of Fanny Ruth’s birth her father was engaged in shipping Sicilian products - lemons, sulphur and sponges - to Boston, and the following year he was appointed American consul to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a position he held for eighteen years.
The Paysons had a large family of thirteen children, which included three pairs of twins, but only Arthur, Fanny Ruth, Frank and Charles grew up.
Early in 1844 as the family went to church there was some speculation as to who would be taking the service - they relied so much on visiting preachers. Seated demurely between her two young brothers waiting for the service to begin, pretty Fanny Ruth let her thoughts wander to the trip she and her mother would soon be taking. The service started. She glanced up and saw the preacher, a young man, English she guessed.
Lord Cranborne, son of Lord Salisbury, of Hatfield, England, and his companion, the young preacher, were making the "grand tour." They had travelled in leisurely fashion through France and Italy and planned to return to England by way of the Danube. Naturally the young men paid their respects to the American consul and his lady, and as they had visited both North and South America a year or two earlier there was no lack of conversation. When, some few days later, Mrs. Payson and Fanny Ruth boarded the steamer for Athens the two young Englishmen were among the passengers.
Fanny Ruth, after a whirlwind courtship among the beautiful Greek islands, came as a bride to North Mymms in the late summer of 1844. They were a handsome pair were James and Fanny Ruth Faithfull. She, so her husband declared, was one of the prettiest women he had ever seen; he had inherited the good looks of both his parents. His father, when a toddler, had been carried by George III to Queen Charlotte for her to admire. His mother, Mary Grantham, was one of the lovely girls from Scawby rectory in Lincolnshire, and the Grantham family was noted for its good looks.
James and Fanny Ruth entered into the social life of the parish, visited Lady Greville at North Mymms Place, enjoyed musical evenings at Potterells, when Mr. Casamajor would play his ‘cello, and were always welcome at Brookmans, the home of Robert Gaussen, for James and he had been at school together. Hatfield was near enough for frequent visits, and Fanny Ruth soon grew to love her husband’s family, especially Cecilia, James’s favourite sister, but she was always a litte in awe of her serious father-in-law, Dr. Faithfull, the rector of Hatfield.
James, like his father, was interested in education for the poor and was often in consultation with Miss Caroline Casamajor, who proposed building a school for girls in their nearest hamlet, Water End. Fanny Ruth sometimes walked across the field with James to see how the work was progressing. and when at last the little building was complete she was delighted with it. She took her drawing pad and sketched the school and Teakettle bridge against their background of trees. "How did the bridge get that quaint name?" asked Fanny Ruth, but no one could tell her. "It’s always been called that" they said.
The little drawing took its place with the others she had already made. There were some of the church, one of that fine spreading tree in Potterells park (James said it was an oak tree), one or two of North Mymms Place and one of Muffets Farm. This farm was near Gubbins, the mansion that Robert Gaussen intended to dismantle to use the materials to enlarge his own beloved Brookmans. Fanny Ruth wished she could have seen Gubbins when it had been a home, not as it was now, an empty shell.
Sketching and the social round, however, played but a small part in Fanny Ruth’s life. She had the care of her husband and their three children - Fanny, born in the year following their marriage; Emily, born in 1846; and their son, James, born eighteen months later - as well as the ordering of her small establishment and all the varied duties - school, Bible class and sick visiting - of a parson’s wife. Cecilia wrote of her: "Young, pretty and attractive as she was, it would have been impossible for anyone to have made a better wife, mother and clergyman’s assistant."
Ten years went by. Changes were in the air. Early in 1854 Cecilia’s husband died. In the chill November of the same year James’s father died and Fanny Ruth thought she would never forget the long, long funeral procession that slowly wound its way up from the parsonage to the church on the hill. The school that Dr. Faithfull had run so successfully was disbanded, Mrs. Faithfull and some of its .pupils were transferred to the school that her son-in-law, Charles Chittenden, had established at Hoddesdon, and it seemed that the long Faithfull connection with Hatfield had come to an end. That winter was the coldest of the century. The price of coal rose to 2/9 per hundredweight and sickness and distress were widespread. James was unhappy and his asthma was very troublesome.
Little more than a year later James and Fanny Ruth were preparing to leave North Mymms. Lord Salisbury had offered the Clothall living to James and it had been accepted. During this domestic upheaval they had an unexpected visit from an interesting young man who had ridden over from Hoddesdon, where he was spending a short holiday. "I think," said James as they said farewell to their visitor and watched him canter away, "he will be the next vicar of this parish." James was right, and when at the end of what had been the hottest summer for forty years they left for Clothall, Horace Meyer came to North Mymms.
Clothall, near Baldock, had an old church with a most beautiful east window and had brass memorials which, though not as elaborate, were just as old as those in the church they had just left. To Fanny Ruth’s delight the rectory was new and modern, but Clothall was a very quiet parish, too quiet for one of James’s restless, energetic nature. Babies were born and old folk died but no wedding was celebrated during the short time they spent at Clothall.
In 1858 the Rev. Matthew Morris Preston died after having been vicar of Cheshunt for more than thirty years. Lord Salisbury, whose gift it was, offered the living to James. Here too were an old church and a spacious new vicarage. There were many advantages with the change, not the least being that it was near Haileybury, where their son James became a pupil, and it was also near the dear people at Hoddesdon. So to Cheshunt went James and Fanny Ruth. If only James’s health would improve! For long periods he had to confine himself to the actual preaching, leaving other parochial work to his wife and his curate. He was, however, as restlessly energetic as ever. A new church was built in the hamlet of Goffs Oak and was dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester in July 1862.
James’s sister Cecilia had married again, her second husband being Francis Storr, vicar of Brenchley, Kent. Francis Storr, a son of Paul Storr, silversmith to George Ill, had been left with a family of young children, among whom was a son, Edward. In May 1868 James and Fanny Ruth travelled to Brenchley for the wedding of their younger daughter, Emily, to Edward, her aunt Cecilia’s stepson. How easy travel was in those days, thought Fanny Ruth as she and James travelled back to Cheshunt. James’s interest in education had not waned and plans were in hand for a school for girls. A subscription list was started and money was coming in so satisfactorily that it was decided to lay the foundation stone in 1871. Like a bolt from the blue came James’s announcement that he intended to exchange livings with the Rev. William Walter Kirby.
With this move Fanny Ruth ceased to be a country parson’s wife. The lovely Wren spire of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East rose gracefully from the smells and dirt of Billingsgate. Here was her new home. Did she at times long for the sweet fresh air of the Hertfordshire countryside? It was the fish market, nevertheless, that provided Fanny Ruth with the most colourful memory of this period of her life. To the church came the market porters for their harvest festival, bringing with them thirty-nine different sorts of fish, some big, some small, arranged in box or basket, creel or net, and all to be given to the hospital nearby.
In less than two years James, only fifty-six years old,- had died and Fanny Ruth was a widow. Although her parents were now living in Leamington, having left New York because of Mr. Payson’s ill health, Fanny Ruth chose to live in Eastbourne rather than with them. The year following the death of his father, her son, who on leaving Haileybury had joined his Payson uncles in their East India trade, came home and joined her at Eastbourne. He went to Oxford, where in 1876 he took his degree, being the only first-class man in theology in his year. Handsome like his father, and with his father’s restless energy, he held livings in Brighton, Leicester and Scarborough, finally settling in London in 1895. He became the first vicar of the newly formed parish of St. Mary Magdalene, Islington. A number of alterations to the interior of the church - originally the "chapel of ease " to nearby St. Mary’s - were carried out during his time and a series of enjoyable garden meetings was a feature of his work. After three years he left for Whitechapel, where he died during the summer of 1902. Rumour has it that he was at one time offered the living here in North Mymms.
"La bella Americana" died suddenly in 1877 and Mr. Payson moved to the south coast to be near Fanny Ruth. Edward Storr died the following year, leaving a young family of three daughters and a son, Vernon. Emily Storr and her children went to live in Bournemouth and, with memories of her happy childhood, named her residence North Mimms. Vernon Storr became a distinguished churchman, being archdeacon of Westminster Abbey and rector of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, at the time of his death in 1941. Offers of bishoprics could not tempt him from the abbey he loved.
Fanny Ruth’s elder daughter, Fanny, married Reginald Fanshawe, professor of Greek and Latin at Bristol University. Mr. Payson died in 1884 and some time later Fanny Ruth gave tip her house in Eastbourne. She enjoyed being visited as well as being able to make visits and, accompanied by a devoted lady’s companion, she would take lodgings conveniently near members of the family or her friends, where she would spend a few weeks or months before moving on to another pleasant centre.
James had been buried at Broxbourne and in the first days of January 1912 Fanny Ruth was taken to lie beside him, and there, with ancient yews nearby, the song of birds and the sound of the New River gently lapping against its banks, we leave the pretty American who is remembered today as a "wonderful old lady" who charmed all who had the privilege of meeting her.
GETTING ABOUT HIS PARISH
The vicars of the present day quarter their parishes in motorcars. From the comfort of a front seat they can see their flocks going about their lawful business, but it is doubtful if their flocks see them, for it is very difficult to recognise a waving hand.
Some of us remember the two tall, athletic parsons who rode what to our youthful eyes were the tallest bicycles in the world and we recall "So that I can see and be seen" given as the reason for continuing to use a bicycle even after acquiring a car.
The picture of a cleric in sombre black-and-white habit perambulating his parish on a plump, steady old mare would probably be a true one for Georgian and early Victorian days. The vicars Meyer and Latter certainly visited on horseback.
The last of the Victorian parsons of our parish, however, went around in a little pony-trap, accompanied always by a groom-gardener-handyman. He had had a succession of men after the death of an old and loved family retainer, Sprusen, and at length one Paternoster, a merry wight by all accounts, filled the post. He sat beside his master as they visited the outlying parts of the parish and he walked the pony up and down while his master made his calls.
He told with much relish how, on going first to Hawkshead, he had been surprised, when at the bottom of the little hill, the vicar stopped as was his wont and in a solemn voice said "Now a little prayer, Pasternoster."
THE STORY OF THE LOCAL RAILWAY
The spring of 1844 found the men on the twenty-two small farms in the parish busy with ploughing, sowing and planting. Times had not been good and a bountiful harvest was their hope, so they had little time to spare to pay attention to the rumours brought home by their girls and boys who were employed in kitchen or garden or stable of one or other of the local big houses. Such rumours! Vicar Sotheby was leaving and Master "Jem" Faithfull was coming in his place after he had married a pretty American lady, and one of those new-fangled "railroads" was to be made between Barnet and Hatfield.
"Never repeat what you hear in the servants’ hall" was the advice of the elders during the summer, but with the harvest time the rumours had become definite news. The Rev. Hans Sotheby had left. The Rev. James G. Faithfull, son of the rector of Hatfield, had married his pretty American lady and everyone knew that the London and York Railway Company intended asking parliamentary approval for its plans, which showed clearly that the proposed railway would pass right through the parish for a stretch of three miles. What was far worse, it would traverse the estate of Brookmans for a considerable distance.
Landowners generally were determined that the railways should not "disfigure" their property and opposition was widespread. Although his neighbour Lord Salisbury, in the adjoining parish of Hatfield, appeared to be taking things calmly, Mr. Robert W. Gaussen, of Brookmans, was certainly not going to do so. In 1838 he had added Gubbins with its 328 acres to the south side of his estate. The turnpike from Potters Bar to Hatfield cut in a northwesterly direction across this property and he had been busily occupied with plans for its diversion in order to make his estate a self-contained one. With other members of the Toll Bar Trust he had had satisfactory interviews with both Telford and McAdam, and now came this threat of the railway to the western boundary of his land.
However, he was a power in his parish, being patron of the living and a churchwarden as well as chairman of the vestry, so this forceful young man, only thirty years of age, called a vestry meeting to secure support for his opposition to the railway’s plans. It is not surprising to learn that he obtained its agreement. True, Baron Greville, of North Mymms Place, was not an active opponent and Gervaise Sibthorp, who owned Potterells, the other estate most likely to be "disfigured," was not living in the parish, but as he had the support of the vestry Mr. Gaussen went ahead with his plan.
‘The services of a well-known firm of solicitors, Longmore and Sworder, of Hertford, were engaged and their final statement of the proceedings makes a sorry tale of frustrations and disappointments: letters left unanswered and appointments not kept; journeys to London to inspect the plans - " very voluminous" comments the clerk - and to arrange interviews between the opposing parties; and all for nothing. The engineer, Joseph Cubitt, built the railroad to York exactly where and how he had planned!
In March 1845 the solicitors attended on Mr. Gaussen at Brookmans to find out on what grounds the inhabitants of North Mymms objected to the engineer’s plan. They objected to the plan for the line "to be carried on a level across the highways (these were the two roads leading from Welham Green to Woodside and to Bradmore Pond respectively) and in consequence of the great traffic that existed in the parish and the inconvenience and damage which would be caused the inhabitants wished the line to be carried over or under the said roads." Great traffic was probably an exaggeration, but the road from Welham Green to Woodside formed a link between the St. Albans to Barnet turnpike and the Hatfield to Barnet turnpike, just as the modern Dixons Hill Road links the Al with the Al000.
"A long letter apprising him that the progress of the Bill through Parliament would be opposed if the objection was not obviated" was written to the secretary of the railway. Ten days went by, and as no reply had been received a journey was made to London - "expenses for the clerk 18s. 6d." - to confer with the company’s solicitors and to obtain a copy of the Railway Bill lodged at the House of Commons. A non-committal letter from the company’s solicitors informing the inhabitants of North Mymms that though every consideration would be paid to their wishes the engineer would not pledge himself to make any alterations which he could not perform really roused the vestry, and instructions were given for the Bill to be opposed in Parliament.
The petition was prepared, fair copies were made for both Houses, for Mr. Gaussen and for Lord Grimston, M.P., and the clerk journeyed to Brookmans to get the signatures of the ratepayers. His expenses this time were £1/1/-, with an extra 7/6 "horse hire."
"Writing long and explanatory letter to Lord Grimston, M.P., with the petition accordingly" cost 5/-, with an extra 7/- for the parchment on which it was written. The petition had many supporters, none more ardent than Colonel Sibthorp, M.P. for Lincoln. This eccentric colonel was an implacable opponent of railways. He was a cartoonist’s delight and an early copy of Punch shows him as Don Quixote mounted on Rosinante, flourishing a broken lance and charging at a railway engine.
The Easter recess, Mr. Cubitt’s visit to Ireland and other delays filled the weeks until the middle of May. The company’s solicitors then suggested that a clause should be inserted in the petition to the effect that any dispute that might arise between the railway company and the road trustees should be referred to the Board of Trade for arbitration. A similar clause, so it was stated, had been inserted on behalf of Welwyn road trustees. June came and went and July was nearly at an end when the parliamentary agents stated that they had succeeded in getting a clause inserted in order to carry out the understanding come to between Mr. Gaussen and Mr. Cubitt, but with the qualifying words "to be compulsory on the company solely on getting possession of the land." This priviso is puzzling for the "understanding" is not explained and the land in question actually belonged to Mr. Gaussen, so it should have been possible for the company to buy it unless its price was extorbitant. The final blow came in August 1845. The petition went to both Houses. Ms. Gaussen maintained that his arrangement with the engineer was for the railway to be made by means of a tunnel or archway but not to cross the road on a level. The petition was not allowed and the ratepayers of the parish were left to pay what was in those days the large sum of £69/3/4 for having opposed the railway company. The account was paid by "the parish surveyor of the highways of North Mimms" on April 14, 1846, two months before the Railway Bill received the royal assent.
Actual construction started the following year, and by September 1848 the railway company had a small brickworks at Bell Bar for making bricks for the nearby bridges. Some of the village lads found employment at Bell Bar and it would seem that the making of little money-boxes shaped like the round haystacks familiar to their makers and of household "crocks" was a sideline. The little money-boxes, though still remembered, disappeared long ago. Occasionally an earthenware crock finds its way to a jumble sale, but as the wares carried no distinguishing marks it is impossible to establish the truth of the statement that it was made at the Bell Bar pot works.
In August 1850 the first train chugged its way over the level crossings at Bradmore and Marshmoor. The parishioners derived no great benefit from the railway, for the nearest stations were outside the parish boundary and entailed an hour’s walk to either of them. Lives were lost and much inconvenience was caused by the level crossings. It was not until 1880 that the railway company, in order to avoid the delays to its ever-increasing traffic, abolished the level crossings and built bridges. Mr. Gaussen lived to see the one at Bradmore, but that at Marshmoor was not completed until some months after his death, and nearly another fifty years were to elapse before North Mymms had the benefit of a station, to be named, ironically, Brookmans Park.
The keepers of the level-crossing gates were not greatly liked by the general public, and one can imagine the feelings of the vicar when he recorded in his diary in 1857 "I arrived home and found that my Irish locum tenens had given nothing to anyone from the offertory, excepting to a brother Irishman who was well paid by the Great Northern for keeping the gates at a level crossing. To him he had given ten shillings to buy pig food."
FROM PILOT TO SKY PILOT
The Rev. Horace Meyer became vicar of North Mymms in 1856. He was a remarkable young man aged twenty-eight, widely travelled, an excellent linguist, speaking fluent German, French, Italian and Hindustani, possessing a wonderful capacity for hard work, and already the master of one profession.
In his "life story related by himself for his children" Horace Meyer records that he was born in Mannheim in October 1828, the seventh son and tenth child of his parents, who had gone to live in Germany a few months before his birth. Of his childhood he remembered "the oil lamps suspended in the streets by means of rods and let down by pulleys to be trimmed and lighted; the acaeias; the great doorway; the apricot trees; and the huge kennels of our mastiff, Spanier, and how he sometimes dragged us in a sledge about the town in the snow." He saw the first turf cut at Weisbaden for the railway to Frankfurt and he watched the building of the Duke of Nassau’s great palace.
He was taught on alternate days by his mother, whom he adored, and by a German student, but when he was eleven he and his brother Edwin joined the other brothers at school in Bonn. "It was the first time I ever left home and I remember crying bitterly on the Rhine steamer."
But schooldays did not last for long. His father’s health began to fail, financial misfortune hit the family and the boys had to leave school. "The strictest economy was exercised" while his mother went to London, evidently on behalf of her children, for by Easter 1843 she had obtained an appointment for Horace with the East Indian Court of Directors in the Bengal marine or pilot service.
Now Horace had to put away childish things and, not yet fifteen, he sailed for India with "a midshipman’s outfit in a large deal box and a chart which I kept most carefully," and the prospect of a salary of £6/10/- per month, payable quarterly. He sailed in Prince of Wales, 1,350 tons, which "was very beautifully kept and all officers looked very smart in their uniforms and the captain paced the deck in his high hat, white waistcoat and blue tail-coat with anchor buttons. We were eighteen weeks on the journey and after a time the water became offensive, the salt provisions hardly eatable and the biscuits alive with weevils." His mother had paid £40 for his passage. He delighted in the flying fish, the porpoises, the great shark "which turns over on its back to seize his prey" and the albatrosses, "grand birds which on deck become sea-sick," but his companions were not congenial. Bullying and rough horse-play were of daily occurrence, so "it was with gratitude that I escaped from my prison when I left the ship at Calcutta on January 8, 1844."
His home when on shore was the old Sea Horse, fitted up as a hostel for the officers of the pilot service; afloat it was Salween, which covered the ninety miles of river from Calcutta to Kedgeree, "where was the first semaphore station and post office." His work was arduous and in addition he had to act as vet, to their mascot, a goat. Frequently he had to dose all and sundry on board, for "we had no doctor but a good medicine chest with printed directions," so he dealt with biliousness or cholera and, young though he was, on occasion he had to act as chaplain. The picture emerges of a lad with a highly developed sense of responsibility working steadily in a strange land with no home comforts and no relaxations, yet no hint of self-pity creeps into his story, though in later years he "looked back with some surprise on the quiet monotony of my life. To relieve the silence I used to spout Milton, Cowper and Pope." After eighteen months on Salween he had an unexpected promotion to the surveying brig Pilot, and found it "very hard work but scientific and pleasant after the pilot service."
He had been in India nearly four years, he had passed the examination for junior second mate and his salary had risen to £150 per annum when he heard a rumour that Salween was to be used to take prisoners to Van Dieman’s Land and bring back specimens of wood to serve as sleepers for the projected railways. His strong desire to see his brothers, who were settlers in New Zealand, led him to ask for a transfer back to Salween. "I found the change most disagreeable" was his understatement.
A voyage of eleven weeks and "we entered the River Derwent, Beautiful scenery; mountains with huge rocks and dark foliage trees on either side: river half a mile wide and very deep. We anchored off the town of Hobart in a lovely bay at the foot of Mount Wellington, 4,000 feet high. The one drawback to beautiful Tasmania was the sight of gangs of convicts, some in chains, guarded by men with loaded rifles."
Horace had just one short week’s leave to spend with his brothers John and Edwin, and after he had returned to his ship his brother Strother, having made the long journey from Australia, arrived in time for them to spend only a few hours together.
Exactly a fortnight after entering the Derwent they were "beating out of the mouth of the river" when overwork and exposure took their toll. The young pilot was very seriously ill and when they eventually landed in Calcutta his doctor advised him to go home. This he could not do, and the pilot and surveying duties were resumed and his final examination drew nearer. "Spurs were put into the flanks of a willing horse" in the promise of great promotion in 1851, but after successfully taking the examination in May 1850 his doctor told him he would not answer for his life if he remained in the country six weeks longer.
Two months later he was almost carried on to Malabar - 850 tons, "for in the summer months the best ships are not to be had" - and so began the long, tiring journey home, reaching Madras, "an unimposing place," a month later, admiring a "magnificent sunset" just before they reached Cape Town and having the pleasure of a drive in a drag to Weinberg and Constantia, where we tasted the luscious wine" before landing at Weymouth on November 8, 1850.
The voyage home had partially restored him to health. He knew he would never return to India and would have to find a new livelihood. For a few months he listened to advice and considered suggestions, but a chance visit with his cousin Fred to a Bible Society meeting confirmed his half-formed intention of entering the ministry.
January 1852 saw him at St. Catharine’s, Cambridge, and by dint of hard work he obtained his B.A. degree three years later. He spent his long vacations as a private chaplain or as a tutor, and while staying with some friends in Scotland he met Mrs. Faithfull, widow of the rector of Hatfield and mother of the vicar of North Mymms. He became a deacon in a busy parish in Birmingham, where his stipend was £100 a year but would become £120 when he became a priest. During the summer of 1856 he received an invitation to the Faithfull home at Hoddesdon. While there he and his hosts dined at Broxbournebury, where he met Mr. and Mrs. Gaussen. To his surprise, after his return to Birmingham he received a letter from Mr. Gaussen offering him the living of North Mymms ‘with the understanding I would relinquish it in favour of his son should he wish for it in fourteen years." The Clothall living had been offered to the Rev. James Faithfull by Lord Salisbury, whose gift it was.
Such was the story of the remarkable young man who became vicar of North Mymms in October 1856, a month after his ordination. As he stood at the west door of his little church and let his eyes wander slowly from the deer park over the tiny stream to where the graceful chimneys of Colonel Greville’s house were peeping above the frees ablaze in their autumn glory Horace Meyer must have thought "My lot has fallen unto me in a fair ground."
His health continued to improve, though he was never really robust. He ministered to a very scattered parish and was encouraged in his work. His energy soon showed itself and he set about the complete restoration of the church, which the eminent architect W.G. Habershon described as the most perfect example of its kind that he knew. His extra-parochial work brought him the honour of becoming the rural dean of Barnet. He won the affection and respect of his flock.
Although he stayed in North Mymms for less than eight years and served three other parishes during the following quarter of a century it was at Horace Meyer’s own wish that his body was brought back for interment in 1897 – "We were so happy there."
ARTHUR YOUNG, 1741-1820
Arthur Young, who was so impressed with Mr. Browne’s new buildings and from whom we learn so much of the agriculture of the whole parish and of the methods of its farmers during the early years of the nineteenth century, lived and farmed in the parish for upwards of ten years.
Until 1968, when the patient research of Mr. Tomkins, of Sleaps Hyde, gave the answer, the whereabouts of Young’s farm had been a mystery. Various farms, in particular Parsonage Farm, had been suggested as having been his home, but it is now known that it was Bradmore Farm. It is strange that this farm should have completely disappeared, swallowed into neighbouring farms or forming part of the track of the railway line, but that Sheepshead Hall, only half a mile to the west, should have remained a dwelling house until the early 1950s.
Arthur Young, whose father was the rector of Bradfield Combust in Suffolk, was born in London. His godparents were the Bishop of Rochester and the Speaker of the House of Commons. He went to school in Lavenham and while still in his teens showed an aptitude for literary work. However, he became a farmer and two years later he married Martha Allen and took her home to Bradfield to live with his parents. A household does not always run smoothly if it has two mistresses, and within a few months of his marriage Arthur Young was seeking a farm of his own. The couple moved to Samford Hall, Essex, a farm of 300 acres, but the venture was not a success and he looked round for another farm.
This time he came into Hertfordshire, where he inspected the 100-acre Bradmore Farm. The soil did not impress him, but the "very neat and small house" did and Arthur Young and his wife moved into North Mymms in 1768. He was twenty-seven years old at the time. Who knows, if he had given more time to actual farming and less to his writing, Bradmore Farm might have been highly successful. As it was, this gifted theorist had no love for North Mymms and blamed all his failure as a farmer on to the poor soil of his farm, and for the rest of his life North Mymms and unfertile ground were synonymous terms.
He settled his wife into their new home and then he was away on a six-month survey of the agriculture of the north. This became the pattern of his life, and despite working like a horse - his own expression - he found himself getting deeper into debt although his writings at this time were bringing in a yearly income of £300. In 1773 he joined the Morning Post and his reporting of parliamentary debates added five guineas to his weekly earnings. It is on record that he walked to and from London to Bradmore Farm at the weekends and into the little left of the weekend had to fit the business of his farm. No wonder it was not successful. He was spending less and less time on his "vitriolic hungry gravel" and in 1779 finally left our parish.
Nearly a quarter of a century went by before he visited North Mymms again, and then he came on a fact-finding tour. In the meantime he had become the first secretary of the newly formed Board of Agriculture, had been commended by his king, George III, and was steadily issuing his Annals of Agriculture. He was considered the greatest authority on agriculture, was a pioneer of all kinds of improvements and was said to have been responsible for the introduction of chicory growing. The ownership of the North Mymms estates had changed during the intervening years and Arthur Young found himself among strangers, but his reports on Potterells are so complete that one wonders if he stayed with the new owner, Mr Casamajor, while inspecting the neighbouring farms.
Of Potterells he tells us that it "contains 200 acres arable, 140 acres grass mown, 60 acres feed, that it had a five-crop rotation of "turnips, barley, clover, wheat and oats or pease," and that there had been considerable crops of potatoes but "Mr. Casamajor found it exhausting, so gave up the culture." Mr. Casamajor kept South-down sheep and his bailiff, Roberts, approved of them, as they did better on grassland than Wiltshires. There were ten oxen and four cart-horses on the farm. The "oxen are of small size compared with many, said to be from Devonshire, used in harness, not yokes and bows, always shoes them. Mr. Casamojor had had twelve years’ experience of oxen and was strongly in favour of them, as he had hadTgreat losses in horses." His bailiff was not in favour of oxen, but it is interesting to know that towards the end of the century there were still oxen on Potterells estate. The barns on their "capt stones," the manures and the carrying of much hay to London, the draining schemes and the tools used are all recorded, and he goes on ... "There is a dell at Potterils … where strangers on opening their shutters in the morning have been astonished to see a fine lake where they had been walking the day before and seen no water. Mr. Keate digs up the earth brought by these floods and uses it as manure." Mr. Keate was the rector of Hatfield, a very successful farmer, but Arthur Young went on to say "The lady - Marchioness of Salisbury - was the better farmer."
The tithe rent was 2/6 per acre and was never paid in kind, while the poor rates "at North Mymms ten years ago were 1s. 6d. to 2s. 0d. and are now 5s. 0d … has the advantage of being the residence of people of fortune whose charitable attention to the poor in the past … keeping down the poor rate."
He draws on his experience as a farmer and relates that the wages of the labourers during October 1774 were seven shillings a week, but gives no amount for wages during the long summer days when men frequently started work at five or even four o’clock in the morning.
His "Map of the soil of Hertfordshire" which accompanied the general view showed North Mymms to be poor gravel. "Hatfield and North Mymms," he says, "are specimens of bad land abounding with blue pebbles … the most unfertile that we find in the south of England. I farmed this soil ... I know it well ... I hollow-drained many acres, but as I was obliged to employ the pick-axe the expense was too great … this soil is best adapted to wood -hedges thriving on land not worth cultivation in the lower parts of the parish." These hedges of crab-apple and hawthorn bordering the Mimmshall Brook were among the joys remembered by one elderly contributor to the Women’s Institute scrapbook compiled in 1953.
He declared: "I occupied for nine years the jaws of a wolf. A nabob’s fortune would sink in the attempt to raise good crops in such a country. "What would he say today could he stand in the lane between Sheepshead Hall and Bradmore and look southwards over fields of waving corn?
"If great zeal, indefatigable exertion and an unsparing expense in making experiments can give a man a claim to the gratitude of agriculturists, Arthur Young deserved it more than most men" (Irish Transactions, Kirwin) is a fitting epitaph to a hard-working but unfortunate farmer whose last years were afflicted with blindness.
THE COTTAGE GARDEN SHOW
In the August 1869 issue of the parish magazine the vicar said "Last year the cottage garden show was but tentative, a mere trial to see whether North Mymms and Woodside were able to produce a sufficient number of competitors for the prizes to make it worth while to carry out such a scheme another year. This year the cottage garden show had produce that would bear comparison with any parish of equal extent in the neighbourhood."
And so the North Mymms Horticultural Society was born in 1868. It has had its ups and downs, it has flourished and it has lapsed, its show has been held on days of unclouded skies and on dismally wet days, but it is still, like a famous advertisement of yesteryear, going strong.
The rules as to who could compete and who were debarred and the schedules of the early days are typical of the period. The committee consisted of the gentry, with the schoolmaster doing the clerical work. The gentry subscribed to the prizes and "our poorer parishioners" were never allowed to forget "that the encouragement which the cottage garden show gives to their industry, forethought and care is owing to the kindness and liberality of their richer neighbours" (parish magazine, August 1870). The shows were usually held in the deer park, Myms Place, but when held at Oaklands, then the home of the Dymoke-Green family, or at Leggatts, where Gurney Sheppard lived, a cart was provided to take all the exhibits.
By degrees the scope of the show was widened to include cookery, needlework and hobbies. As most cottagers kept a few ducks or hens, prizes were offered for "the heaviest couple of this year’s birds," and after a series of lectures on bee keeping, honey too was included. When sewing machines were practically unknown it was natural to include "best-made set of baby linen," prize 5/-; or "man’s white shirt," prize 2/6; while girls at school entered for "socks or stockings, knitted, white or coloured," prize 2/6. Neat patches on flannel shift or calico sheet, darns on socks and even, one year, a patchwork quilt were all prizewinners.
While the emphasis has switched from vegetables to flowers and the annual show has become three shows taking place in the spring, summer and autumn, it is surprising that the face value of the prizes has hardly altered, though there are many more prizes given today. In 1868 that first prize of 5/- was more than a third of a man’s weekly wage, and was therefore eagerly competed for; today 5/- may possibly pay for a small packet of choice seeds which will be nursed and cosseted for next year’s show. The chief prize of £1 awarded for best garden, when won, was a god-send to many a poor mother who needed new shoes for her children.
Reporting the show in the magazine always included a note on the weather and a reference to any outstanding exhibit, thus for August 1870 we read "Our third annual cottage garden show took place on July 28 in the Deer Park. The long-continued drought (the scorching sun of last month had burnt up all the beautiful roses) notwithstanding, the July vegetables exhibited were undoubtedly finer than on either previous occasion.
In early 1874 James Harding died and the obituary notice in the magazine is worth reading. Headed "A veteran," it goes on:
"During the last month an old soldier has ‘passed away’ from among us who deserves a notice in our parish magazine. James Harding, who was born in Suffolk in 1796, joined the Suffolk Militia and from that volunteered in 1812 into the Third Foot Guards. He went with them through all the hard-fought battles of the Peninsular War … the Battle of Waterloo … was wounded at the sortie of Bayonne 1814. We all remember him as the skilful, painstaking florist. His garden attracted the notice of everyone who passed Mount Pleasant. Harding’s roses were the finest in the neighbourhood; his hollyhocks were the grandest; his onions the largest, his strawberries the choicest. The patient, industrious old soidier waged war with weeds in the days of peace, and again and again did James Harding carry off some of the best prizes at the cottage garden show."
We hear no more of the cottage garden show until September 1884, when there is a glowing account of "its renewal after ten years’ cessation," but what happened to cause the vicar the following year to write "We shall all wish for a fine day and let us add our prayers that no feeling of jealousy may arise to mar this united effort for the good of our parish" we shall never know.
ln 1906 there was another revival, and this time the show was held "in the village hall recendy erected by Mrs. Burns." During the weeks preceding the show Mr. Deans, of the Sussex County Council, had given lectures on cottage gardening and in the discussion that followed one lecture the "duties of judges were considered and a request was made that the potatoes presented for a competition might be sent in hot in consideration for the judges" but no clue is given as to why!
The North Mymms branch of the Women’s Institute was formed in 1918 and four years later its officials met the vicar and other interested people "to consider whether the annual flower and vegetable show which during late years has been confined to the members of the W.I. should not now become a parochial affair." By 1925 it was once more a parish organisation and the highlight that year was "the exhibit of pressed flowers from the girls’ school. We had no idea that such a wealth of wild flowers grew in the neighbourhood, 320 varieties and all of them named." All in all show day was a holiday, especially when a good band was in attendance.
A SUNDAY AFTERNOON VISITOR
From The Lipton Story, By Alex Waugh, published 1951 by Cassell.
Upon his guests (at Osidge, his sixty-acre estate with a history going back 700 years, in the village of Southgate), however, he made few demands. There was only one period of a visit that he regarded as a parade and that was Sunday after lunch, when he assembled all his guests to drive out and distribute chocolate to the children of North Mymms. It had begun, this custom, fifteen years before when his car had broken down at Cooper’s Green and the children had shown such friendliness and concern that he had promised to return the following Sunday.
He kept his promise, and continued Sunday after Sunday to motor out, his car stacked with chocolates. As many as five cars have been known to make the expedition. Louis would appear with a great stack of fur coats over his arm and every guest would find one to fit him. Lipton led the way perched high in a 1910 Mercedes, in his fur coat and goggles, driving at a pace that many of his guests found terrifying.
The chocolates were stored in hampers, and he would distribute them himself, deploying all his old skill of showmanship, opening the top box, taking out a chocolate, examining it critically with cocked head, then biting it in half, closing his eyes thoughtfully and nodding his head approvingly as he handed the other half to the nearest child. Then he would form them into a queue; there would be as many as 300 sometimes … So much a feature of the neighbourhood were these expeditions that a local minister complained that he could no longer get a congregation for Sunday school and urged Lipton to complete his tour well before three o’clock.
The development of the residential areas of Brookmans Park and of Welham Green, the establishment of a factory area alongside the railway and the transformation of our quiet country roads into trunk highways linking distant parts of the kingdom have produced a parish widely different from that of 1900.
Population movement has meant the disappearance of the old closely knit village life.
In material things life has become easier and the use of leisure has become a twentieth-century problem.
What further changes will take place during the next fifty years in this green and pleasant land in which we live?