North Mymms people in Victorian Times' was written by the late Peter Kingsford, a local historian who wrote several books about the history of North Mymms. The text and images are reproduced here as they were set out in the original book, which is now out of print. Other books by Peter Kingsford include 'A Modern History of Brookmans Park 1700-1950', 'North Mymms Schools & their Children', and 'Victorian Lives in North Mymms'.
Website editor, January 2018
Table of Contents
- Chapter One - North Mymms Parish In The Year Of The Great Exhibition
- Chapter Two - Learning Their Letters
- Chapter Three - Be Good Sweet Maid And Let Who Will Be Better
- Chapter Four - The Straw Plaiters
- Chapter Five - The Poor We Have Always With Us
- Chapter Six - The Demon Drink
- Chapter Seven - Thrift And Philanthropy
- Chapter Eight - Nuisances In The Parish
- Chapter Nine - Getting The Vote
- Chapter Ten - A Plot Of Land
- Chapter Eleven - The Primrose Path
- Chapter Twelve - Little Heath To The Fore
- Chapter Thirteen - The Impact Of The World War
- Chapter Fourteen - An Ancient Family
- Chapter Fifteen - Laying Them To Rest
The reception of the author’s 'Modern History of Brookmans Park', was so encouraging that this sequel is now offered. But whereas that first book dealt with only one part of the parish, this one bears on the whole parish and its hamlets of Welham Green, Water End, Bell Bar and Roestock, with a glance at Little Heath.
I should like to thank the following for the research done by them and which I have used: For chapter 1 a WEA class; for chapter 2 and chapter 3 Marian Benton and Jenny Rackstraw: for chapter 4, Jenny Rackstraw; for chapter 5 and chapter 9, Peter Granger; for chapter 7, Henry Green and for chapter 14, Charlotte Marlborough. I am also indebted to 'North Mymms Parish and People', by Dorothy Colville.
For the loan of documents and the gift of information grateful thanks are given to the Divisional Education Officer, Welwyn Garden City, North Mymms Parish Council, Mrs N Palmer of North Mymms, St Mary’s Church of England JMI School, Welwyn Hatfield District Council, Mrs Iris Collins (nee Nash), the County Archivist of Hertfordshire and his staff. For the illustrations and map I am indebted to Philip Elgar, Albert Thorn, Mr H Honour and Mr J Shadbolt and Bill Killick.
NORTH MYMMS PARISH IN THE YEAR
OF THE GREAT EXHIBITION
|Mrs Rebecca Chuck c 1902|
What was the size of this community at a time when the Brookmans Park of today was no more than a big estate containing one or two houses of the gentry and a few farms and cottages? There were 1128 persons in the parish, plus two men "in barns, sheds or the like" and five men and five women "in tents or in the open air". They included thirty-three "visitors" and quite a few lodgers who had sometimes an ambiguous role but who certainly helped out the household earnings. Males outnumbered females by eighteen. This population was almost stationary, after increasing during the Napoleonic wars, and it was, in fact, to fall in the next decade before rising again later in the century.
Socially, it was a hierarchical community in the shape of a pyramid. At the peak the gentry occupied four percent of the whole, below it came a narrow belt of the middle ranks of six percent and at the bottom a wide base of the remaining ninety percent. It was a young community; two thirds were under thirty years old and well over a third were children under fifteen. There were not many old people; altogether only twenty-seven had reached seventy years of age. Insanitary living conditions contributed to a modest expectation of life.
This scattered parish of five thousand acres contained the four hamlets of Roestock, Bell Bar, Welham Green and Water End, plus a few houses in Little Heath, each with its own public house or houses, school, shop and, later on, mission room. Each hamlet was itself a community. They were all bound together by the church, by the vestry where farmers and publicans, chaired by the vicar, levied the poor rates, and by the big landowners who governed in their capacities as churchwardens, guardians of the poor and justices of the peace.
Although rural England of that age is sometimes thought of as static, not to say stagnant, people in North Mymms at least were surprisingly mobile. Nearly three quarters of the heads of household and their wives had been born outside the parish; nearly half of them had come from beyond a six-mile radius including St Albans and Hatfield. Opportunities for work and improvement had drawn them in. Among these immigrants the farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen were the most numerous. No doubt they were balanced by an outflow of people hoping to better themselves in London, but nothing is known about them.
All were concerned with gaining a living. That came overwhelmingly from farming; there were twenty-one farmers and two hundred and ten labourers. The farmers were not big men, only three held more than two hundred acres, the average size being a hundred and fifty acres. All of them were tenants. They ranged from the biggest of four hundred acres at Potterells, held by William Blakey from William Casamajor, down to the smallest of thirty-six acres held by James Holloway from R W Gaussen at Friday Grove. The farm economy was largely based on providing hay for the London horses and receiving in exchange the "London dung".
Workers had many skills as cowmen, hedgers, and ploughmen. In North Mymms there were several shepherds - James Ansell of Foxes Lane, William Gray in Roestock, George Scales in North Mymms Place, and three haybinders George Vyse and his son in Welham Green and Jesse Harris in Reeves Lane. Some of the other labourers lived in as servants, designated as such.
Next after farming in number were the domestic servants, most of them in the big houses. There were one hundred and eleven, including the outdoor servants - gardeners and their labourers (twenty-three of them), gamekeepers, coachmen, grooms and ostlers. Fifteen servants lived at North Mymms Place, each of different status, from the butler, Stephen Walker down to the humble scullerymaid, Emma Phipps. At Moffats a mere five servants, including the cook, Mary Syrett and the page boy, William Goodson, waited on Miss Caroline Casamajor, the "fundholder" in residence. The vicar, the Rev James Faithfull, had the same number, with perhaps more reason, having a family and three pupils to be cared for. The other big houses had a fuller quota. At Brookmans R W Gaussen’s butler, James Gutteridge, headed a staff of seven, and at Leggatts a footman as well as the butler, Robert GaIly, and six lower menials maintained the standards expected of Thomas Kemble, bachelor of arts, justice of the peace and landed proprietor.
Next in number but higher in status came those aristocrats of labour, the craftsmen and craftswomen. There were no less than fourteen carpenters, including John Nash who employed four men in Welham Green and his sons, seven bricklayers, four wheelwrights, four shoemakers, three smiths, and the dressmakers, hatmakers, laundresses and seamstresses, many of these employed by the gentry. Smaller groups were the tradesmen, shopkeepers and the innkeepers.
One of the innkeepers was Hannah Speary, the widow who kept the Sibthorpe. She and the other licensees, William Anderson at the White Swan, George Archer at The Bell, and John Massey, blacksmith as well as landlord of the Old Maypole, were superior members of the community. Somewhat lower in the social scale was the beerseller at the Hope and Anchor, James Hutson. A dozen railwaymen on the new Great Northern, opened in the previous year, the police constable, William Dunn who lived in Welham Green, near to the postwoman, Sarah Collins, almost completes the picture.
But, perhaps equally significant for the village and household economies, were the numerous straw plaiters, seventy-four of them, of all ages from eight to seventy. These women, mostly labourers’ wives and daughters, made a vital contribution to family incomes. As they sat in their cottages, plaiting the straw in a variety of complicated patterns, they could earn more than the men could, a fact which, although it reduced the poor rate, was not always appreciated by the gentry paying their servants’ wages. The straw plaiters were part of a widespread organisation centred on the Bedfordshire hat manufacture. Roestock, nearest to St Albans and Luton and perhaps the poorest of the hamlets, was notable for its plaiters.
It is not a picture of a poor parish, though only a rough estimate of its well being is possible. Probably the standard of living was above the level of many parishes where little else but farm work was available. The market in London for hay and cattle was a stable one (in more senses than one). The traffic on the turnpike road to London and the toll road from Colney Heath brought cash and custom, as the substantial inns at Bell Bar and Water End witness. The parish also received some of the wealth of the City; Alderman Sir William Heygate, Bart, of North Mymms Place was not the only East India Company man to have lived there.
Even so, there were the unfortunates, those who had to fall back on the social security of the day, the poor law or charity. The poor law was for the undeserving poor after the Act of 1834. The census named sixteen paupers living in the parish, those given outdoor relief in money or kind, or medical tickets if permanently sick and disabled. In addition fourteen parishioners were admitted to the Hatfield workhouse in that year, chiefly the old, infirm and very young. They and their fellow unfortunates are the subject of chapter 5.
Children were plentiful, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the high infant mortality. Their education had been scanty, for they were expected to work as early as possible. Thirty-four children, with an average age of twelve, were full time workers, mostly in the fields. One was William Hart, shepherd boy of ten years old. Small wonder that, in the 1850s, illiteracy was common among the young people getting married, not to mention the old. There were, by then, two church schools but the pupil/teacher ratio was a high one. At Welham Green school William Goulburn was in sole charge of about fifty boys, while at Water End Magdalene White was responsible for the same number of girls and infants. The schools are described in chapter 2 and chapter 3.
Change was slow and was not to quicken for several decades. The vestry, based on property ownership and substantial tenancy, held sway in the parish. Only one man in eight, and of course no women, had the parliamentary vote.
LEARNING THEIR LETTERS
About half of the young men of the parish were virtually illiterate in the l850s. The young women had rather more learning; only a third of them were so backward. Girls were allowed to stay at school longer than the boys. This estimate is based on the fact that bridegrooms and brides who did not sign their names in the marriage register put their mark — X. Most of the witnesses also signed with a mark.
Little learning was then required to earn a living. Most men worked on the land and most women were housewives or domestic servants or straw plaiters. Yet a generation later, in The 1880s, a remarkable change had come about. A mere seven per cent of both sexes, measured by the same standard, could be called illiterate.
The parish had only eleven hundred souls at the mid century but it did also have two single sex schools. The one for boys in the old workhouse building in Dellsome Lane, Welham Green, had been active since 1835 and remained on that site until it was replaced by Bushwood School in recent years. The other school, for girls and infants, at Water End, started in 1847 and teaching continued there for 113 years. It is the subject of chapter 3. It was in those schools that the transformation was effected and it was not too soon, for the country labourers were given the vote in 1884. The log books of the boys’ school and the parish magazine give a good idea of the achievement. They reveal the conditions, the ideas and the motives behind it as well as the handicaps to be overcome.
Much of the achievement was due to George Foster, certificated teacher 1st class, master of the boys’ school for sixteen years, from 1864 to 1880, at a salary of £50 and a house, church organist and much else, and to his predecessor, William Goulburn. George Foster had one pupil teacher, Henry Burgess, to help teach fifty to seventy boys of all ages from seven to twelve and of all abilities, in one large schoolroom.
Equally important was the emphasis on a core curriculum of the three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic. These subjects were thoroughly drilled because success in examinations determined the size of the Government grant. A New Code of Regulations for Schools had been issued by Robert Lowe, Vice President of The Privy Council, in the year before George Foster began at Welham Green. It laid down that the grant to the school managers would be based on attendance and examination passes in the three Rs in Standards I to VI.
Standard II in arithmetic, for instance, was a sum in simple addition or subtraction, and the multiplication table; standard V a sum in compound rules (common weights and measures). For reading, Standard II was "One of the Narratives next in order after monosyllables in an elementary reading book used in the school". Standard V was "A few lines of poetry from a reading book used in the first class of the school". The poetry read at Welham Green was Scott’s Lady of the Lake and Goldsmith’s Deserted Village (thus providing a fine contrast with North Mymms). A favourite for general reading in the school was the highly moral and generally popular story, Sandford and Merton by Thomas Day, disciple of Rousseau. The titles of other readers used tell their own tale The Boyhood of Great Men, Little Drummers, Life of Nelson, Heroes of the Workshop.
But that was only part of the curriculum, if the main part. Schooling was based on the precept, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". Religious instruction, given by the master or the vicar, was the framework of all learning. Every day, after prayers, there were lessons in the Old and the New Testament, the Prayer Book and the Catechism. A typical entry in George Foster’s log book runs:
"4 March 1879. I gave 1st and 2nd class a lesson on S Mark IV. Took 2 Standard in arithmetic, 2 class in writing & 1st class in Grammar and Analysis. Pupil teacher took 1st class dictation."Religious instruction also permeated other subjects. Geography was much concemed with the Holy Land; writing exercises were set on stories from the Bible. Every year a diocesan inspector tested the boys on their religious knowledge and reported to the vicar as chairman of the managers.
The curriculum was not limited to this core of tool subjects and religious instruction. After a time there was criticism of the narrowing and technical effect of the New Code on teachers and pupils by, for instance, that outstanding school inspector, the poet Matthew Arnold. Consequently schools were allowed to increase their grants if their pupils passed examinations in special subjects such as literature, geography and history. Even before this came about George Foster began to liberalise his curriculum. Geography became a prominent subject, and some history and literature were taught.
Only a few boys sat later for the examinations in these extra subjects and even fewer passed and earned a further three shillings per head for the managers. But in the three Rs the pass rate was always high. In 1876, an average year, out of forty-nine boys examined, forty-four passed in reading, forty-four in writing and forty-seven in arithmetic. Not surprisingly, Her Majesty’s Inspector’s report was usually favourable, though it often suggested an improvement, as for instance, "the bearing of the boys would be improved by drill". "Reverent, earnest and efficient" were the key words. Of course they were not always in evidence. Discipline called for punishment, though not frequently. Thus from George Foster’s log book:
"25 June 1872. The drill was done by Edward Groom in so careless and idle a manner that I told him to write 10 lines after school, when he made use of an impertinent expression (not aloud) and I added 5 lines to the previous ten. These he refused to do when I punished him with the cane, and having made him get a book and slate told him that he might go when the lines were done. He however continued obstinate and so had no dinner. On re-opening school the younger brother made such an uproar that, combined with more of E Groom’s impertinence, work was impossible. I therefore sent Harry into the back room where however he continued to shout. sing etc, so that at last I was obliged to send him away from the School altogether After afternoon school the elder boy, finding that I was determined on his doing the lines, began his task, and after he had done a portion I remitted the remainder, having shown him that there can only be one master here."The progress towards literacy had to overcome many handicaps. HM Inspector drew attention to some of them: "A class room would be a great help in the instruction of reading". "Writing could be improved but the desks are probably to blame". The main problem, an intractable and long lasting one, was irregular attendance during what was anyhow a short school life, Twelve was the normal age for leaving school.
Employment was the chief cause of absence from school; then came illness, the weather and last and least, truancy. The sports of the gentry, "bashing for the gentlemen while shooting", made the most claims on the boys. Paradoxically, it was the gentry’s donations to the school which made it possible for it to continue. Over the years their subscriptions varied between £60 and £80 per annum. While R W Gaussen was one of the chief subscribers, his shoots at Brookmans lasted several days. A note of exasperation may be seen in the schoolmaster’s log book entry: "Attendance still low - more shooting - gave the 1st Class a Lesson on the Ark in the Land of the Philistines". Harvesting, hay-making, acorn picking, potato picking, gleaning, all took their toll of school time, sometimes within the law on the employment of young persons, sometimes not. Outbreaks of scarlet fever, whooping cough, mumps, "fever" occurred. In severe weather the school closed, for some boys had to walk long distances.
The vicar grappled manfully with absenteeism, continually giving reminders to the villagers of their duty to send their children to school. Eventually he was obliged to impose fines for absence. Particularly after the 1870 Education Act did he insist on improved attendance on which the school’s income depended. If this became inadequate there was the danger of being superseded by one of the new Board Schools under the Act. If that happened not only would religious instruction suffer but parishioners would have higher rates to pay. Both God and Mammon came into it. The vicar saw the problem clearly when he wrote:
"There are, of course, difficulties in the way of unbroken attendance at School in Agricultural Districts, where wages are low, and children are soon able to earn a little, and where a certain kind of labour will only admit of a small sum being paid for it, such as bird-scaring, plough-driving, etc. On the one hand the Farmer must not have the supply for his labour market lessened; on the other, the Poor Man cannot afford to lose, the little help that his boys of 10 or 11 years are, at certain times of the year, able to gain for him."There was a long way to go. By the 1880s the average attendance was still only seventy-five per cent. On the other hand the desire for learning was not absent. For those boys who had not had enough schooling there was night school in the winter. It was well attended and earned an additional government grant.
|Pupils of Welham Green Boys' School with Benjamin Mallett c 1894|
There was, however, no fear of all work and no play making Jack a dull boy. In addition to the school holidays of eight weeks there were days and half days off for school treats and feasts, for bonfire night, for cricket in the park, for trips to the Zoo and to Alexandra Palace. More frequently, village events got the boys off school. They had the lively social life to thank for that, for there were many church clubs and societies. The school was closely linked with them. So there were also half days off for the Band of Hope anniversaries, for the Intercession for Missions, for the flower show and the garden show, for the Sunday School feast, and still more days off for those boys who were in the church choir and for choir treats.
As a National school, affiliated to the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Church of England, the boys’ school received valuable support from that body. But it was maintained by the different classes of people in the parish according to their means. Of the income required, about a quarter came from the Government grant, and about one eighth from school pence. Labourers paid 2d a week, gardeners and artisans 3d, others 6d. All the rest was given by the gentry and the farmers, mostly from the gentry.
When George Foster died in 1880 at the age of thirty-nine a handsome collection was made for a memorial. Of the one hundred and fifty subscribers the majority were old pupils of his school. His pupil teacher, Henry Burgess, carried on his work, for he completed his apprenticeship and was appointed as assistant master at another National school.
BE GOOD SWEET MAID AND LET WHO WILL BE CLEVER
Charles Kingsley’s famous advice may be compared with the education of girls in a parish like North Mymms. The school log books from 1897 to 1920 tell us a good deal. The school was in Water End, a rather remote, rural place one of the four ancient hamlets which comprised the parish. Built in 1847 by Miss Caroline Lydia Casamajor, it was also endowed under her will with the proceeds of £3,000 worth of 3% Bank Annuities for the teachers’ salaries, the purchase of clothing for the pupils, for books, stationery, tape, needles, thread etc for their use, and for the upkeep of the schoolhouse. The accommodation for one hundred and thirty girls of all ages and infants of both sexes seems have given plenty of room for the average attendance at this period of about fifty girls and forty infants. As a voluntary school and a National School affiliated to the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Church of England, it was controlled by the vicar and the manage appointed by the parish vestry.
A turning point occurred in 1902. In the same year the Conservative Government’s Education Bill became law, and a new headmistress was appointed at Water End. It is difficult to say which was the stronger influence for change. The Education Act placed the school, as a "non-provided school", within the control of Hertfordshire County Council which appointed a third of the managers. It also brought the school under the influence of the new School Code of the Board of Education which aimed to sweep away the old idea of elementary education as a charity for the lower classes. The new headmistress, young Mrs Margaret Cooke, recently trained, brought new ideas into the school. Her appearance as a pioneer lady motor cyclist must have caused a stir in the parish. Before her time, under the direction of Mrs Letitia Haines, one of the oldi school who had been headmistress since 1880, there was much emphasis on cookery, needlework and piety. "Needlework", wrote the vicar, "is of equal not more importance than cookery in the training of the rising generation".
The girls made handkerchiefs for the church bazaars, among many other articles on which they were kept busy - nightdresses, pillow cases, pinafores, and towels for Miss Cotton Curtis, daughter of the banker at Potterells. Knitting of glove scarves, stockings, sock, and necklets was also prominent. Lengths of serge and dress material, "a Good Print sufficient to make a frock", were given annually as prizes for good attendance. The post of needlework mistress was an important one. For cookery, "this necessary and practical art", a room was fitted with range and classes were held twice a week. Religious instruction was given regularly by the vicar, as in the boys’ school. In the annual diocesan examinations the children’s knowledge of the scriptures and the catechism was thoroughly tested by the bishop’s inspector. The school was usually commended for its reverent tone as well as for the understanding of the gospel, though it was advised on one occasion that "Care must be taken in referring to God with a capital letter". On all holy day afternoons the school was closed for attendance at church.
Such an emphasis in the curriculum during those years left less time for the three Rs, with some geography and history. Her Majesty’s inspectors’ reports were lukewarm: 1898 "The girls very praiseworthy. Infants good on the whole but continuance of the Grant depends on improvement in reading, arithmetic, drawing and object lesson"; 1900 "In spite of special difficulties the school as a whole is praiseworthy". But at the close of Mrs Haines’s regime they recorded: "School most creditable to Head after many years of conscientious and creditable work".
No doubt there were real difficulties of which the situation of the school was a chief one. As it was at one end of the parish many young children had to walk long distances so that bad weather caused low attendance and often closure. This and the unhygienic lavatories, reported by the inspectors, contributed to endemic illness and absenteeism. In 1900 the school closed for two periods of three weeks each on account of whooping cough, mumps and measles. It also happened that when mothers were out haymaking, potato picking and acorning, the girls were kept at home.
|Water End School pupils with Mrs C Cooke c 1904|
The new regime of Mrs Cooke could be expected to bring change. In introducing the 1902 Bill, the prime minister, A J Balfour, spoke of "the deplorable starvation of voluntary schools" which he said "are in many cases not adequately equipped and not so well fitted as they should…" "The voluntary schools must be placed in a position in which they can worthily play their necessary and inevitable part…"
Changes were, in fact, made. Mrs Cooke introduced school meals (ahead of the times) and a mid morning hot drink for a penny a week, but the traditions of fifty years were not to be readily discarded. Religious instruction continued to be basic, but gradually rather less prominent and the diocesan inspector commented: "a little disappointing - not as good as it should have been. Infants did well on the whole." By contrast the reports of HM inspector became more favourable, at least in respect of the girls. In 1909 he wrote "very satisfactory, the Head deserves great credit for the praiseworthy discipline and efficiency of the upper classes", and in the following years - "The upper classes taught with intelligence and success" and "most creditable under most difficult conditions, crowded rooms and insufficient staff’. Perhaps some of this was due to the weakening of another tradition, needlework, and the time saved given to reading.
The infants, however, do not seem to have shared the progress. "Infants’ instruction ineffective" and "infants want precise order, obedience and general interest or attention" were some of the reports. To be taken with this is the repeated complaint of staff being unsettled. There was, in fact, a continual stream of assistants arriving and departing, often after a very short time. In the space of twelve years no less than twenty-three started and left. It was the assistants who taught the youngest children.
The reasons for such a rapid turnover of staff can only be surmised but the most likely ones are the same difficulties as before - the rural remoteness, the inadequacy and insanitariness of accommodation, the illness and disease, the interruptions to study, and an additional one, the scarcity of proper lodgings. All these must have been very discouraging. The inspector, in the knowledge that the managers were responsible for the building, repeatedly criticised it, particularly the "offices". In 1913 he could still report: "The infants’ offices are dirty and unfit for use, and the path should be paved with bricks. The girls’ offices are offensive and need immediate attention. Paper should be provided in the closets. The urinal floor is very dirty and should be paved." An additional room had been built, but the report commented that "the partition should be carried to the ceiling." Perhaps only a teacher, baffled by noise, can appreciate that remark.
The school had grown in numbers but otherwise much remained the same. The "labour examination", by which children could leave for work on reaching a given standard in school still meant that the ablest children tended to leave as soon as possible. Although more prizes became available under the county council auspices, they were, as before, generally given for goodness, not for cleverness; for good attendance and conduct rather than scholastic progress.
Progress was hardly to be expected during the 1914-18 war. The school like many others must be counted among the walking wounded. The staff was reduced by the appointment of a monitress in place of a teacher. The curriculum was affected. Gardening came to the fore, domestic economy was taken at Hatfield, and work for the Red Cross at the request of the Director of Education produced vests, mufflers, shirts and socks. Slates, instead of paper, came back into use. The enlistment of virtually all able-bodied men placed schooling at risk, for women and girls had to take their place. The older schoolgirls were kept at home to bring coal from the sidings, "as it cannot now be carted", the logbook explains. Examinations were postponed on that account or because of the shortage of teachers.
|Pupils of Water End School with Mrs C Cooke c 1903|
There were, on one occasion, book prizes for proficiency and homework but they were donated by the headmistress. No child won a scholarship to a secondary school. At the end of the war the inspector commented:
"The school had been handicapped by long closure and much sickness, which no doubt accounted to some extent for the lack of energy put into their work by the children and for the low standard of efficiency reached in certain subjects. The teachers were kindly in their treatment of the children, and most earnest in their desire to improve the teaching. The teachers should visit other schools to observe their methods. A school library would improve the general intelligence and response."It was during that war that one of the chief handicaps of the school, its situation at Water End, began to be discussed. A parish councillor complained in 1915:
"That the Schools being established on such a distinctive basis as the Girls and Infants School at Water End and the Boys School at Welham Green necessitated the great majority of the children having to walk long distances in all weathers to attend School. He had been in communication with a great number of the parents and without exception they were all agreed that the present system, of having to pass one School to attend another only because of the distinction, was more of a ‘fad’ than a necessity, and the parents attributed a great deal of the illness among the children to the fact of having to sit in School in their wet clothing, whereas by a re-arrangement of the schools, a very great many of the children would have a much shorter distance to walk, and would not run the risk of being continuously wet through in the bad weather".The parish council immediately asked the school managers to make mixed schools at both places but it was persuaded to let the matter stand over in the belief that the county council would act after the war. Nothing happened for ten years when the Welham Green School started an infants’ class. But it was for boys only, and eighteen little boys were transferred from Water End.
Another seven years later there was again public concern about the infant girls. The parish council told the school managers that if a move was not made it would call a Parish Meeting on the "urgent question". Eventually, in 1935 it was able to thank the managers for starting a mixed infants’ school at Welham Green. It had taken twenty years to bring about. The council’s hope, that one day there would be a complete mixed school at Welham Green, was not to be fulfilled for many more years. In the meantime the school roll at Water End was reduced.
During the inter-war years there were the usual ups and downs. "There was good work going on" in religious instruction and "the children were well in hand". The school library, recommended earlier, contained "very little of the best juvenile literature". The persistent problem of a turnover of staff was no nearer solution. Assistant teachers came and went all the time, most of them staying only for a short period. Ground was lost, and for the inspector to say that the essential subjects were in a very fair condition was to damn with faint praise. Advances were made all the same, not least in what were apparently the first successes in the eleven plus scholarship examinations. Constance Bevan won a place at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Barnet and she was followed by Isobel Clark and Beryl Honour. Domestic service was by now no longer the main employment for school leavers, though still a considerable one.
During the 1939-45 war the girls’ schooling suffered in a new way. Air warfare meant the evacuation of schools from London. The arrival in North Mymms of children from Highgate and Chelsea resulted in half day shifts for the parish children for about six months until the evacuees were placed in Moffats and the scout hut. Temporary disruption of teaching on this account and also because of damage to the school building from air raids was the new education casualty. The old casualty of 1914-18 still persisted in 1941 when fourteen girls were taken away from school to pick potatoes for the farmers, by permission of the education authority.
After the war the school had only another fifteen years to exist. This gradually became inevitable in the circumstances. Even before the war the transfer of many infants to Welham Green had created doubts about the school’s future. The desirability of mixed school was mooted; there could be only one in the parish. With the 1944 Education Act the higher standards required meant heavy expenditure. Gas lighting had to be put in at the school, and later electricity. The managers had to choose between making the boys’ school at Welham Green a mixed one, and retaining the girls’ school. They had no real choice. They needed the proceeds from the sale of the Water End school to finance the necessary reconstruction at Welham Green. The purchaser was the county council and so the girls’ school became in 1954 a county primary one for a few years. Mrs Dorothy Colville, who had been appointed in 1949, continued as headmistress. With what effect may be seen in an inspector’s report:
"The happy and thoughtful way in which the headmistress directs the school ensures its success. Skills acquired in reading and writing are used to good advantage so that not only do the children go naturally to books for pleasure but they write readily on many topics. Use was made of their knowledge in arithmetic to solve problems. History, geography and nature study are all treated in a stimulating way, full use being made of music broadcasts and easels for art lessons have recently been acquired."By that time there were only forty-four pupils to "keep well in hand", and finally only twenty-seven. On 16 December 1960 Mrs Colville wrote in her log book:
"The last day the school will be open. In the New Year the infants will be transferred to the new school in Dellsome Lane and the juniors will attend either the Boys’ School or Little Heath School. The teaching and domestic staff have been offered and accepted posts in the new school but I, pupil, and then pupil teacher in this school resign my position as headmistress."Thus ended the school’s one hundred and thirteen years of history. The old building, at first converted into dwellings, was then demolished to make way for the A1(M).
THE STRAW PLAITERS
Chapter 1 emphasises the importance of straw plaiting for the standard of living of working people. This chapter deals in more detail with the straw plaiters who lived in the parish and the work they did. From the census enumerators’ returns a good deal can be learned about these women, where they lived, their ages, whether they were married, single or widowed, what their husbands’ or fathers’ occupations were, how many children they had to support. Some of them kept at straw plaiting for many years, and changed to other work when straw plaiting came to an end.
For although this home industry has a long history, it lasted only some thirty years after the year of the Great Exhibition. From thirty plaiters in the parish in 1841, the number rose to seventy-four in 1851, fell to thirty-two in 1861, fell again to eight in 1871 and had disappeared by 1881. But in the heyday of the forties and fifties all ages from seven to seventy were busy at work in the cottages, earning sometimes as much as their menfolk and making a vital contribution to the family income. Some mothers had their daughters working with them at it, like Rebecca Reynolds, wife of a small farmer in Hog Lane, and her daughters, Ann and Rebecca. Others, with names still present today in the parish, such as Hannah Pollard in Pooleys Lane and Jane Webb in Roestock, did the same.
As that suggests, the women lived all over the parish, most of them in the four hamlets comprising it. The largest number of twenty-eight were in Roestock perhaps because it was best placed for the walk to St Albans where the plait was sold, or because it was probably the poorest of the hamlets, populated almost entirely by agricultural labourers. Welham Green had twenty-four plaiters in Balloon Corner and Pooleys Lane, Water End four and Bell Bar three. The remainder lived in the northern end of the parish, at Mount Pleasant and Water Dell, also more convenient for St Albans.
Most of the male heads of the households to which the plaiters belonged were farm workers, the lowest paid men. For them, the plaiters’ earnings were all important, especially when there were many young children under working age. Such were James Day of Water End with six children of whom only two were old enough to work, Caroline, fourteen, as a plaiter, James, twelve as a labourer, and James Longstaff of Balloon Corner whose wife’s earnings as a plaiter helped to maintain six children and his widowed mother in law.
Some plaiters were the wives or daughters of better paid workers such as gardeners gamekeepers and haybinders (readers may recall the first, and last, occupation of Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge). Mary Ann Harding of Mount Pleasant was the daughter of a gardener, widower and Chelsea pensioner with two infant children. Rebecca, wife of George Tirley, gamekeeper at Bell Bar, plaited when she was not looking after her two little children. Charlotte Vyse, wife of the hay-binder in Welham Green, had five children to keep, only one of whom was a wage earner.
Others were related to the village craftsmen who had a higher standard of living. Thus there were the bricklayer’s sister, Jane Perk in Pooleys Lane, the shoemaker’s daughter, Sarah Peck at Bell Bar, and Ann Hutchings, the carpenter’s wife at Mount Pleasant. Two carpenters, George and John Willson, perhaps father and son, at Roestock, had wives who plaited. There was also Elizabeth Freeman, wife of the wheelwright at Bell Bar, aged seventy one and perhaps past his best work.
Lower than those skilled men, but earning a shilling or two more than the farm workers were a handful of men on the Great Northern Railway. Mary Samuel of Hog Lane, wife of a permanent way labourer, combined plaiting with caring for three children aged four, three and one. But those most in need of the money from plaiting were the widows. Hannah Pollard, already mentioned, was one and there were others. Three of them lived in Roestock. Rebecca Gray had one son a shepherd, another a letter carrier, a third, aged twelve, a farm labourer, and two daughters at school; she also received parish relief. Sarah Dickins did not, but her daughter plaited with her and she had only one child still at school. It was a narrow margin. The third, Mary Norris, had only a lodger with her, also a widow, plaiter and pauper, both of them seventy years old. Even so they were better off than in the workhouse in Hatfield.
North Mymms was part of a much wider scene. For over a hundred years the industry had been flourishing in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex and Buckinghamshire. Plait making in Hatfield and St Albans was reported in 1804 by Arthur Young in his General View of the Agriculture of Hertfordshire. It developed in response to the demand for straw hats made in Luton and St Albans.
The seventy-four plaiters in the parish were a small fraction of the 8753 in the county in 1851. In Harpenden, for instance, not only the women and girls but also some men and lads plaited to supplement their wages, as Edwin Grey vividly describes in his Cottage Life in a Hertfordshire Village. That village had a plaiting school where infants of three were sent to learn the skills of the trade. Men may well have been plaiters in North Mymms, but only one is mentioned. He was George Howard who, in 1841, was the nineteen-year-old son of an agricultural labourer, living at Marshmoor with his three sisters, also plaiters.
Such an extensive home industry was bound to attract contemporary comment from superior persons, some favourable, some not. Many years earlier, before plaiting had become so popular, William Cobbett, champion of the underdog, wrote that plaiting "of all employment is the best suited to the wives and children of country labourers." Later, however, in the 1860s, the Newcastle Royal Commission into the State of Popular Education reported against it, concerned as it was with the conditions in the plait schools. The Agricultural Employment Commission of 1867-9 went much further:-
"The great want of chastity among the plait girls probably arises from the early age at which, when plait is good, the girls become independent of their parents, and often leave their homes, and from the fact that male and female plaiters go about the lanes together in summer engaged in work which has not even the wholesome corrective of more or less physical exhaustion"
Taking the same moral stance, A J Munby, author of Man of Two Worlds, a gentleman who married his servant, wrote in his diary in 1863 that "At St Albans young women, who are all straw plaiters, have a very bad reputation."
The last word on this aspect may, however, be left to the journalist of the Morning Chronicle who, writing on Labour and the Poor in the Rural Districts in 1850, talked to a young woman plaiter in company with her admirer and reported their conversation:
"Sometimes I Don ‘t make more than 3s.; sometimes as much as 6s. a week. I’ve got a savings-bank book, but I’m going to draw it out in the spring," said she - a blush at the same time stealing over her features. ‘So am I, too, ‘ said the young man ... ‘We’re both a goin’ to draw out, and we’re a goin’ to be married on the plait money. Ain’t we, Mary! When I leaves off work at night I sets on to the plait; I am not very first rate at it, but still I can manage to do a little bit. Well, I’ve yarned a couple of shillings or so every week for ever so long, and I’ve put it all away, and a little besides too, so I thinks we may get on middlin’ Like. Do’ant you, sir and do’ant you too?’ again addressing himself to his affianced one, and accompanying his question by a salute..."With such prospects women continued with plaiting over the decades, handing it on to their daughters. There are many examples of families staying with plaiting for more than ten years. Hannah Pollard, again, a plaiter in 1841 was still one ten years later as were also her daughter and her two daughters in law. Jane Webb did the same, followed by her two daughters. Some remained plaiting even longer. Two of the surviving few in 1871 had been plaiting twenty years earlier, Martha Childs and Ann Morris, both wives of agricultural labourers at Water End. The Childs family were connected by marriage with the plaiting family of the Willsons. Martha, by 1871, lived with her widowed and pauper mother, her son and his three daughters at school. Ann was with her father and his grandson. There was much continuity as well as change.
This domestic industry was closely linked with farming. The farmers stood to gain in two ways. They sold the straw to their own labourers or to an itinerant dealer who supplied the plaiters and bought their plait. They also saved on their poor rates inasmuch as the plaiters earning money had less need of parish relief. The farmers indeed, sometimes earmarked a field of wheat as suitable for the straw and had it cut by hand instead of mechanically. In addition to those two sources of supply of straw there was, in some villages, the shop. In Harpenden, as Edwin Grey tells, Saunders little grocery shop sold straw bundles and bought small amounts of plait. There were such stores in North Mymms, though nothing is know of their trade.
The general method of plaiting is described by Mrs Gilbey of Weathersfield in Essex:
"My mother used to walk about three miles to a farm, the Broad Farm, to buy a large bundle of straw that the farmer had picked out for making into plait then mother would clip it into short lengths and tie it in small bunches and put it in a box with some Brimstone and light it and close the box, this was called stoving it, which would make it White, then the straw would be split up with a small Engine, there were different size engines to split the straw the size it was wanted, then mother, and my Sister and Brothers would start to make the Plait, this was done in length at twenty yards, then put on a board to straighten it out There were a good many of these lengths made during the week. On Saturdays Mother and all the Neighbours would come to Weathersfield where a man would buy it to be made into hats, but the Plait is a thing of the past now..."There was more to plaiting than that. After the straw had been split into "splints" these were usually passed through a small mill, consisting of two rollers and a handle, often fixed behind a door. This was in order to make the splints soft and pliable. Then the plaiting began. The plaiter held a bunch of splints under her left arm, passed a couple through her lips to moisten them, and with her tongue worked them forward to start weaving them together. The plait was made in a great variety of patterns, some more complicated than others and requiring more skill. In Harpenden, for example, the women made plaits of many different kinds called plain, single-splint, pearl, bird’s eye, whipcord and so on, some of them specialising in a particular pattern. Examples of the "engine" and the splint mill maybe seen in St Albans Museum.
When the plait of twenty yards, a "score", had been finished it had to be prepared for sale. The rough ends of the splints were clipped and the plait had to be measured so that it was the correct length for the market. No tape or rule was used, but notches cut into the wooden mantel of the fireplace, at distances of 1/4 yard, 1/2 yard. Finally, the Brimstone treatment referred to earlier by Mrs Gilbey, was more often carried out on the plait itself so as to brighten it.
It seems most likely that when the North Mymms women sold their plait they went to St Albans market, unless there was a middleman in the parish about whom nothing is known. Certainly the Hatfield women had sold their plait in the weekly market there for many years. A factory for hat making had been built in St Albans. The North Mymms women may be imagined, setting off with their loops of plait on the long walk through Colney Heath, in company no doubt. According to Edwin Grey the women took their stand on the pavement in St Peters Street to wait for the plait bell to ring when the dealers came along to bargain. Having sold their plait the women bought their provisions to take home.
All that was not to last long after the mid-century. As the figures of plaiters, given earlier, indicate, the industry declined before long. Imports of plait came in from Europe after the triumph of free trade and they were followed by cheaper plait from China and Japan. Straw hats, particularly boaters, continued to be popular until the 1914-18 war and the hat industry flourished with them, but using foreign plait. Some few plaiters lingered on. In North Mymms there were two, a mother and daughter, on the census day of 1881, but they were only visitors at Colney Heath Farm.
What then happened to the plaiters of North Mymms and their domestic economy? One alternative was to make hats instead of plait. Before the plait declined there were already eleven hat makers in addition to the seventy-four plaiters. Three of them were the shepherd’s daughters, Rebecca. Eliza, and Elizabeth Scales. They were a sign of what was to come for by 1871 their number had grown to thirty-six, when the plaiters had fallen to eight. These women all described themselves as Brazilian hat makers. According to Jean Davis in Straw Plait, the Brazilian plait hat was a speciality of St Alban. Clearly, not all of the plaiters could have changed to hat making but some of them did. The names of many of the hat makers appear earlier as straw plaiters in the censuses back to 1841: the Pollard family, the Gray family, Sarah Gillians, Mary Cobb, the Brinkleys, Mary Field, the Webb family and so on. The others, no doubt, got what other work they could, Domestic service had grown and there were more laundresses, ten in the parish.
As to the Brazilian hat makers, they too disappeared in their turn. None were recorded in 1881. In fact that trade had gone too. They had been depicted in the Royal Academy in the 1850s but twenty years later that particular manufacture was lost to France where Panama hat making was already established at Nancy. Other employments for the parish women expanded. The number of domestic servants shot up to eighty-one from fifty-six ten years before, and the laundresses rose to eighteen. Men’s wages improved somewhat after the appearance of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union. The women seem to have lost a degree of independence.
|Betty Pollards Corner, Welham Green, c 1850|
THE POOR WE HAVE ALWAYS WITH US
The poor were the great majority of people who lived by their labour. Below them were the destitute, those who had no means at all and could not earn a living. Both were closely affected by the Poor Law. The poorest of the poor could be given outdoor parish relief, allowances in their homes, the extent of which varied according to the social policies of the day. The destitute received indoor relief by entering the workhouse, or sometimes outdoor relief if it was cheaper. For the ordinary poor there was charity for those in need provided they had deserved it by not having been given parish relief.
The paupers of the parish, i.e. those receiving either indoor or outdoor relief, appear anonymously in the government records. There were in North Mymms in 1767 twenty two paupers who were given "constant relief during the year" in the form of allowances, and probably others being helped occasionally. For the others there was the parish workhouse in Workhouse Lane, a house and garden called Baresfords occupying about a quarter of an acre, with accommodation for thirty inmates. It was furnished, or re-furnished, in 1766 when the churchwardens paid £l7.13.6d for "things bought into the workhouse" fetched from London. The cost of maintaining both the poor and the destitute in the parish which numbered about 700 persons, was £140 a year.
Charitable legacies began earlier on. In the 17th century Edmund Faldo of Brookmans, Sir Thomas Hyde of North Mymms Place and Martha Coningsby of Potterells each left sums of money to be invested for the deserving poor. Two ladies, Dame Lydia Mews, tenant of North Mymms Place, and Mistress Anne Hunter of Gobions followed suit in the 18th century, as did Joseph Sabine in the early 19th century. By about 1815 money had been invested in land to the extent of 65 acres 2 rods 10 poles, bringing in an income of £48 per annum which, together with £587.14.4d in Government stock, produced a total of £65.6.8d a year available for distribution. Sabine’s opinion of this amount was that it was "not of great extent", perhaps in comparison with other parishes.
The Regulations for these charities, with their clear exclusion of the destitute, may be summarised as follows:
Help for the poor continued in this form throughout the 19th century.
- On Good Friday. Donation to servants or labourers in husbandry having more than 2 children, who have received no poor relief and have 1 year’s residence; preference given to the largest number of children under 18; good character required.
- On Easter Eve. Donation of provisions and money to widows over 40 who had not been in the workhouse; 12 months residence required.
- Widows’ Charity. Nomination by church wardens and overseers with a casting vote by the minister. For widows without relations or other income or property, but with credit and respectability. Weekly payments made during life unless the widows received parochial relief.
- Mrs Coningsby’s Charity. For ten persons selected by the church-wardens and the minister; provided that they had had no poor relief and had attended church regularly.
- Distribution of the Bread on Sundays. A list to be made of all the heads of poor families; names called in church in rotation; the ration for each in turn:- I loaf for 1-2 persons, 2 loaves for 3-4, 3 loaves for 5-6 in the family, 4 loaves for over 6 persons.
- Binding Apprentices from the Charity Funds. Two lists to be made:- (1) orphans or bastards or parish children (2) poor resident parents who had had no parish relief. One alternately from each list to be elected by a majority vote of the church-wardens and overseers of the poor. The master to be in trade within 20 miles of North Mymms; 7 years’ indenture; at each Easter the apprentice to show a testimonial from his master and a certificate of Sunday observance.
In addition to this regular, established charity, the needy were occasionally helped by the churchwardens from the vestry funds. Most of them were residents but there was also a small group of outsiders to whom money was sometimes given. They were the "travellers", craftsmen such as hatters, feltmakers, weavers and compositors who were tramping for work. For example, in 1768 the church-wardens "gave to Travellers at different times 5s. 6d" and five years later "gave to the Weavers and other Travellers 5s. 0d". War casualties also sometimes benefited: in 1793 "to distressed Sailors 2s. 6d", in 1802 "A poor soldier whose wife had her arm broke 2s. 0d" and "a poor sailor 2s. 6d."
These alms from this particular source when given to residents were usually in particular cases of temporary distress. Thus in 1786 the churchwardens "gave Dame Knight and Widow Nicholls being very ill with a fever 6s 0d".; in 1797 "gave poor widow Wittimore 2s 6d"; in 1799 "to poor man having lost his property by fire ls 0d"; in 1801 "gave Ceo Collins very ill 3s 0d". These donations stopped short when Joseph Sabine became churchwarden in about 1805.
It was at this point that the poor law became more severe in the parish. The cost of providing for the poor had risen rapidly. By 1803, the year when the war with France was renewed, it had trebled to £455 a year since thirty years earlier. Inflation accounted for some of this increase though in fact the worst inflation came latter in the war. In that year there were no more than thirteen persons in the workhouse, costing £21 each per annum. But the number of persons who were permanently relieved in their homes had risen to as many as thirty-five, a not inconsiderable number in a population of 838. Some of them may well have been wage earners given an allowance to make ends meet, since the decision by the Berkshire magistrates at Speenhamland to subsidise wages from the poor rate had, by then, been acted on throughout the south of England.
In North Mymms a new regime for the poor began. It was due to the reforming zeal of Joseph Sabine, inspector general of taxes, secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society and much else, though it may also have owed something to the example of the Marquis of Salisbury who had established an economical and disciplined workhouse in Hatfield.
Sabine told a Parliamentary Select Committee of 1817 how he had effected economy and striven to discourage dependence on poor relief. In his position as churchwarden he had been able to halve the burden on the rates by abolishing some outdoor allowances and by cutting the expenses of the workhouse. He had found that the vestry was "too fond of exercising their humanity at the expense of the parish". The old and infirm in the workhouse were privatised by farming them out to a contractor who was paid 5s 0d per head per week for their maintenance. Sabine’s opinion, rather ahead of his times, was that the standard of living of these paupers should be "rather below" that of those who earned their living on 12s to 18s a week. He objected to a proposal by the vicar that they should have beer. He assured the Committee that people in distress did not show any reluctance to enter the workhouse.
Sabine also established strict control over outdoor relief. Widows with children who could not support themselves were granted weekly allowances of from 1s 6d to 3s per adult and ls 6d per child. These women and children worked at stone picking, haymaking and gleaning in harvest time.
For this the women were paid l0d per day, the children from 4d to 8d. For the labourers with a family to support, their allowances were stopped however low their wages. The only relief allowed to them was clothes for the children and medicine. While it was possible for them to appeal to the magistrates over the head of the vestry led by Sabine, only three had ever done so. And, of course, those who received parish relief could not qualify for any of the parochial charities.
As Sabine’s reforms cut off allowances which had been given to eke out wages, the men were, in his words, "thrown back more upon their own exertions. They exerted themselves and they went on well". Normal hours of work had been from six to six in summer, from seven to five in winter. Now men worked by the piece instead of by the day, and worked longer hours. As he said, "they stay later at night" since, as he observed, they did not come to work before six in the morning.
After due exertion a man could earn from 12s to £1 a week on piecework at hedging and ditching, "wood work or ground work", instead of the basic wage of 12s. There were only four men for whom there was no work on the farms; they laboured on the parish roads at a lower wage. Those few men for whom no work could be found were sent by the vestry on a round of the farmers to see if they could be taken on. These roundsmen, as they were called, were paid only about 8s a week. Straw plaiting by the women and children helped out with the rent of £3 to £5 a year. The cottagers had no rights on the remaining small piece of common and very few of them occupied any land in addition to the cottage garden. They had to buy their fuel when the women could not go "a wooding", illegally.
Churchwarden Sabine continually visited the cottagers to see how they were fed and clothed. He found that those who could earn l5s to l8s were "very fairly clothed". Theft food was "chiefly bread; they have potatoes and greens in their gardens, and many of them have pork". "If wheat gets very dear some use barley". Wheat had, in fact, got dear. By 1817 the price of wheat had doubled since the start of the French wars, whereas wages had risen about half Such was the situation of the poor in those years.
Throughout the 19th century charity continued to be a safety net for those in need. The parochial charities have already been described. In addition there was sometimes the necessity of another kind of charity. This was the soup kitchen, "that useful institution", as the Hertfordshire Advertiser saw it three days before the Christmas of 1883. Throughout the eighteen seventies, eighties and nineties, and perhaps earlier, North Mymms set up a soup kitchen whenever severe winter weather put men out of work. Usually in Roestock, it was also available to families in Welham Green and Water End. Through the kindness of the gentry a quart of soup and half a quartern loaf were to be had for one penny. It was the main meal for many families. In a bad year, 1895, the soup kitchen was open on two or three days a week for several weeks. 1270 quarts of soup and 635 loaves were dispensed. The cost was £24. 13s 7½d of which the poor paid £5. l5s 3d in pence, the rest coming from the gentry.
The destitute persons in the parish led a different life. In August 1835 they faced a new future. The North Mymms workhouse was closed, the furniture sold, and the inmates removed to another place, the Hatfield Union Workhouse. This was the effect of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834; an Act foreshadowed by such reformers as Sabine and the Marquis of Salisbury. For this reason the inmates may well not have noticed much change in their regime.
There were twelve of them: John Haydon, Sam Flindell, William Pearson, Stephen Topp, Silvester Clayton, James Cooper, John Northage, Elizabeth Mitchell, William Collins, John Route, William Wackett and Ann Soodle. Of these, four were too old for work, two were partially disabled and out of work, one was infirm, three were too young to work, one was "an idiot" and one had been deserted by her husband. Of the three children, aged five to eight, two were illegitimate. The occupations which had brought the men to this pass were labourer,shoemaker and blacksmith. The blacksmith came out of the workhouse returned to North Mymms and died two years later. All twelve inmates, except one child, died within a few years. All of them were recorded as "well behaved" daring their short stay, except for Ann Soodle, the deserted wife, whose behaviour was "indifferent".
The inmates at Hatfield were fed on the following diet:
Breakfast Tea. Milk with oatmeal or rice.Despite the uprooting of paupers throughout Hertfordshire to be installed in the new prison-like workhouses where segregation of men, women and children was the rule, there was little opposition to the new poor law in the county. There was violent opposition in the surrounding counties but it occurred in only two places in Hertfordshire - Royston where the relieving officer was attacked, and Bishops Stortford where a workhouse building was set on fire.
Dinner 2 and a half oz. cheese with bread except to those who have butter. Except Sunday when the meat is given with dinner.
Supper 4 oz meat or 4 oz in soup for six days with potatoes. Suet pudding on the 7th day 12 oz each. Bread 15 oz a day each. Butter 8 oz a week each. Sugar 8 oz a week each. Tea 1 oz a week each. Meat one and a half pounds a week each and suet for pudding. Beer continued except for those under thirty years.
During the hungry forties times were hard. The number of admissions from North Mymms to the Hatfield workhouse rose to twenty-eight in 1842, some persons went in more than once a year. By the mid-century admissions had become more normal at fourteen a year. Among those taken in in 1851 were the three children of Williams Rands of North Mymms, sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing a leg of mutton. Along with them was Ann Soodle again, destitute, with two children, guilty, according to the register, of "very bad behaviour". The rest were mainly old men.
There were, however, in that year another sixteen persons dependent on parish allowances at home and another six who were permanently sick or disabled and had medical tickets from the Guardians of the Poor in Hatfield. Altogether thirty-six persons relied on the poor law, out of a population of eleven hundred. They had all been workers of one kind or another. Five had been domestic servants, five straw plaiters, four agricultural labourers, two charwomen one a lacemaker and one a weaver. One of them was William Marlborough whose family had been in the parish for a hundred and fifty years. Such was the family’s decline from the status of yeoman in an earlier age.
Twenty years later times seem to have improved. There were only three admissions to the workhouse from the parish in 1871 and only eight paupers receiving relief in their homes, all old people. Among them was widow Sophia Brinkley, age eighty four, formerly a domestic servant like many of the inmates, who had been a pauper twenty years earlier. For the able bodied men in the workhouse there was a change of occupation. The Poor Law Inspector having recommended stone breaking instead of oakum picking, the Guardians bought five yards of stone and three stone hammers and built a covered shed for the work.
The depression in agriculture of the 1880s does not seem to have had much effect on the parish. Only a few North Mymms paupers were admitted to the workhouse, about five a year. The efforts by the Local Government Board, which had taken over the poor law, to reduce outdoor relief, thus obliging the elderly into the workhouse, do not seems to have been felt in the parish.
In the years before the first world war admission of parish people to the workhouse continued to be at the same low level. Some idea of the regime for those who did enter may be gained from the following duties of the porter in 1915:
5.45 am Ring BellFrom 1930 the care of the poor and the destitute was in the hands of the public assistance committee of the County Council. Workhouses were re-named institutions. The Poor Law was effective until 1947.
5.45-6.20 Assist in preparing and serving breakfast
6.20 Ring breakfast bell and serve breakfast to tramps
6.20-7.00 Own breakfast
7.00 Ring work bell and set tramps to work
10.00 Discharge tramps
11.00 Cut bread for dinner
11.30 Assist to serve dinner
12.00-12.30 Ring dinner bell and take dinner
1.00 Ring work bell
1.00-2.00 Own dinner
4.00 Cut bread for tea
4.30-5.00 Own tea
5.30-6.00 Assist in preparing and serving tea
6.00 Ring tea bell
6.00-9.00 Take in and supervise bathing of tramps and cut bread for breakfast.
THE DEMON DRINK
The parish had a flourishing temperance movement for about forty years between 1876 and 1914. The movement played a large part in the lives of many people for over a generation. Was there a drink problem in North Mymms? We do not know. But the middle class of England thought that there was one among the working class. The United Kingdom Temperance Alliance and the British and Foreign Temperance Society waged great campaigns in Parliament and in the country to reduce drinking. The parish was well supplied with public houses, six among fifteen hundred people. All the evidence we have from ancient inhabitants is that so and so used to have drinking bouts. The fact is, however that the national consumption of beer rose steadily after the Beerhouse Act of 1830 to a peak in 1876 of no less than thirty four gallons per head of population per annum.
In that very same year the vicar of North Mymms, the Rev A S Latter launched his campaign against the evil of drink with his branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, and at the same time, a Band of Hope for the young. He had already had a success with the parish magazine, now he was to have another. He had the powerful organisation of the Society behind him.
The Church of England came into what had been essentially a nonconformist movement in the early l860s through the efforts of a group of evangelical clergy, and had established its own temperance society. It grew so rapidly that by the time of the Rev Latter’s initiative the Society covered the whole country, had an annual income of about £7000 a year and the Queen as its patron. As for the Band of Hope, it had been flourishing for nearly thirty years and had several hundred thousand members. The motives of the temperance leaders were mixed, both spiritual and material. There was the thirst for souls felt by the evangelical churchmen who saw the public houses as "nurseries for sin"; a real concern for the welfare of poor parishioners, and the knowledge that sobriety produced the best labourers.
North Mymms was not, therefore, a pioneer; it joined the swim. Temperance societies had already just been formed at South Myrnms and Potters Bar. The origin in the parish was a meeting at the Boys’ School room on 2 May 1876, addressed by five speakers including the vicar of South Mymms and the Rev Latter. A fortnight later it was resolved to form a North Mymms branch and twenty-seven persons joined immediately. Next month there was a grand temperance tea in schoolroom. A hundred people turned up for the glee singing, songs by the Waterend schoolgirls and speeches; twenty two new members enrolled in the cause.
The children were next to be gathered in. In July a meeting in the Deer Park led to a service in the church followed by tea in the Park. The children made their solemn promise: "I hereby agree by God’s help to abstain from all intoxicating drinks as beverages so long as I keep this card of membership." Thirty children crowded into the vicarage in August when there was singing and reading. But this was only a start, for a year later, in 1877, the Band of Hope had a hundred members. The enthusiasm spread from Welham Green to Bell Bar where twenty children joined. Next year the gentry and the vicar subscribed £23 to start a drum and fife band which received weekly instruction from the bandmaster, and by 1879 the membership had risen rapidly to a hundred and fifty.
Meanwhile the Branch continued to attract new members. The national body sent speakers to the meetings, the most attractive of whom were reformed drunkards. In May 1877 those present were inspired by a former prize fighter, aptly named Charles Bent, who had been brought to better things by becoming a teetotaller. It was at this time that the vicar announced his conversion from moderate to total abstainer. On another occasion the sub editor of Home Words spoke on the attractive subject of Illustrious Abstainers. That year, much encouraged, the Branch opened a coffee and reading room. Literacy was by now more general. The Anglican evangelicals believed in fostering a love of books and reading.
The movement went from strength to strength. When the membership of ninety-eight included eighty total abstainers and the Band of Hope numbered a hundred and fifty, the vicar could claim that more than a sixth of his parishioners were in the fold. Such a considerable body of opinion was sufficient to organise a petition to Parliament in favour of the Sunday Closing Bill. The Bill would have restricted the opening hours of public houses from six hours to three hours a day.
Growth continued into the 1880s. The membership in 1881 enabled the Rev Latter to write in the Parish Magazine that nearly a quarter of the parish were total abstainers. The peak was reached two years later when the Branch reached the extraordinary figure of one hundred and eighty abstainers of different degrees and the Band of Hope had no less than two hundred and sixty eight "on its Books". There were few children left unconverted. At Water End and Bell Bar the fortnightly meetings drew attendances of fifty.
By this time the Rev. George Batty and his wife, complete with cook, housemaid and footman, had succeeded to the living and the temperance success. Both he and his predecessor were very busy with a number of charitable clubs for clothing, shoes, coal and so on. It was fortunate that the vicar had devoted assistants in the temperance branch and the Band of Hope.
James Cheeseman, coachman at Brookmans for many years, addressed meetings regularly, as did also James Pousty of the Laurels, Pancake Hall, auctioneer and local preacher by occupation. A supporter of much more substance was Samuel Gurney Sheppard, active evangelical churchman and wealthy owner of Leggatts estate. Sheppard was brought in for special occasions. At a Public Tea meeting in October 1881 he decorated all the members who had kept their pledge.
Although the Branch suffered a gradual decline after the 1880s, it remained a strong influence until the 1914-18 war. The children were more faithful than the adults, or were perhaps their conscience. Thus while by 1890 the abstaining adults had fallen to sixty and a soiree could attract only forty persons, the Band of Hope had apparently grown to its maximum of two hundred and seventy seven. This figure may be doubtful since it was based on a festival at Brookmans, and only fifty-four cards for one year’s faithfulness were awarded.
|The Meet at the Sibthorpe Arms c 1905|
Until the 1914-18 war, there was still much activity, though on a smaller scale. At a soiree on new year’s day 1895 there was an address on The Evils of Intemperance. How these were to be avoided was explained, in the following March by a clergyman who dealt with "The best way of escape from the toils of the Tempter with regard to this particular Sin". But only fifty were present. The Branch was no doubt held together by devoted work from its treasurer, James Cheesman, the coachman, and by the parish scripture reader, John Moon, receiving a salary of £75 a year. The census of 1881 indicates that John Moon, his wife and six children, lived in Poplar Cottage, next door to the Sibthorpe Arms. It was a useful position for a temperance worker. The relations between him and the licensee, William Spearey, remain unknown.
The Branch’s own brass band must have been a great attraction and a recruiting agent. New members still came in; "the large school room was packed" at a tea party in 1894. For the rest of that century and into the next meetings were held regularly, mainly in Welham Green. A soiree in November 1899 enjoyed a whole array of entertainers: "Miss Briand, Mr and Mrs Brown of Bell Bar, Mr Halsey, Oliver and George Moon, Mrs Bother, the Misses Parsons, Knott and Nash". The Police Court Missionary at St Albans was always a popular speaker.
Subscriptions to the Branch by the gentry, which had been the greater part of its income fell sharply by 1913. This suggests either that the Branch was much reduced in size or that subscriptions were no longer necessary to its survival. During the 1914-18 war DORA severely limited the opening hours of public houses, and to some extent did the work of the temperance movement for it. By 1918 the Parochial Branch of the Church of England Temperance Society no longer appeared in the church’s annual statements of accounts. Nor did the Band of Hope, which also seems to have been a casualty of the war. For some years, it too had no longer depended on subsidy; in 1898 the sole subscription from the gentry was £1 from Mrs Cotton Curtis of Potterells.
All classes in the parish had been involved; the gentry, the farmers, like Mr Giddens of Moffats Farm, the craftsmen and the labourers. Both sexes too, for the Girls Friendly Society and the Mothers Union also gave strong support. Temperance meant freedom from the violence of drink as well as a thrifty home. William Marlborough told a meeting how, before his conversion he kept one pig for the publican’s benefit, but after it he kept two for his own pocket.
THRIFT AND PHILANTHROPY
These two Victorian virtues flourished against a background of the poor law. It was believed that lack of thrift led to pauperism and consequently paupers were not the proper recipients of philanthropy, or in other words, practical benevolence expressed in charitable giving. Philanthropy was for the deserving poor, just as the poor law was for the undeserving. If a man or woman had shown by hard work, thriftiness and abstemiousness in, if not abstention from, drink, that he had tried to be independent, then if he failed, he was a fit subject for charitable help.
Both virtues were encouraged and sustained in North Mymms by the Church of England and in particular by the vicar, his helpers arid the gentry under his guidance to whom he set an example in charity. Both virtues were combined in the various parochial savings clubs. Other bodies which supported thrift were the Girls’ Friendly Society, the Mothers’ Union, the Temperance Society and the Band of Hope, all associated with the church.
The savings clubs were started by the Rev A S Latter in about 1863. It was the period of Samuel Smiles’s best selling books, Self Help and Thrift, and before there were any facilities in the parish for the Post Office Savings Bank. They were quite distinct from the historic parish charities endowed by legacies. Charitable giving on a national scale, a major occupation for middle class ladies, had become so widespread and indiscriminate towards the undeserving, that the Charity Organisation Society was established to organise it on a proper basis.
The purpose of the clubs and the values of that age are best shown in the words of the vicar in 1872:
The end kept in view of all the Clubs is ‘to help those who help themselves’. And while in every parish there needs must be from time to time a certain number of those who through old age, or sickness, or unavoidable misfortune require positive gifts and alms to be bestowed upon them, reminding us that ‘We have the poor always with us’and that ‘the poor shall never cease out of the land’; yet it is undoubtedly true that the greater part of the poverty that exists in this country is self caused, and that habits of improvidence and intemperance have generally been the cause of clothing the man in rags and the household in misery. The Christian man, who wishes really to improve the temporal and eternal condition of his poorer neighbours, will therefore do all in his power to encourage among them habits of thrift and economy, habits of self-reliance and independence; not the self-reliance that makes a man presumptuous and selfish; not the independence that makes a man forget giving honours to whom honour is due; but the self-reliance which makes a man look to his own industry, prudence and forethought, under God’s blessing, for providing, not only for his present wants, but also against the rainy day, when sickness, or scarcity of work, or old age, make it impossible for him then to be a bread winner.How far the situation required encouragement of self-reliance and independence among the villagers it is impossible to say. Such qualities were needed in the hard times when a soup kitchen became necessary. The vicar pointed out that the clubs were meant to be self-supporting but that the gentry could help "without pauperising their poorer neighbours." Moreover, the money, which they would give to the clubs, would be no more than an expression of "goodwill of one class towards another". In the same issue of the parish magazine he warned his flock not to join the new Agricultural Workers’ Union which had formed a branch at Colney Heath. That, he feared, would upset the harmony of masters and men.
What needs did the clubs meet, how did they operate, and how important were they in the lives of the villagers? The three basic clubs, for clothing, for shoes and for coal, lasted, together with the penny bank, into the twentieth century. A third, the rent club, existed for only a few years in the l860s; most cottages were tied. It is clear that none of the clubs could have continued without being subsidised by substantial subscriptions from the gentry. Let us look at the changes in the clubs over a generation of thirty years.
The Rule for the Coal Club ran - Deposits of 1s per week received by Mr Gray, for 22 weeks, beginning on first Monday in July. Gray was the Parish Scripture Reader, living at Poplar Cottage, Welham Green. Again total deposits rose from the same number of families though these became a smaller proportion of the total number. They seem to have spent more on coal though in fact the price fell. Help in this case came not only from the gentry but also from the farmers who carted the coal free of expense to the depositors in the club. Also, Mrs Latter’s blanket club should be mentioned though it had only a very short life.
What conclusions, if any, may be drawn from these comparisons? Clearly there persisted a considerable number of poor people who needed the clubs, though they became a smaller part of the whole parish. The gentry’s subscriptions became less significant, either because they were not so necessary, or because attitudes changed, or perhaps both. The vicar had remarked that "the poor of North Mymms have responded to this mode of dealing with them". Their response varied according to economic conditions, in the depressed years of the late 1870s thrift fell to its lowest level, and recovered in the late ‘80s.
The penny bank was a different case. Though it, too, started well with total deposits of £35 from some ninety villagers, it had declined drastically thirty years later by which time it catered primarily for school children. The reason no doubt was the coming in Welham Green of facilities for using the Post Office Savings Bank in about 1890. Before that occurred the bank rules provided that "When 9s paid in, is added by the vicar, and account transferred to Government Savings’ Bank, Hatfield."
Yet another opportunity for thrift were several sick and medical clubs which followed one another. In the first, two hundred members benefited from the following rules: On payment to Mr Gray of 6d before 15th January, and is before the 15th July, for each member or family, any Labouring Man may receive benefit of Medical Attendance, etc., for the year ending December 31st. As the modest contributions suggest, it had to be heavily subsidised but it disappeared after a few years. Then a new club, also parochial, became very popular and was virtually self-financing. It declined in its turn but that was probably connected with the coming of national health insurance in 1911.
Early on, in 1871, there was, on a much smaller scale, the Wife’s Friendly Society. Its accounts show how limited it was:
Philanthropy in the parish was not limited to the savings and sick clubs. It flowed into numerous other channels in greater volume, notably to the schools. In a typical year of the 1880s the boys’ school was by far the largest beneficiary. It was followed, in descending order, by the Cottage Garden Show, the Widows’ Fund, the Coal Club, the Clothing Club, the Temperance Society, the Young Men’s Friendly Society Band, the Girls’ Friendly Society, the Band of Hope, the Penny Bank, and the Sick Club. The grand total of charitable donations came to £361, of which the parish schools had £212.
The encouragement of thrift and philanthropy was an essential part of the social cement holding the parish community together up to the 1914-18 war. By that time, however, those virtues had taken other directions.
|The Rev A S Latter, vicar 1864-1880|
NUISANCES IN THE PARISH
Cholera visited England, for the third time, in 1866 and killed nearly 20,000 people. Typhoid was also a deadly menace. In the same year the Sanitary Act became law. It made sanitary inspection obligatory on local health authorities and the Government could compel them to remove nuisances.
Public health came under the Poor Law and the health authority for North Mymms was the Hatfield Board of Guardians of the Poor. It took prompt action. On 10 August that year it appointed the North Mymms Sanitary Committee composed of R W Gaussen, the landowner at Brookmans, the vicar, the Rev A S Latter and William Blakey, a rent collector. The committee was assigned a man to do the work, the inspector of nuisances for the parish, Mr Harris, already clerk to the guardians. He was to receive £4 a year. Meetings were held in Hatfield workhouse.
Mr Harris’s reports revealed the state of affairs. He named thirty-one families living in insanitary dwellings, William Speary, Jane Flawn, George Toy, Benjamin Harris, among others. Probably over a hundred persons were at risk. Some sanitary arrangements were more primitive than others; there were degrees of insanitariness. Mr Harris reported carefully the different kinds of nuisance.
Thus, some cottages had no privies at all. There were three of them in Pooley’s Lane, occupied by messrs Pollard, Fowler and Fisher, and reported as being "in a dreadful state". Going up the scale, came those cottages which shared a privy. Of these R W Gaussen owned four with one privy which emptied into the roadside ditch, and Col Greville of North Mymms Place was the owner of three at Water End, sharing a privy, also without a cesspool.
Next were the dwellings which did have a privy each but no cesspool or means of disposing of the contents except to empty into an open roadside ditch. There were about twenty of these, three at Pancake Hall and three in Pooley’s Lane, lived in by Anne Holloway, George Vyse, Catherine Nash and others. The privies at the homes of James Tapster, William Collins and at a cottage owned by the executors of the late Col Sibthorpe were over an open ditch a few feet from the backs of the cottages. Mr Harris was moved to comment that "in warm weather the stench was very great". Another four cottages at Water End came in the same category.
Still higher in the sanitary scale were those cottagers happy in the use of both privy and cesspool. But their dwellings were still a nuisance because the cesspools were uncovered. Ten of these were reported to the committee, one again the property of R W Gaussen.
Mr Harris’s report and the legal powers of compulsion had their effect. Privies and cesspools were soon made. No doubt R W Gaussen, as a member of the committee, felt an obligation to act promptly. Some owners had to be chased. Three cottages owned by Col Greville were repeatedly reported and the rent collector, William Goulburn, formerly the schoolmaster, undertook to write to the colonel’s agent. Later, "a new privy with a large cesspool was now being built", likewise Col Sibthorpe’s executors had to be pursued to take action. But by and large it was taken; "cesspools nearly complete", Mr Harris reported, and the privies at Pancake Hall where Longstaff, Chuck, Bailey, Flint and Messer lived,were "now being removed to a greater distance from the dwellings".
An illness called "the Fever", which was probably typhoid, was often present in insanitary conditions. This was so in Roestock, if nowhere else in the parish and in 1870 the Board of Guardians called for a report on the fever in that hamlet. Mr Harris reported accordingly that there were three cottages where the privy stood on an open ditch a few feet from the back doors, another three where "they have had the Fever in each house and one death, they are in a dirty state and the Privy not far from the back of the houses and in a very dilapidated state" and yet another four cottages where "the Fever has raged in each house and in one two deaths occurred."
|The Hope & Anchor c 1905|
Nuisances did not, of course, stop there. Prosecutions occurred. In 1872 John Mansfield and his son John were summoned in the county court for "keeping a pig stye so as to be injurious to the health of the parish". They escaped penalty because they had removed the nuisance. The unfortunate inspector was refused expenses because the defendants were "not very well to do".
On the national scene the new concern about public health resulted in the Royal Sanitary Commission of 1869-71. Its report gave rise to the Local Government Board which was obliged to appoint medical officers of health throughout the country, and then to the main Public Health Act of 1875, the basis of all public health legislation for many years. The Act of 1866 had removed from cottagers as well as property owners the right to do what they liked with their own. How much disease and death had resulted from their previous liberty is not known.
GETTING THE VOTE
Democratic ideas were stirring vigorously in all the parishes of England in 1894, and not least among the fifteen hundred inhabitants of North Mymms. For the Local Government Act of that year established parish councils, a completely new feature of village life, which displaced that centuries old body, the vestry. Perhaps that was why the Bill met such strong opposition in Parliament. It went to and fro between Commons and Lords three times before becoming law. Although this was in tune with the Lords’ partisan opposition to every proposal by the Liberal Government, there were real fears that local expenditure could be controlled by persons who paid little rates or apparently none at all. Whereas in the vestry a ratepayer could have up to six votes, depending on his rateable value, in the new councils it was to be one man, one vote. The Act abolished the political privilege of property owners. No wonder that it aroused much enthusiasm and hopes of a real village democracy.
What did the old vestry do in the last 25 years of its long life, what kind of body was it, and why was the new parish council welcomed so warmly? Its most important task, and the most sensitive one, was to decide how much each ratepayer should contribute to the precept for poor relief made every six months by the Hatfield Board of Guardians. Although the total sum to be raised increased, the half-yearly rate fell gradually from 16d. to 8d. in the pound, as rateable values moved generally upward. Thus in 1881 the vestry raised North Mymms Place from £170 to £210, Brookmans from £160 to £200, Potterells from £150 to £180, Leggatts from £100 to £140, Little Heath mansion from £120 to £140, and so on down the social scale.
Conversely the vestry occasionally reduced assessments. The most notable example was minuted in October 1891:
"Proposed by Rev I Consterdine (vicar of Little Heath), seconded by Mr TKH Nash (vestry surveyor) - That the assessment of the mansion and grounds etc., etc., Brookmans, R G Gaussen Esq owner, be reduced from £250 gross estimated rental to £75. The mansion having been destroyed by fire. Carried unanimously."
Such large properties were saved from heavier taxation by the increasing number of new houses. Most of these were in the growing suburb of Little Heath where more than thirty houses were built in the 1880s, in Thornton Road, Frampon Road and Heath Road. Thus in 1884 it was "Resolved unanimously that the 7 new cottages at Thornton Road, the property of S G Sheppard Esq. (the lord of Leggatts) be rated at £6.7 .6d rateable value." There was rarely, if ever, disagreement on decisions affecting rating.
A new responsibility for the parish roads fell on the vestry when the District Highways Board was dissolved in 1880. This meant that the vestry had to levy its own highways rate (usually about 5d. in the pound) and appoint its own surveyor of roads, farmer Thomas Barker, at a salary of £20. A later contest for this post with an increase in pay to £30 stimulated the record vestry attendance of 25.
The vestry could, and did, also raise a voluntary rate. After it had decided, in 1892, on one of 3d, to support the parochial schools, it informed the ratepayers "that if the voluntary rate is not promptly and generally paid, a School Board will have to be established, the scheme of which will involve a much higher rate". And the names of those who responded were duly published in the parish magazine. That was about the sum of the vestry’s responsibilities. It also nominated, but could not appoint, the overseers and the guardians of the poor. It did appoint its waywardens, to assist the surveyor, and, of course, the church-wardens, beadle and clerk.
A mere handful of people took the decisions. The average attendance at the quarterly meetings was seven, including the paid and unpaid officers and the vicar, invariably in the chair. They were mostly farmers, plain Misters, with a leavening of Esquires, usually landowners. Continuity was strong. Some men attended regularly for more than ten years and the variations were usually occasioned by death or departure. Only one woman ever attended, Mrs Bodger of the Welham Green beerhouse.
The paid officers were long serving: only two (W G Goulbum, the schoolmaster, and I E Gray, the builder) were employed as vestry clerk in the 25 years, and only three (Thomas Barker, John Stillman and Thomas Nash Junior) as surveyors, The unpaid posts were often filled by the same men year after year, as wardens, overseers and churchwardens. Such continuity may well have beet in conflict with changing conditions. Expectations were raised by the trade unions of the ‘70s (against which the vicar warned his flock) and by the parliamentary vote of the ‘80s.
In the last few years of the vestry there were certainly some signs of a new spirit of less deference. In 1887 two farmers proposed "That the Sporting Rights of the Parish be assessed to the Poor Rate" This was carried, but only by a majority vote. Three years later the vestry challenged the squire of North Mymms Place to pay rates on his tithe rent, and insisted on the principle "That the Tithe owners be assessed to the Poor rate for the net amount of Tithe they actually receive". It then made the same claim against the squire of Brookmans and owner of the rectorial tithe, with a threat of summons, although he had served as vicar’s churchwarden for many years and done many charitable works. It is significant, also, that non-ratepayers began to attend the vestry meetings.
The coming of the parish council had aroused great expectations so that on 4th December 1894 at the first parish meeting which was to elect the council, there was a large attendance of sixty. In a scene of unheard of activity 50 nominations were made by 13 men, resulting in 21 candidates for 10 seats. In the vote by a show of hands a builder, William Groom, headed the list, followed, in order, by woodman Jesse Burgess, farmer Dan Crawford, carpenter Edmund Keep, farmer Charles Honour, joiner John Nash, publican William Aslett, stockbroker Samuel Sheppard, railway clerk Gardiner Wilson, and solicitor Arthur Dagg. Among those unsuccessful were the two vicars, two gentlemen and a banker, all of whom had served the vestry well. When a poll was demanded, and held, the result showed the same social composition, except that the senior vicar, George Batty, took the place of the builder. Of the ten members of the new council only two had given service to the old vestry; several others had attended in its last year, perhaps with an end in view. Here was indeed change. It remained to be seen what the new broom would do.
The election in which the hamlets in the parish, Welham Green, Bell Bar, Waterend, Roestock and Little Heath, had chosen their council cost £20. This unwelcome fact gave rise to a plea at the next election to avoid a contest. Accordingly all the out-going councillors were re-elected and two vacancies were filled on a show of hands by a farmer from Welham Green and a painter from Little Heath. The parish had had enough of democratic contests; there was not to be another for eight years.
Consequently it was a small band of worthies which ran the council for some years, as in the old vestry. For instance, the same chairman, Archibald Thompson JP, held office for 13 years. The similarity did not extend to social composition in which four out of ten were now working men. New things were expected of the council. Only time would tell whether conflict would arise and if the old habits of deference would change. Would collective interests clash with private ones?
The council took its new duties seriously. It soon asserted itself in just those areas which had excited opposition in Parliament, the provision of allotments and control over parochial charities, and set about exercising its powers under the Act immediately. These concerned also appeals against rating, and the preservation of parish property such as roadside wastes, and of footpaths and footbridges. Allotments were the most important, and exciting, subject and the council immediately set about acquiring land. The consequent struggle is the subject of chapter 10.
While allotments were the cause of some conflict, the administration of existing parochial charities also gave rise to minor clashes. Under the Act the council could elect to the trustees of the charities two representative members and two others to replace the churchwardens of the old vestry. It did so and proceeded to investigate the trust. The four newcomers were half of the trustees.
The charity distributed was not inconsiderable. Each year four widows received 5s per week, and another ls 3d per week; ten "poor labourers" received a sum of l0s 6d each, provided they were honest and respectable and regular attendants at church, and another had £1; a lad or girl was apprenticed and each apprentice was given £1 each year of his term. There was a distribution of bread, meat and potatoes to poor widows at Easter, and there was the bread charity from which "Bread, to the amount of £12, is given on Sundays throughout the year, and to the amount of £6 at the Chief Festivals, to all labourers of good character who attend church." The bread was, in fact, given out in the church.
These sums must be related to the amount of the Old Age Pension of 5s per week for those over 70, provided their incomes were not more than 8s per week, less if they were more, and none if their incomes exceeded 12s. And there were no pensions before 1909. The charities, therefore, meagre as they may seem, meant a good deal to the really poor.
There was disagreement about the recipients of the charities and two trustees resigned on the issue. It had been the practice to announce the names of recipients but when that was dropped a councillor pressed for publication on the grounds that the undeserving had been included. There was "a prolonged and warm discussion" before publication was agreed. But the trustees stood firm and the names appeared only once more. They held to the text: "Let not your right hand know what your left hand giveth."
The council also jealously regarded encroachments on parish property and spent much time on the preservation of footpaths and footbridges. This, inevitably, brought it into conflict with landowners and tenants. The lady of North Mymms Place had built a pier at the entrance to the avenue leading to the church, no less than four yards too far forward. This was lengthily and warmly debated before being allowed, in consideration of other benefits accruing from the lady’s generosity. Soon after, her request to make a new highway which would have sacrificed access to half an old avenue leading to the church was refused outright. Four years later, however, she was allowed to divert a bridle way, on condition of making a new road. This issue attracted the record massive attendance of 115 parishioners at the annual meeting.
In another dispute the council called for an enquiry by the County Council and recorded its concern: "That it be an instruction to the Surveyor to advise at once any member of the Parish Council of any attempted alteration of, or interference with, the Common Roadside wastes, or any other property of which the Parish have a right, and that the Parishioners be invited to co-operate in this respect in safeguarding their interests within the Parish". Ploughing up of footpaths and neglect of footbridges, much used in daily comings and goings, often led to a sharp reminder of their duty to owners and tenants.
Conflict of a different kind arose from the growth of Little Heath and its impact on the old community of North Mymms. On two occasions complaints of insufficient representation of Little Heath on the council from a show of hands at the annual meeting resulted in the unpopular expense of conducting polls. The council did want to embrace Little Heath, but tried hard to avoid the expense arising from its drainage problems and its need for a new school. On the great occasion of King Edward’s coronation, Little Heath deserted to join in the celebrations at Potters Bar.
The Local Government Act of 1894 had authorised parish councils to spend only the product of a threepenny rate, or exceptionally a sixpenny one, and this was to dispel earlier dreams of democratic power. The need for restraint was a unifying influence. It was watched over by the part time paid officers and there were plenty of men willing to undertake their positions. In a contest for assistant overseer and clerk at £40 per annum there were four candidates, from whom an ex publican and ex councillor of Welham Green was elected. When the surveyor of highways resigned, five men, including three farmers, applied for his post at £30 a year.
The scene was one, still, of slow change and old habits. It was, also, a man’s world. A woman’s name appears only twice in the minutes during the twenty years up to 1914. On one occasion there was a motion from two farmers, Crawford and Honour, to exclude a Miss Childs from the applicants for allotments in favour of a married man, but it was lost. The other was when a girl was apprenticed by the parish. The assumption was that woman’s place was not in parish affairs. Although women, married or unmarried, could attend and vote at parish meetings and be elected as councillors, none did so. The suffragettes were in the news.
A PLOT OF LAND
The story of how the parish council won allotments for its constituents extends over a period of not less than eighteen years, from 1895 to 1913. The power to provide allotments was one of those parts of the Local Government Bill of 1894 to establish parish councils which met opposition in Parliament. However, the newly elected parish council of North Mymms saw that power as an important one and one which it was determined to implement from the start. It knew that, in the last resort, the Act provided for compulsory purchase or lease.
At the very first council meeting on 2 January 1895 Ross Dagg, a solicitor living at Boltons, proposed and William Aslett, licensee of the Sibthorp Arms, seconded. "That Posters be printed and distributed about the Parish inviting Parishioners to make application for Allotments". A strong allotments committee was appointed.
The council naturally preferred to ask for the gift of land rather than use the threat of compulsion. Fortunately the first allotment was secured very soon. In October of that year Mrs Burns of North Mymms Place offered to lease a field in Welham Green, "adjacent to Mrs Gray’s property". The council subsequently bought the two-acre field for £4. l3s. It took a little time for the villagers to take advantage of the opportunity to increase their incomes.
In 1896 parts of the field were still unlet, but the demand soon grew so that by 1900 there was competition for any allotment which fell vacant. Four years later there were a dozen unsatisfied applicants and any vacant allotment had to be drawn for. The council therefore decided to get a second field. This was easier said then done; negotiations for a meadow at Pooley’s Lane, occupied by John Nash, fell through. For the time being the council had to be content with inspecting the allotments to ensure that they were properly cultivated.
The pressure on the council seems to have relaxed for. a time, for the question of a second allotment field was not raised again until 1908. Mrs Bums was then asked for two acres next to the first field in Welham Green and it appeared that this would be available in the following year. When that time came, however, Mrs Burns was not willing to lease any of the grass land specified, Instead, her agent asked the council whether "Mr Crawford’s field behind Mrs Parson’s house extending down to Siding Lane" would be acceptable. Mrs Burns own view, was, in fact, that as she had already provided one field, other landowners such as Gaussen at Brookmans and Seymour at Potterells should now help.
Throughout 1910 little progress was made. In January Gaussen offered some land at £3 per acre, in April there were complaints to the council that the matter had been dragging on for years. In July the council went back to Mrs Burns only to be told that her view was as before, whereupon it asked the county council to intervene, without any effect. Next, two acres on Parsonage Farm were discussed and rejected as unsuitable.
Finally, in 1912, the council accepted a county council arbitration award of land on Skimpans Farm, owned by Gaussen and occupied by James Crawford, and leased it for thirty five years at £4 a year. Twenty-one eager applicants took possession of the two-acre field. It had been a long struggle.
The main part of the parish had been provided for as the Welham Green allotments were meant also for people at Water End and Hell Bar. At Little Heath, however, the council had another long struggle. In 1901 the residents petitioned the council that they seemed likely to lose their field which had been voluntarily provided by S C Sheppard of Leggatts; however, he renewed their use. Next, the allotment holders felt the effect of the 1902 Education Act; the county council acquired the field to build a school. Consequently another petition arrived and the hunt for five acres began. Mrs Gaussen of Brookmans was asked if she would sell a piece on the Swanley Bar Farm but the price asked was too high. A third petition with fifty signatures in 1908 led the parish council to appeal to the county council:
"After protracted negotiations this Council is quite unable to Rent any Land by voluntary arrangement from the local owners, and they are afraid it will be necessary to acquire land by compulsory means. I am therefore directed to request your Council to kindly give the matter urgent attention as it is a very pressing one."When this proved unsuccessful the parish council went to the seat of power, the Board of Agriculture & Fisheries:
"Protracted negotiations extending over a period of more than two years to procure land for allotments at Little Heath has proved futile, the consequent appeal to the Hertfordshire County Council to procure land by compulsion has also failed. I am therefore to ask your Board for their assistance in the matter"This was soon followed by renewed approaches to Gaussen and, as an alternative, by a request to the Marquis of Salisbury for a piece of land on Boltons Farm which was considered more suitable for vegetable growing, but which was purchase. The applicants were assembled to decide if they would accept the site. They did, as did also the parish council, while protesting against the cost of making a right of way. The land was staked out and fenced and the lease, at a rent of £10 per annum, was at last signed in February 1913, after twelve years. The council had to pay dearly for its persistence with a bill for costs from the county council for £57. 16s. 8d. which it considered enormous.
There remained the needs of the Roestock families. They had to wait, too - for fourteen years. The council had been told at the beginning that no land was available in that area. After nine years there were some negotiations but nothing came of them. What happened finally was due to the ingenuity and determination of Councillor Gardiner Wilson, retired railway official of Tollgate Farm. He arranged for the exchange of land between the Brookmans Estate and the parish charity trustees as a prerequisite for its use as allotments. Then, in his words in March 1909:
"Directly that was accomplished I set to work and obtained the sanction of the Charity Trustees to a portion of the six acres being let to the Parish Council for Allotments at Roestock. I found after having a Meeting of the men who signed the Memorial to the Parish Council that about two acres would be sufficient to meet their requirements and this quantity I had fenced off and the round measured up into pieces of 10 pole each. I again called the men together and they ballotted for them and are now preparing for the next season’s crop. There are 14 holders and I may add that nearly all have paid their rent a year in advance i.e. Xmas next."The council put on record that it "unanimously resolved that a hearty vote of thanks be accorded to Mr Wilson".
Thus, eventually, allotments for the whole parish were secured and the Act of Parliament became a reality.
THE PRIMROSE PATH
On 29 February 1896 a little meeting at Hawkshead House, the residence of T B Forwood, gentleman, resolved unanimously that "A sufficient number of Knights & Dames having consented to join the Primrose League in the Parish of North Mymms a Warrant from Grand Council shall be applied for and an Habitation formed to be called the North Mymms Habitation". Those present were Admiral Sir John Fellowes, Mrs and Miss Cotton Curtis of Potterells, Mr and Mrs Downing Wallace of Heronfield, Mr Archibald Thompson of Mymwood and Mr and Mrs Forwood.
After the death of the Conservative leader, Benjamin Disraeli, admirers had set up a society to promote his ideals, called the Primrose League after his favourite flower. One such ideal was to bridge the gap between "the two nations", the rich and the poor and to form one great Conservative nation. To this end the Conservative Party set out to win the adherence of the newly enfranchised working men and succeeded in doing this until the Liberal landslide of 1906. The Primrose league played a considerable part in that success. It provided social activities and entertainment for working people. In the towns the men’s clubs, the public houses and the music halls (We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do) were a suitable environment. In the villages the local branch or Habitation of the League was called on to supply it. So it was to be in North Mymms.
The encouraging situation for the local Habitation was the big Conservative victory in the general election of 1895 and the formation of his third Cabinet by Lord Salisbury of nearby Hatfield House. There was a growing mood of expansive imperialism, the Jameson Raid in South Africa had recently occurred and the conflict with Kruger, and the Kaiser, had begun.
The small group of gentry at Hawkshead House were all prominent in local affairs. Forwood had been unsuccessful in the election for the parish council in 1894, though he had been active in the parish vestry for many years earlier; he was a Guardian of the Poor and, at different times, vicar’s and people’s church-warden. Sir John Fellowes, a future chairman of the parish council, took the lead in the Habitation, becoming its first Ruling Councillor. Wallace was a district councillor, and Thompson, who became the Habitation’s secretary, was also chairman of the parish council for a long period. Another luminary to join was Lt Col Colquhoun, with his wife and daughter on parade, while the treasurer was the schoolmaster at Welham Green, Benjamin Mallett.
Wardens were appointed for each area - Daniel Crawford of Potterells Farm, Charles Titmuss of Bell Bar Farm, John Appleyard, the schoolmaster at Little Heath and others. Before long Mrs Forwood received the 2nd Grade of the Order of the Grand Star for her valuable services. Other ladies came in. Mrs Wilson Fox of Moffats became warden for her district, Miss Kate Parsons for Water End, while Miss Colquhoun covered the whole of Welham Green. Her father, the colonel, now replaced the admiral as Ruling Councillor and held committee meetings at Frowick. Mrs Cooke, the reforming teacher at the Water End girls’ school does not appear to have joined the cause.
The Habitation planned an Entertainment in the Little Heath school but it was frustrated by the managers’ objection to the use of the school for a political purpose. The first of many participations in the Demonstration in Hatfield Park took place, however, the wardens distributing handbills in their districts, and the members being taken in horse brakes from Water End, Hawkshead Bridge, Reeves’ and Welham Green. The membership grew. Extra tickets were required for the annual Grand Demonstration in the Albert Hall in 1897. Four members of the executive committee received Clasps and Bars for meritorious service.
The Boer War was a clear opportunity for the Habitation to rally patriotic opinion. Hostilities where only a few weeks old when a general meeting in Welham Green school affirmed "with acclamation" its "approval of the action of Her Majesty’s Government both as regards the present condition of the war with the Boers, as well as in the negotiations which ended in the declaration of war by the Transvaal Government and the invasion of our Colonies at Natal and at the Cape... and of the patient endeavours of Her Majesty’s Government to avoid the war which has been forced upon the country."
A proposal for measures to be taken to encourage patriotism amongst adults and school children by means of drilling" was, however, deferred for further consideration. Later, when Lord Roberts had taken Cronje prisoner and entered Bloemfontein in 1900, the schoolmaster treasurer suggested "That should any prospect appear of peace in South Africa, arrangements should be made for a thorough Parochial Demonstration, as though it may seem premature it would be well to make early preparation for what will be a great event and one which may come unexpectedly."
It was indeed premature, for the war dragged on into 1902. In the meantime activities continued. The Habitation joined with those at Potters Bar and Northaw in a crowded meeting to listen to a lecturer from the Imperial South African Association. They heard his opinion of the Boer as "a lazy, dirty fellow". Joining in the jubilation at the relief of Mafeking it arranged a "Patriotic Entertainment", admission 3d to members, 6d to non-members, 24 reserved seats for 1/-; collection during a selection of music by the North Mymms Brass Band to be made by "four little girls in white frocks with red, white and blue rosettes, tambourines to have same colours on them." The collection of was sent to the Daily Mail War Fund.
The accession of Edward VII was the occasion for a general meeting of a large number of members and others to express their "loyal homage". There was another entertainment consisting of conjuring and music, at which the Provincial Secretary of the Grand Council spoke. The last year of Queen Victoria’s reign had been a good one for the Habitation. Over fifty new members received their badges, and the hard working wardens were awarded a grand star, a clasp and bars. The Ruling Councillor was now Herbert Bosanquet of Parsonage Farm.
The next great event was the contentious Education Bill of 1902 for which the Vice Chancellor of the League requested the Habitation’s support. There could be little doubt of that being given since the Bill provided for increased funds for voluntary schools such as those at Welham Green and Water End, A meeting was called. An explanation of the Bill was given to the villagers, sandwiched between a violin solo by one of the lady wardens and "Mr Groom’s merry minstrels whose black faces and funny sayings caused much amusement."
As wardens came and went, among the new ones was Miss Kate Honour of Moffats Farm where Charles Honour, the farmer, had recently been interviewed by the writer Rider Haggard for his book on rural England. She played an active part in the historic general election of 1906. Against the tide of overwhelming Liberal victory, the local Conservative candidate was returned, and Miss Honour received a Special Election Bar for her canvassing. The Liberals were firmly in power. The secretary, still Archibald Thompson, had no time to organise an Entertainment. The next activity, apart from joining the Demonstrations in Hatfield Park, did not occur until two years later in the form of a visit to the White City.
|The Misses Holloways c 1902|
A notable event in 1909 was the election of Mrs Gaussen, the lady of Brookmans, as Dame President. That was the same year as the naval scare, the building of Dreadnoughts to match the Germany navy, and the music hall refrain, "We Want Eight, And We Won’t Wait". The Habitation fell into line with a call on the Government to secure the supremacy of the Royal Navy. Although in abeyance during the 1914-18 way when "the two nations" were more united, the Habitation was resuscitated soon after, in 1921. "Homes for Heroes" had not come off, Lloyd George was on his way out and the Conservative Party scented victory. Lord Clarendon, chancellor of the League, had called on all habitations to "counteract the persistent propaganda of extremists".
Accordingly in North Mymms, at a meeting in the Welham Green schoolroom, H F Seymour of Potterells, then Ruling Counsellor, called for a revival of the principles of religion, patriotism and loyalty these "being now most important". The entertainment was a musical programme including Miss Seymour with her violin.
The committee now broadened its social base somewhat. The Dame President was still the lady of one of the big houses, Potterells, but the secretary was a village builder, and the committee included the two parish overseers who were a farmer and a local builder, a second farmer and a school teacher. The Habitation had occupied a large place in the social life of the parish and had been a source of Conservative inspiration. The admiral, the lady of the manor and the cottagers had come together in it. Something had been attempted to close the gap between Disraeli’s "two nations.
LITTLE HEATH TO THE FORE
Before the 1880s the history of the parish was the history mainly of Welham Green, Bell Bar, Roestock and Water End. After that time Little Heath has to be added as an influence for change. Consequently the population of the parish altered considerably. In a generation from 1851 to 1881 it increased only 12%. In a second generation from 1881 to 1911 the increase was many times greater at 60%. By far the greater part of this was due to the growth of Little Heath. By 1911 its population to about one third of the whole parish.
The expansion of Little Heath had a number of consequences. The people who came to live there were different from the traditional community of North Mymms. The desires of the new population for religious worship and education had to be met by the parish. In addition, the drainage and sewerage problems which arose affected the finances and attitudes of the parish.
House building developed steadily in the 1880s, with at least sixteen houses in Thornton Road, others in Frampton Road and a dozen or so elsewhere. In the next decade more cottages in Frampton Road, Coopers Road and houses and a shop in Thornton Road were added. The persons entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections increased quite rapidly during the 1881-1911 period from about a dozen to about 200, and they soon came to equal the number in the old part of the parish. More significant is the fact that already by 1887 the number of "ownership voters" in Little Heath was double the number in the old North Mymms. They were those who were entitled to vote as house owners rather than occupiers. This indicates a change in the social composition of the parish. More middle class people, professional and businessmen, clerks, retired and independent persons had come with their attendant servants, gardeners and laundresses.
The ensuring requirement of drainage, sewerage and roads caused severe problems for the council. The vestry rejected a drainage proposal from the Hatfield Sanitary Board, which would have involved "increased expenditure on the whole parish for the benefit of a particular part of it". Its view was that proper drainage could be made if cesspools were constructed and emptied by the owners and occupiers in Little Heath, thus passing the expense to them. This issue and the equally contentious one of the direction in which the should go continued for many years. Cleanliness came next to godliness. In 1883, the Little Heath mission room opened. The drink trade had already been established at the Builders’ Arms from about 1870. During the interval Samuel Gurney Sheppard, the owner of Leggatts, had developed evangelical mission work at his mansion and then built the mission room in Thornton Road. It soon became a centre of social activity and later numerous church organisations were thriving, the Sunday school, the YMCA, YWCA, the Band of Hope and the Bible and Prayer Union, under Sheppard’s lead. With the next step, the building of Little Heath’s own church, Christ Church, to seat two hundred and fifty people, at a cost of about £3000, completed and consecrated in 1893, came the appointment of the first vicar, James Consterdine.
The formal separation from North Mymms occurred when, in 1894, Little Heath was hived off into its own ecclestical parish, though remaining in the civil parish of North Mymms. One effect was probably a diminution of the mother church, A number of the gentry and others transferred their allegiance and financial support from St Mary’s to the new parish, including S G Sheppard, T S D Wallace of Heronfield, A R Dagg, the solicitor at Boltons, Sydney Ponsonby of Osborne House and Archibald Thompson MA JP of Mymwood, not to mention William Axton, licensee of the Builder’s Arms. This change may, perhaps, have affected the value of the North Mymms living. While the living of Little Heath was, from the start, £240, that of North Mymms fell thereafter from £300 to £270.
Organised education, linked as it was with religious worship, began in the mission room in 1884. Three years later there were no less than one hundred and fifteen day pupils of all ages on the books of this parochial mixed school, taught by John Appleyard at a salary of £100 per annum and by Laura Luck. Average attendance was, however, low at only 57%. The fees (until 1892) were is. 6d. per quarter for labourers, 3s. 0d. for servants and mechanics, and 6s 0d for farmers, shopkeepers and employers of labour, slightly less than those for the North Mymms parents.
The mission room remained as the schoolroom for thirteen years but as the pupils increased problems arose. Her Majesty’s inspector was severely critical of the accommodation but there was a long delay before any improvement. Money was the difficulty. The school was dependent on voluntary subscriptions and the generosity of its founder. At the same time the new church and new vicarage had called for large sums from the residents. Something had to be done or else the church school would become a state school. Equally important a school board would levy a heavier rate than the existing voluntary one. Compromise result in the construction of an "iron room" which the children occupied in 1897. Religious instruction was preserved. By that time fees had been abolished while, at the same time, attendance, rising to 90%, had greatly improved. Education was "free", but was not less highly regarded.
As the school roll continued to rise, the future became uncertain since the cost of a new building would fall on the civil parish. The parish council debated how to raise the additional funds required. It decided to levy a voluntary rate, with the repeated warning of a Government school board, which would impose a higher rate, if the response was inadequate. It did prove inadequate. The question remained whether the school would remain as a voluntary one or be taken over by the county council under the Education Act of 1902. The parish council was in no doubt when it resolved "That this meeting is in favour of the proposed new School at Little Heath being built by voluntary subscription", and followed this up with a "deputation to wait upon Ratepayers to ascertain if they would subscribe". But this move also was unsuccessful. Thus in September 1905 the school became a public elementary school of the county council which, two years later provided a new building. Public funds had replaced voluntary effort.
In general, the late comer Little Heath had mixed effects on the old North Mymms. The parish welcomed the increase in rate revenue but objected to the rise in expenditure. Opinions were divided. At one parish meeting it was agreed that the parish be divided into two wards - North Mymms and Little Heath; at the next meeting the division was rejected. There was a feeling that the interests of Little Heath were not always looked after by the parish council. Not surprisingly, Little Heath came to regard itself as a separate community. At the coronation of Edward VII it held its own celebrations and soon began to refer to itself as a village quite distinct from its parent.
THE IMPACT OF THE WORLD WAR
The impact was a heavy one for the men who enlisted during that first month of August 1914, for the women who were left behind and for the children in school. Everyone in the parish became involved, many deeply. "We do not think that there is anyone left in the Parish who is not engaged in work of a National necessity" declared the chairman of the parish council in response to an official request for volunteers for national service in 1917.
At the beginning of August holidaymaking occupied the thoughts of those who could take one. At the end of that month a telegram was sent to Kitchener, Minister of War:
"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.""A magnificently loyal wave of enthusiasm", the vicar wrote, "has swept over the manhood of our Parish. The unspeakable ferocity of the cultured savages of the War Lord has aroused and called into being all that is noblest in the hearts of Englishmen."
The men who enlisted in that first enthusiasm, gamekeepers, gardeners, labourers, an old Etonian, a university fellow, can all be identified, and all those who served subsequently. By the end of the war two hundred and sixty eight men had joined the forces of whom no less than forty six had been killed and some seventy wounded, many of them more than once. Most of them were in the Herts and Beds regiment, but others were in all services, in every kind of unit and on all the various fronts.
There was great pride in the parish’s contribution of men. The parish council prepared a list of names with a view to winning the recruiting prize offered by the Weekly Dispatch. The schoolmaster at Welham Green, Benjamin Mallett, kept a careful record of the military service of all his old boys, while the vicar, Rev C G Ward, did the same for the parish. Each month in the parish magazine the Roll of Honour gave the fullest possible news of the numerous fallen, wounded, prisoners and postings to the Front. The vicar explained the twofold necessity for the sacrifice:
"England was bound to fulfill her obligations, and she will put forth all her strength in defence of the oppressed, but while she is striking for justice and liberty, and for the trustworthiness of solemn pledges given between nation and nation, it must not be forgotten that the Germans have been preparing for years to strike a desperate blow at our Empire, our Colonies, our independence, our trade; that blow has now fallen, and we are fighting for our honour, our liberty, our homes, our women and children, and for the future of our posterity. About the justice of our cause there can be no two opinions."The patriotism of North Mymms was of a piece with the nation. Kitchener had asked for 100,000 men for his new army; by the end of September 1914 he had 750,060.
The women devoted themselves to looking after their absent men as best they could. By November 1914 "Garments for the Troops" had already been sent amounting to:
"6 scarves, 6 hot water bottle covers, 84 shirts, 39 bed jackets, 4 dressing gowns, S nightingales, 34 pyjamas, 12 pillow cases, 9 flannel vests, 3 wool helmets, 3 pairs bed socks, 12 knitted dish cloths, 44 pairs socks, 6 pairs sheets."The ladies of the parish formed a working party to knit for soldiers and after a year’s work a hundred women had made over six hundred articles. But this was not enough. As the forces’ insatiable demand for men grew, the War Working Party’ was called on to increase its supply’ of comforts for them. It was reformed to become part of the War Needlework league in which members pledged themselves to one garment per month and a contribution of sixpence a year.
Ladies and women joined together, not only’ in knitting comforts, but, often under the vicar’s leadership, in maintaining links with absent men. Every year they sent Christmas parcels; in 1917 two parcels went to each of the ninety-four men at the different fronts, and to ‘‘our three prisoners’’. Letters of thanks came back to rejoice them. "Our Day’’ for the Red Cross raised large sums of money in that same year £163. The produce of the harvest festival went in cartloads to the wounded in hospital - The French Wounded received their support.
Events changed the women’s and the ladies’ lives, ‘they were all working hard for their country, women will have played a large part in victory’’, the Girls’ Friendly Society was told. The attitude to wonton working on the land had to change as the farms were drained of men and the farmers were pressed to produce more food. No women were employed in 1915 and the view of the Hatfield War Agricultural Committee was that no good could be expected from training them, but in the following year Mrs Tottenham Gaussen of Brookmans was helping to register women workers and before long two ladies were actually co-opted on to the committee. Soon after, women in the parish were getting their armlets issued by the Board of Agriculture. By 1917 the farmers were filling in their forms of application for women workers. A year later all the women who had worked on the land were told to give their names to Lady Leese of Welham Manor so that they could be presented with a stripe for their uniforms.
Forewomen were needed according to one advertisement:
"Should any farmer require a fibrewoman, or leader of local women workers, Miss Davies can be engaged for the purpose. She has been accustomed to farm work, and is recommended by the National Land Service Corps. Present address: Steward’s House, Brookmans Park. The plan of engaging a forewoman or gang leader from outside the neighbourhood has been tried in many counties, arid has generally proved the most successful way of using women’s labour The employers are spared all trouble in engaging the gang, as the leaders are responsible for that, as well as for keeping time-sheets, pay lists etc."The meagre allowances for soldiers’ dependants meant that paid work for wives and children was welcome.
Towards the end of the war, in March 1918, the ladies started a Women’s Institute, following the foundation of the national movement a year earlier. Meetings at the scout house were concerned with the food shortage. Mothers had been keeping their sons from school so that they could join the food queues in St Albans. Rationing was only then about to begin. Speakers from the Ministry of Food gave useful recipes for meatless mince, meatless joints, suetless crust and fatless pastry. Later, the subjects of talks became more varied e.g. The Work of English women in France - "everywhere they were helping on the victory of civilisation and the dawn of peace."
The children were as committed and involved as their parents, not only as farm labour but also as recruits in various war efforts. One such effort was the blackberry picking in enormous quantities for the Ministry of Food; in one good year the Welham Green and Little Heath school children together picked 616 pounds. Half a ton of horse chestnuts for making explosives was gathered by the boys.
Physically, the doctor reported, they were above average in height and weight, but their schooling suffered from farm work, in common with children throughout the country.
Throughout the war years there was a tug of war for the school children between the farmers and the teachers, with the district attendance committee sitting ineffectually in the middle, and the farmers usually winning. From 1914 the Welham Green headmaster continually reported illegal employment of his pupils, only to be told that the attendance committee would not prosecute. He closed the school periodically for haymaking, harvesting, potato setting and picking. At Little Heath school the problem was not so serious, though in 1916 seven boys left early for land work, "three of good educational promise".
The first device to meet the situation was the official issue, in that year, of certificates to older boys granting exemption from school for periods of one to three months. Eleven boys at Welham Green school had three months’ certificates, and illegal employment of boys without certificates still continued unchecked. Next year the vicar reported a new order that "Boys over 12 may be used for agricultural purposes". This was the Extended Holiday Scheme which released older boys for work while keeping the younger ones in "vacation classes" in the older ones’ absence. This meant that boys of twelve were away from school for eighteen weeks in the year and those weeks were "taken earlier or later according to local agricultural requirements".
In that dark year of 1917 the vicar wrote in the parish magazine, "While we are all war weary we must realise that the time has come to redouble our efforts." The Parish Meeting responded to a message from the Lord Lieutenant by resolving on their determination for victory. All the same, shooting parties had to continue. Boys required for beating at North Mymms Park were absent from school as if there were not enough other causes for absence.
The school children in Welham Green arid Water End were fortunate to keep their regular head teachers; Little Heath school of nearly two hundred boys and girls was not so lucky with a temporary war-supply man. Benjamin Mallett at Welham Green devoted himself to his pupils and the welfare of his old boys in the forces. Over worked, for lengthy periods teaching single handed fifty boys of all ages, he suffered a breakdown after the loss of a son. On 11 November 1918 he entered in the log book:
"At noon today I received intimation that the Armistice had been signed. The school flags were at once hoisted. This afternoon instead of usual singing in school, I marched the boys round the village singing National Anthem and patriotic Songs. This was much appreciated by local residents and thoroughly enjoyed by the boys."At the peace celebrations, held in the school, the old boys presented him with "a handsome gold watch as a token of their respect, honour and affection for him". The damage had, however, been done. In January 1919 every boy was present, for the first time since the war began, and the task was to restore pre-war standards. "Considerable improvement will be looked for under normal conditions", warned His Majesty’s inspector.
Men over age and under age, the unfit, any farmers who claimed exemption from the forces, the clergy also exempted had remained in the parish. The vicar volunteered, but on being given a low medical category, was instructed by the bishop to remain at his post. There was more than enough work for them. In their scanty spare time twenty volunteers, including railway signalmen cultivated the absent soldiers’ allotments for them.
Farming had serious problems. In November 1915 the Hatfield War Agricultural Committee declared:
"The most important matter is the supply and regulation of labour. If the Coutry is denuded of capable farm servants the produce of the land cannot be increased and must necessarily be diminished. In the present scarcity of labour it is useless to cultivate wastelands. The Military Recruiting Officers exert what pressure they can on every available man, regardless of the position they hold The Military and Parliamentary Recruiting Committees should act in unison. A proper classification of men is necessary, distinguishing classes such as stockmen, horsemen, cowmen, ploughmen etc, who are indispensable, from ordinary day labourers"The Committee enquired how far the public health bye laws handicapped pig keeping and was rewarded with suspension of the laws. It wanted the school attendance bylaws also suspended so that not only boys, but also girls, of twelve years could work on the land, but it had to wait a little longer for that.
The farmers themselves were working overtime, at the expense of their civic duties. Charles Honour of Moffats Farm moved in the Rural District Council that the seat of James Crawford of Potterells Farm should be declared vacant because of his absences, but Crawford explained that they were due to "stress of business", and he was reinstated. Another North Mymms farmer, W B Field, was disqualified for the same reason. Both men had also had to neglect, under pressure of work no doubt, attendance at the Hatfield Board of Guardians. Help was, however, on the way. The call up of labourers, due in January 1917, was deferred.
The shortage of labour resulted inevitably in some land not being fully used. When it became compulsory to notify any "land improperly farmed" Mrs Burn’s land at Potwells and the Gaussen’s Swanley Bar Farm were duly reported to the authorities. Substantial help came with the Corn Production Act of 1917. Farmers were guaranteed against losses on wheat and oats. The labourers were also protected, for the first time. Their wages, which had lagged well behind prices, were subject to a minimum of 25 shillings per week.
Not everything was changed. The church organisations, thrift clubs, temperance society and Band of Hope, the cottage garden competition continued for the time being, while new ones such as the war savings association were formed - "Every 6d that is forthcoming helps to drive yet another nail into the coffin of German militarism". The historic endowed charities were still distributed in the old way, though the voluntary collections moved from the traditional good causes such as poor relief to the British Red Cross. At church some alterations became necessary; services, though earlier in the evening, had to be blacked out, insurance against damage by enemy aircraft was required. There were the special Services of Intercession and the Mission of Repentance and Hope. The clergy received gifts of a new clergy seat and a silk stole, burse and veil.
|The dedication of the North Mymms War Memorial|
At the end of the war there were many vacant places among the men of the parish. The women received new responsibilities and a new status. In December 1918 Miss Church spoke to the Women’s Institute about the privilege of the women over thirty having the vote and how careful they must be in exercising it. The vote, another speaker explained, was "a free gift from the men, owing to their finding it impossible to carry on the war without the women’s help. The State, created by men, was not at all perfect but now that women were allowed to help there might be a great improvement. In the local elections women should vote for those candidates who took a special interest in housing, sanitation, education and pure milk, and indeed elect a woman who knew about such matters."
Among the benefits of the war must also be counted the first housing by the district council at Barfolds in Welham Green under Addison’s Housing Act of 1918. Whether trade unions also came into the parish, as they did in many places as a result of the war time minimum wage, is not known.
AN ANCIENT FAMILY
Throughout England families have risen or fallen in wealth and status, depending on whether they were able to profit from economic change, or were victims of it. There are several old established families in the parish and there is at least one which dates back to the 16th century, the Marlborough family. It may well be the oldest one, stretching back from the present day to the age of Elizabeth I. Since then the name has been spelt variously as Marlborough, Marlboro, Malbro, Marlbrow and Marbrowe. The earliest trace is of Thomas Marlbrow baptised in North Mymms church in 1567.
The family was originally a yeoman one, owners of copyhold land at Water End. In 1662 Francis Marbrowe paid tax on three hearths in his home, and next year had a son, Brian, by Elizabeth his wife. In 1699 Thomas Marlborough transferred a piece of land in the manor of Brookmans to Sarah Marlborough. Twenty years later his son John also had some land at Water End. When Thomas died in 1745 he was described as a yeoman owning a brick cottage and two and a half acres, with a garden, orchard and two meadow closes near Water End. For this, as a copyholder, he paid threepence a year rent. Although illiterate, he was a churchwarden at St Mary’s church. It was a time when money was plentiful enough to build the gallery in the church.
Some of this paragraph is conjecture. It seems that in 1714 John Malbrow, blacksmith, and his wife Sarah transferred two acres of copyhold land at Water End to another Marlborough, Thomas (the second). Both John and Thomas swore the oath of allegiance at the White Lion in 1723. Thomas (the second) had two sons, Joseph and Thomas (the third) who was a blacksmith. When Thomas (the second) died, the property seems to have been divided between his two sons. Joseph took over the cottage, the garden and a close of about one-acre but he was unable to keep all his property for he sold the close. His brother Thomas (the third) appears to have prospered as a blacksmith, probably at the forge next to the Maypole inn. He did repairs for the church and was paid by the churchwardens for his ironwork for many years . - £4 Os. 2d. in 1787. Both he and his brother Joseph paid land tax until the 1790s, though he paid three times more than his brother.
At the time of the enclosure of North Mymms Common in 1778-82 Thomas and Joseph were each allotted a small piece of land by virtue of their copyhold cottages. Thomas received 2 acres 1 rod 36 poles, Joseph had 1 acre 1 rod 29 poles. Both, however, found that the cost of fencing etc was not worth while, and sold out to the owner of Potterells, Charles De Laet. A few years later Thomas was called on to perform his duty as a militiaman. When he died in 1792 his will handed most of his property to his brother Joseph, while his widow Mary, came into possession of the cottage and 22 and three quarters poles of land. When she died her brother took over the small piece of land.
Joseph Marlborough was one of the few who had a vote in the county elections of 1796. At his death in 1817 he had lived to the ripe old age of seventy-nine. His eldest son, another Thomas (the fourth), described as a labourer, succeeded to the property which included an acre of land. This Thomas died in about 1828 to be succeeded by his son, another Joseph (the second). This Joseph was still one of the elite who had a vote in the election of 1832 by virtue of copyhold cottages at Water End which he still had six years later on.
This is the end of the Marlborough’s as independent, small property owners. There seems to have been some misfortune. For, "On 14th June 1841 Joseph Marlborough appeared before the Steward (of the manor) and sold his house etc at Water End to Joseph Massey for £100." (Massey farmed a hundred and nine acres at Reeves but subsequently he became the innkeeper and blacksmith at the Old Maypole). Joseph had made his mark to the deal, not being able to sign his name. What he sold appears to have been cottages in which he lived with his son William and wife, Hannah, and their little boy, James age three.
Now propertyless, the family seems to have fallen on hard times. William Marlborough, agricultural labourer, was receiving parish relief in 1851 and a poor law medical ticket as a "permanently sick and disabled pauper". He then lived at Balloon Corner with his wife, a straw plaiter, son James, already at thirteen a farm labourer, and a second son Samuel, an infant who had to trudge on wet winter mornings all the way to Water End school where perhaps, unlike his grandfather, he learned his letters. His grandfather, Joseph, was to die in Hatfield workhouse, in 1861. Fifteen years earlier "Marlbrow" helped to recover the bodies of a woman and two children drowned at Water End.
In the meantime James remained a farm labourer until he was twenty-two, but then advanced to become a platelayer on the Great Northern Railway at 2s l0d per day. By 1871 he and his wife Jane had seven children, William age thirteen, a juvenile agricultural labourer as his father had been, George, Emily, Mary Ann (all three at school), Susan and Samuel aged two who died six years later. The family lived at Marshmoor, next door to the police constable. Ten years later the prolific platelayer had three more children, Charlotte, Alice and John, and was still at Marshmoor. Their eldest sister, Mary Ann was now an unemployed general servant.
Two of the daughters strayed from the strait and narrow path. In 1884 Emily Marlborough, age twenty, a servant girl, gave birth to a son, Frederick, in Hatfield Workhouse, and the following year her younger sister Mary Ann had a daughter, Hannah, in the same place. Perhaps there was no room for them in their home. Their father, James, as beadle, was responsible for orderly behaviour in church and at parish meetings, somewhat less than the churchwarden his ancestor had been. He had received the vote by the 1884 Reform Act, along with all the other propertyless men. Perhaps it was the same James Marlborough who was a recipient of Miss Coningsby’s Gift of l0s 6d in 1896, awarded to "labourers in husbandry". The conditions of the Gift were that the recipient had not had any parish relief during the year, had attended church regularly and "had not been guilty of any dishonest or disreputable act". A respectable if humble citizen.
Six years later he was preparing the Welham Green schoolroom for the meetings of the parish council and being paid l0s 6d for his trouble. At that time he and a John Marlborough were living in Pooleys Lane. He applied to the council for an allotment but in the draw which was necessary he was unlucky. He and Jane, his wife died in 1915 and were buried by Thomas and John Nash, builders and undertakers.
Frederick, brought up as one of the family, duly attended Welham Green Boys’ School. When the 1914-18 war came, he was not one of those who joined in the initial rush to enlist, but he served in the Army Veterinary Corps in France from 1917. William, his uncle, was too old for that, but no doubt he was called on for extra work to increase food production. He, like his father before him, received l0s 6d from Mrs Coningsby’s Gift in 1918.
During the inter war years numerous members of the Marlborough family were going about their business in the parish as, for example, postman, carpenter or railway ganger. Today, Charlotte Marlborough can trace direct descent from Thomas of that name in the 18th century. The family, however, has been in North Mymms for over four hundred years. Its divorce from the land, as it moved from independent yeoman to wage earner, was common enough in England.
LAYING THEM TO REST
A funeral was an important event in the parish. In a small community the deceased was likely to be widely known. The desire to be decently buried and in accordance with what was right and proper for him or her was deeply felt. Appearances mattered and the style and the expense needed careful consideration. To be buried by the parish was the last indignity of the destitute.
Above that level each family did what it could and whatever was thought appropriate to its station in life. "The desire to secure respectful internment of themselves and their relations is, perhaps, the strongest and most widely diffused feeling among the labouring classes of the population", wrote that middle class expert, Edwin Chadwick in the 1840s.
Much of this may be seen in North Mymms from the notebooks of Thomas and John Nash, master carpenters, builders and undertakers between 1894 and 1919. During those years they interned about four hundred and thirty persons altogether, three hundred and eighty of them in the parish. Many were children, about one in six.
Diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles were common. Expenditure on a funeral varied a great deal; for a child from l0s 6d to £2 2 6d, for an adult from £1 9 6d to £28 17 6d. In one year, 1900, the average cost for adults was £16 0 3d, and for children £1 16 4d. These sums should be compared with a labourer’s typical wage of l8s a week.
Within that range the funerals were of many different kinds and corresponding expense. This depended on the three parts of the Nashes services - the style of coffin, the number of bearers and, most of all, on the type and number of vehicles. The first two the Nashes provided themselves. The coffins were made in their workshop, the bearers came usually from their own workmen dressed in the black suits provided. The vehicles they hired from an Islington firm, except for their machine coach and carts.
The cheapest, respectable funeral and the best which most of the parishioners could afford, was the walking funeral. No vehicles were required, the coffin being carried on men’s shoulders from one of the hamlets all the way to the church. Over half of the funerals were of this kind. The use of a horse and cart for the infirm followers was slightly more expensive. Next came those in which, although there was no vehicle for the coffin, the mourners rode in some comfort. Their carriages varied; there might be one or two coaches with pairs of horses, or one or two broughams each drawn by one horse, or combinations of the two up to two coaches and two broughams.
The difference between those funerals and the rest was the vehicle for the coffin. The least expensive vehicle was the machine coach, which was also used for paupers. It was a four-wheeled horse drawn vehicle in which two couples sat facing each other, and the coffin was placed transversely in a space under the driver’s seat. Next in price was the hearse, and it seems that there were two kinds, the glass one and the ordinary one. The hearse or machine coach funeral was not always the most expensive, for quite often there were no vehicles for the mourners.
When there were such vehicles the hearse was followed by an number of coaches up to six and broughams up to three. With the more humble machine coach the one horse brougham was more usual. Horses cost money to bring from Islington. They also had the incidental disadvantage that, being town animals, they would not cross the water splash on the road near Potterells but had to be brought round along Bulls Lane.
There were also differences in another item of cost, the style of coffin. Elm was not so expensive as oak, which was generally reserved for the well to do. Either kind could be with or without brass fittings or black fittings and with or without lining. The wood was polished for most funerals, but plain for the poorest. The cost of the bearers varied too. Their number ranged from one to eight (for long distances a change of bearer was necessary), and their payment from ls to 3s.
In a typical year, 1898, the humblest funeral of an adult had a plain elm coffin, a horse and cart and one bearer for £1 9 0d. Not infrequently the poorest parishioners could not afford even this sort of expenditure. They paid something by small instalments and the balance was often written off by the Nashes.
The grandest funeral was of Daniel Crawford, the Scots far-mer at Potterells in 1909. The bill of £28 17 6d was for "An oak coffin lined with silk with Brass Fittings complete and Funeral Attendance with Hearse, six coaches and pairs Bearers and Church fees Moving Stone Use of Plank at Grave and assistance in digging Grave." The most expensive one was of the former vicar, Rev Batty, in 1918 which, including conveyance from Potters Bar, came to £32 10 6d. Nash’s prices rose about 50% during that first war, less than the general inflation.
Undertaking was only a minor part of the thriving business of master carpenter and builder. In a period of thirteen years, from 1895 to 1907, the Nashes submitted over three hundred and fifty estimates for work. It was of all kinds, in the parish and outside it, ranging from repairs to a pig stye at Potterells to half a dozen cottages for Admiral Sir John Fellowes.
|Minnie Chuck outside "Mother Chuck's Cottage" at Water End 1902. Picture by Geo. Knott.|