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Victorian Lives in North Mymms

A scan of the cover of the book Victorian Lives in North Mymms by Peter Kingsford

Victorian Lives in North Mymms, is the fourth in the series of books by the late Peter Kingsford following on from his first, A Modern History of Brookmans Park 1700-1950. Peter's second book is North Mymms people in Victorian Times, and his third, North Mymms Schools and Their Children. All have been reproduced in full on this site following permission from Peter and the now-disbanded North Mymms Local History Society.

Table Of Contents


This book is a sequel to the author’s other books about North Mymms in Hertfordshire, ‘A Modem History of Brookmans Park 1700-1950’, ‘North Mymms People in Victorian Times’, and ‘North Mymms Schools and Their Children 1700-1964’. Like those, it deals with the parish of North Mymms in the nineteenth century but in a different way which throws a fresh light on those times. Its subject is, more especially than in the other books, how the people lived, worked, thought and felt and behaved and their relations with each other. The book is concerned with not only the lives of the parishioners in general but also with the different sorts and conditions of the men and women. The almost inexhaustible wealth of historical material which is available makes that kind of history possible. It also means that there is still more to be written by any one who has the taste for it.

The author is much indebted to the Hertfordshire County Archivist and his ever-helpful colleagues, to the librarian and the staff of the Hertfordshire Local Studies Collection, to Mr Pat Clarke, Mr J Shadbolt and the clerk to North Mymms Parish Council. He is also glad to thank Mr W J Killick, Welwyn Hatfield Museum service, Mr D Speary and Mr R G Colville for illustrations.

Peter Kingsford 1989

Photograph of Rev. Horace Meyer, vicar of North Mymms 1857-64
Photograph of Rev. Horace Meyer, vicar of North Mymms 1857-64



Early in 1864 three hundred and fifty parishioners combined to present a silver teakettle to their departing vicar. They were half of all the people in the parish over fourteen years of age, a point at which nearly all had started work. In fact many of that number were man and wife so that the individual contributions were only about two thirds of the people listed in the elaborately illuminated address which accompanied the gift, but still it was a goodly expression of thanks. The vicar, Horace Meyer, had been the incumbent for only seven and a half years. When he began at North Mymms he was twenty-eight and it was his first living.

The Rev Meyer was unusual among Church of England parsons. Few of them could have had his arduous experience of work in quite a different occupation. Born in 1828, the tenth child of a well to do family, he spent his early years with them in one of the little German states. When the family lost money he had to leave school and was found a job with the East India Company in the Bengal Marine Service. At the age of fourteen he sailed for India to work in the Pilot Service at £78 per annum. On the long voyage he read his Bible and Wilberforce’s Practical View of Christianity and was harassed on account of his piety by his irreverent companions.

The work in Bengal was to pilot vessels up the Hoogly River to Calcutta. Starting as the leadsman who cried out the depth of water as he crouched for many hours a day, in the chains of the piloted sailing vessel, baked in the sun or wet to the skin, he won promotion to second officer and next to first officer. At twenty one he was offered command of a pilot boat with £800 a year if he passed the necessary examinations in navigation, marine surveying, chart drawing, trigonometry and the use of instruments. This he did but the climate, the living conditions and the stress of the work had combined to give him chronic liver disorder. Deeply disappointed at losing such a good post, he had to return to England.

At home, still ill, he visited the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace but the effort exhausted him. He had been sustained in India by his strong religious belief and now he felt a call for the ministry. As it was necessary to take a degree he went up to Cambridge for three years at the then advanced age of twenty-two. He served as deacon in a busy Birmingham parish for a year on a stipend of £100 and then, before ordination as priest, he was offered the North Mymms living by R W Gaussen, "on the understanding", in his words, "that I would relinquish it in favour of his son (then ten years old) should he wish for it in fourteen years".

He wrote, "The responsibility of such a parish nearly daunted me. North Mymms parish in Rochester diocese was nearly sixteen miles in circumference; contained 1300 people, and was composed of four hamlets, five large places and four smaller ones, with twenty two farms. The schools were under Government; the church was nineteen miles from London; the income about £275."

He succeeded James Faithfull, son of the vicar of Hatfield, who had had a curate; Meyer had none. On his first Sunday he preached from 2Cor 20. Zech l v 6: "Not by might nor by power but by my spirit saith the Lord of Hosts." The vicarage did not suit the health of his mother with whom he and his sister were living; it was too damp and shut in by trees and there was doubt about the purity of the water supply. He had kind friends in the gentry - the Gaussens of Brookmans, the Kembles of Leggatts, the Wheens at Potterells, the Daniels at Moffats and the Parises at Abdale, but at first his task was not easy.

He wrote: "Most of the 1300 people in the parish were illiterate cottagers; some more intelligent farmers; but nine families represented considerable culture. This mixture added greatly to my difficulties. To preach intelligibly, instructively and interestingly twice every Sunday to such an audience every week, besides three week-day lectures, with schools, clubs, and visiting, was no easy task with my slender education and brief ministerial experience. It needed industry and courage." He inadvertently upset the women by pointing out that dress and ornaments belonged to a worldly society, displeasing to God, whereas in fact their dress was a sober one of red cloaks, black bonnets and smock frocks.

He was, however, inspired to restore the church of St Mary’s. The floor was rotten, the large box pews had to be done away with and the whitewashed ceiling deserved replacement. He set about raising the £1,300 required, a large sum then, writing to everyone having land in the parish. One hundred pounds came from the Gaussens and one hundred and sixty pounds from W J Lyseley MP of Mimwood (reluctantly according tote vicar). The whole sum was raised. During the work Meyer held services in the big schoolroom. When the church was reopened the new pews gave a hundred more seats for the poor.

Perhaps it was this display of energy and his unusual qualifications, which led to Meyer being appointed, at thirty-two, rural Dean of Barnet with supervisory duties in other parishes. It may have been for the same reasons that he was offered two other livings and two secretaryships all of which he refused, the latter because he preferred preaching and parochial work. However, he did not apparently intend to stay in North Mymms more than a few years, for he abandoned a project to build a new vicarage "on a beautiful site Mr Gaussen offered us commanding a fine view over St Albans", because it would have committed him to remain.

Life in the vicarage, now with a wife and baby, and three servants, perhaps gave an appearance of settlement but it may have been no surprise, for the reasons given above, when in 1864 he accepted the offer of a living in the small parish of East Tisted in Hampshire. He stayed there for five years and then moved again to Trowbridge where as he recorded, ‘The church, seating 1000 people had been restored by the late rector, there were good schools, and a comfortable house; the town of 10,000 people a formidable place, finally coming to a halt at Clifton, Bristol.

Although the long list of names on the vicar’s testimonial indicates an impressive effect on his parishioners, there are only traces of their perception of him. Among his fellow clergymen and the network of gentry connected with them, he clearly made many friends. As for the villagers, some religious folk are mentioned in his life story. There was the old labourer who greeted him on the roads side with the words, "Didn’t I cock my ear last Sunday!’, after hearing him preach on that day. The old Brinkley couple were faithful followers; the wife had been transported for receiving a watch stolen by her son, had served her time and returned to North Mymms. Young Mark Tarry, a bachelor living with his widowed mother, held a small farm at Roestock, a "devoted Christian, Sunday School teacher and CMS collector". John Gray was the schoolmaster "a truly godly man who proved the greatest help and comfort", but who was, after a few years, to be replaced by a properly certificated teacher when the Government’s New Code of Regulations appeared. Meyer recalled the parish clerk - "my clerk was a very civil, pleasant man, a bricklayer named Groom". William Groom was, in fact, a man of some substance, a master bricklayer who employed seven men and two boys.

The mid- Victorian age of Horace Meyer was a highly religious one. 7,261,915 people (nationwide) attended church, chapel or meetinghouse on 30 March 1851, about half of them at Anglican churches. Bible reading, by those who could read, and observing the Sabbath to keep it holy were general. This was truer of country parishes than of the big towns. The basis was organised prayer, preaching and self improvement rather tan sacraments and ritual, When the High Church Oxford Movement arose to challenge it with an emphasis on vestment and ritual, the Evangelical Alliance was formed within the Church in opposition to the Movement. On one occasion Meyer had to prevent the lighting of candles on the altar, or as he called it "the holy table". His evangelicalism was the most generally practised form of worship, stressing Biblical teaching and moral conduct. For him, it was present in his parish when he found his laundress Jane Flawn sitting by her fireside with Richard Plumber, a labourer who lodged with her, having a theological discussion. "Man can’t do anything", he said, to which she responded positively and warmly, "But he must try". Appropriately her name appears among the 350 on the vicar’s testimonial, but his does not. Another feature of evangelicalism was the missionary spirit and North Mymms had its collectors for the Church Missionary Society.

The contributors to the silver teakettle were from all classes in the parish, from agricultural labourer to landowner. As many labourers put in their pence as did not. Not surprisingly perhaps, more women than men did that, though they were in a minority in the parish. Included were all those families which had been in the parish for generations, the Nashes, Marlboroughs, Pratchetts and Pilgrims. One group was a notable absentee, the publicans, the licensees of the Sibthorpe, the Hope and Anchor, the Swan, the Maypole and the Woodman. Meyer’s relationship with them can only be inferred but certainly he was a strong supporter of the temperance movement.

When the time came to leave North Mymms his farewell sermons were from John xx.17, Isaiah xxvl.19. "He that will, let him take the water of life freely’, and ‘Awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust.’ Horace Meyer was succeeded by Arthur Latin. He reorganised the thrift clubs, launched the parish magazine, which continued until the present day, and established a flourishing branch of the United Kingdom Temperance Society. But he had seventeen years in which to do it and during his time illiteracy disappeared.



Agricultural labourer is the official description of the men in North Mymms who earned a humble living from the land. A great number of facts about them over a period of thirty years are available in the census enumerators’ returns. The facts for 1851, 1861, 1371 and 1881 are: their names, relation i.e. head of household, son etc, condition (married or not etc), sex, age, trade, and place of birth. This chapter is an attempt to extract some meaning from all this information.

Most of these men lived in the four hamlets of the parish. Welham Green, Water End, Bell Bar and Roestock. How did their lives change in the generation between the farming prosperity of the 1850s and the depression of the 1880s? As you would expect they shrank considerably in number. This was not only because of farmers coming on hard times. In fact North Mymms, where the hay harvest was more important than the corn harvest, was probably not as much affected as wholly arable districts in North Hertfordshire and East Anglia which suffered from foreign imports. The nearness of the London market for beef as well as for hay was an advantage. All the same two Scottish farmers, Crawford and Sinclair, came in the 1870s to take over from local men who had given up. But in addition to depression, the coming of mechanisation also reduced the number of agricultural labourers needed. Steam threshing machines were available in the l850s. In effect the labourers fell from 119 to 80, by 32%. All four hamlets lost labourers. Welham Green which embraced Balloon Corner, Pooley’s Lane and Pancake Hall, was worst affected; Bell Bar the least, probably because many there worked for the great Brookmans estate and farm and were sheltered by it.

Not surprisingly, it was the younger men who left the land. The number of workers under thirty fell from 58 to 18. The average age rose from 25 to 38. It became mainly a middle aged and old man’s occupation. That familiar figure of the 1850s, the farm boy, under fourteen years old had almost disappeared thirty years later. Only three remained - Vincent Berry, son of a railway platelayer at Balloon Corner, Joseph Longstaff, son of the under-gardener at Bell Bar and Walter Perry, son of an agricultural labourer at Roestock. The school leavers had given it up.

What then had happened? One fact gives a partial answer; many more men were, by the 1880s, working as gardeners. Some, like William Longstaff of Bell Bar, had graduated from young agricultural labourer to middle aged under- gardener in the interval. They had adapted to the change in the market for their labour and now tended the gardens of the well to do instead of producing food whether for men or horses. There were head gardeners as well as under gardeners. Gardening had come into its own and for every stately or lesser home a well tended and decorative large garden had become a status symbol.

Whatever the economic effect the social result for the agricultural labourer was beneficial. Gardeners were slightly higher in social standing and were paid a little more. Their school fees, along with those of gamekeepers and artisans were threepence a week compared with the labourers’ twopence. Moreover, they were more secure, at least those who were "gentleman’s gardener’ and regarded as domestic servants, distinct from the ‘working gardener’. The landowner, great or small, did not feel the same need to put off his gardeners as did the farmer in hard times with his labourers.

A few labourers went up in the world, with great effort and good luck. Charles Honour who, in his own words later on, ‘had been climbing up ever since the Russian war ,became a farmer at Colney Heath with 76 aces. By the beginning of the next century he had Moffats Farm of 350 acres. A farm servant Thomas Nash rose to be farm foreman. Two labourers, Benjamin Longstaff and Henry Bodger, responding to change and specialising, turned themselves into ‘hay binders for the market’ working with the hay carters. There was no lack of horses in spite of or because of the railways.

The way of living and the level of wellbeing, and how they changed in a generation depended first on the basic wage but there were many other conditions. They were the earnings, if any, of his wife and children, the condition of his cottage and the rent he paid for it, security of employment and of housing, the size of the family, the school fees to be paid, the welfare available in the parish, whether charitable or self financing, whether he had a settlement which entitled him to relief under the poor law. All these influences on his life combined to affect his standard of living.

Earlier in the century, in 187, churchwarden Joseph Sabine told a Parliamentary Committee that the basic wage of labourers in the parish was 12 shillings per week. Labourers could, at least according to him, earn up to 15 or 18 shillings by piece work on hedging and ditching in a twelve hour day and at harvest time in an even longer day. If this was true they were better off than most labourers in the county for by 1850 when wages were at much the same level the average basic wage for Hertfordshire was only 9 shillings a week. Perhaps their advantage was due to the nearness to London and the mixed farming in the parish compared with the arable cultivation in other parts of the county. The county average basic wage rose after the 1850s to l2s 6d by the 1890s and no doubt wages in North Mymms followed suit.

One cause of this increase was probably the formation of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union. There was no trace of a branch in North Mymms; the vicar warned men against joining the union:

"It is very important that the consequences of joining a Union of this kind should he properly understood. Those who give their names as members would have to pay 6d. entrance fee, and to contribute at once two pence per week to the funds of the Union. This does not sound much; but in the event of a strike taking place, we will say in Bedfordshire, the men there would be induced to strike by the promise that while off work they would he supported out of the funds of the union; and the agricultural labourers in work in others parts of the country would be almost immediately called on for an increased weekly contribution, possibly of two or three shillings a week, to meet this drain upon the funds of the union. Nor is this all. In the event of the masters whose men were on ‘strike’ obtaining labourers, we will say from North Mimms, to fill up the places of those on strike, messengers would soon come from the central authorities of the union, calling all the labourers here to join the strike, and leave their work, and if this order were not obeyed, if we may judge by the way in which men belonging to these unions have hitherto invariably acted, threats and actual violence would soon be resorted to, in order to compel those labourers who belonged to the union to leave their work and join the strike. So that or readers will see it is a very serious matter for any labouring man to belong to one of these ‘unions"; that by so doing he really looses his liberty; he is no longer a free man; he puts himself in the power of some unknown master, who may be only a political agitator, living by his wits on the wages of the hard working labourer, or, even if an honest man, may be of very defective judgement; while at the same time the labourer who joins this union, has at once to contribute from his hard-earned wages, and may have positively to reduce himself and family to absolute poverty and destitution, or run the risk of personal violence and ill-treatment."

Differences of opinion will from time to time arise as regards the price that should be paid for the various kinds of labour which the requirements of man call for, and the only sensible way of settling these differences is by friendly conference between the employers and the employed. In some trades at this moment there are standing committees composed of equal numbers of the employers and the employed, who determine all questions of wages, etc., that arise, and whose decision is binding on both parties. Sometimes an umpire is chosen by both to decide, when unanimity cannot be otherwise arrived at. But that which is to be avoided on every account is a strike. It injures all. The masters a little, the men still more. A Strike increases the price of everything, and they who have the least money to spend will feel the effects of a strike the more severely. A strike in the agricultural districts would be followed by a rise in rent, the price of bread, butter, cheese, and almost all other shop goods. This would press more severely on the poor than on any one else. In this parish the most kindly feeling has hitherto subsisted between the employers and the employed; anything which would tend to introduce discord, heart-burning and ill blood, is most earnestly to be avoided and deprecated. Let us try to carry out the good old-fashioned maxim of the blessed book - "Masters give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye have also a Master in heaven’; and ‘Servants obey in all things your Master in heaven’; and ‘Servants obey in all things your Masters according to the flesh, not with eye service as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart fearing God, and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men."

The influence of the Union was clearly felt for in 1873 there were branches within a few miles, at Colney Heath, Wheathampstead, Sandridge and Hatfield. In the previous June South Beds and Herts Division had held a meeting on No Mans Land, three miles from St Albans. About five hundred men were present. The wages in Hertford, it was said, were ten to twelve shillings. Joseph Allen told the meeting that he received eleven to twelve shillings a week out of which he spent four shillings in rent, firing and candles. He had left twopence halfpenny per day for each member of his family. Only the extra wages at harvest time allowed him to get clothing for his children. At the end of the meeting a resolution to join the union was carried with enthusiasm and deafening cheers.

In North Mymms wages were not likely to be far off Joseph Allen’s (his parish is not known). On the other hand the North Mymms men seem to have been paying less rent. The average rent paid by thirteen labourers to one landowner, R A Gaussen of Brookmans, was one shilling and sixpence in the 1860s. The landowner may well have been lenient; rents due to him were ‘forgiven in case of need. The same men had the advantage over Joseph Allen in children’s clothing since they had the parish clothing club. The vicar’s clothing club of 1865 was formed out of the then existing boys’ and girls’ clothing clubs. One hundred and eighty members paid in about six shillings a year and continued to do so until well into the twentieth century. Members could get clothing of any kind twice a year at Midsummer and Christmas This was possible because of the subsidies from the gentry by, in the vicar’s words, ‘their most kind and liberal contributions’. The item of ‘firing’ borne by Joseph Allen was covered in the parish by the coal club also organised by the vicar. And while there was no provision for his ‘candles’, North Mymms had other clubs, for shoes, for rent, for blankets over many years, all similarly subsidised. Appreciation of this welfare was shown by the large numbers of labourers who subscribed to the vicar’s parting present.

Perhaps in support of the vicar’s warning against the trade union, next month two new prizes for long service were announced at the Cottage Garden Show. These rewards of twenty shillings and ten shillings were for "the agricultural labourers in the parish who had been longest with one Master and brought his good character with him from his employer". The prizes were duly awarded in August 1873. The first prize went to William Gower aged eighty two who had fifty years in the employ of "Messrs Giddins". Thirty years earlier Gower, a shepherd, lived with his wife and a son and three daughters in Roestock. His family changed, the children left home, his wife died and by the time of his reward he was living alone, having moved to Water End. Six years after his prize his life in the parish came to a not uncommon end. He was admitted to Hatfield workhouse and he died there at the age of ninety-one. The second prize winner in 1873 was Thomas Peck. He had served R W Gaussen of Brookmans for twenty nine of his fifty eight years. Being a single man, he lodged with James Tapster, agricultural labour of Welham Green, a young family man whose wife’s earning from straw plaiting and payments from their two lodgers made them better off than most of his kind.

The vicar also dispensed the parish charities to deserving labourers. Under Mrs Coningsby’s Gift ten "Labourers in Husbandry" received l0s 6d. each. Shove Tuesday provided that they had had no poor relief, Sabine’s Gift provided for one such labourer to receive £1, and by the Bread Charities bread to the value £18 a year was handed out to "all Labourers of good character who attend Church". The men continued to receive this largesse throughout the century.

A different kind of charitable help for the labourers was "that admirable institution" the soup kitchen. This was a product of a change in the terms of hiring labour. The days were long past when labourers were farm servants who lived in, were part of the farmer’s family and were hired by the year. There were , however, still a few left in the 1850s. An official observer reported in 1847 that: "A practice has grown up lately of engaging a labourer for a whole year … a renewal of the old system that we have not had for years together." In North Mymms the remaining farm servants lived on the farms where they worked: Isaac Taylor at Red Hall, George Littlechild at Parsonage, John Littlechild at Skimpans. Henry Franklin at Tollgate and James Constable at Travellers farm. Along with them were thirty men described as farm labourers probably attached more permanently to a farm, and who may have enjoyed the long hiring of the farm servants. Some of these lived at their farms at Potterells, Boltons and Hawkshead and were more likely to have had the same advantage. But they were a small minority. All the rest, hired by the week or the day or the hour, could be laid off at any time and were so treated in hard winters. For them at such times there were the soup kitchens, as in 1864, 1866, 1879 and later on in the 1890s. For example in the winter of 1895 at the soup kitchen in Roestock 1270 quarts of soup and 635 half quarter loaves were dispensed to the families there and from Welham Green and Water End at one penny a time. Donations from the gentry amounted to £18 4s. 0d. including £2 from the banker at Potterells, Cotton Curtis. The soup and bread furnished the main meal of the day. The vicar appealed for funds for the poor who had got into debt.

In the last resort there was the poor law, but parish relief debarred a man from the parish charities. Several labourers fell on the parish in the 1850s. Relief at home, whether as a medical ticket or cash allowance, depended basically on whether the man had a settlement in the parish. He could possess this valued qualification by birth in the parish or by inheritance or by residence for five years. William Goodall of Foxes Lane, a widower of 65 living alone and John Webb married with two children in Powder Beech Lane, aged only forty, must have been relieved under the last two conditions, unless the Guardians broke the rules. Without a settlement a person receiving relief was likely to be sent away to wherever he had one. Two other men received medical tickets as "permanently sick and disabled" — William Marlborough aged 39 and Benjamin Covington of Water End, agricultural veteran of 81 years, living with his son in law and two grandchildren.

The wellbeing of the agricultural labourer depended as much as, and perhaps more than, anything else on the number of mouths he had to feed, bodies to clothe and beds to fit into his cottage. His life began and ended in a family poverty cycle in which the lowest ebb was usually when he was in his mid thirties with several children too young to work. The first step had been for him and his betrothed who was quite often already pregnant, to save enough to set up house. Savings of £40 from farm and domestic service was customary earlier in the century, the woman providing the bedlinen, and perhaps the bed and household utensils. He was then relatively comfortable until the children came, especially if his wife continued earning. By the time the children had left home or were no longer dependent he had a return of relative wellbeing until a poverty-stricken and parish aided old age. In between, his working sons, often starting at the age of twelve, brought some relief, but the old saying "With every mouth God sends a pair of hands" had only a limited meaning.

The labourer whose household had more than one source of income was fortunate. In the 1850s only twenty-one of the men’s wives were earning and another eleven had children who were working. Their earnings were an incentive to keep them at home. Thirty years later there were only three such wives and two such children, indicating a considerable loss of income, partly offset perhaps by the rise in men’s wages. The wives’ main employment earlier, straw plaiting, had disappeared. Legislation had hampered the hiring of children.

The easiest situation was to have more than one income and no or few children. Richard and Ann Chuck of Pooley’s Lane, she a strawplaiter with one little boy, and Job and Mary Kemp of Balloon Corner, she also a strawplaiter but without children, were in that position. A strawplaiter could sometimes earn as much as a labourer. With three dependent children life became harder even when the wife found time to do strawplaiting. This was the case of David Pollard at Pooley’s Lane, Joseph Covington at Roestock and George Kemp at Balloon Corner. Another labourer with three children at school requiring sixpence a week in fees while his wife worked as washerwoman, was Isaac Webb. Yet another, John Mansfield in Roestock did not have an earning wife but the wages of his thirteen-year-old agricultural labourer son helped to keep his other three younger children.

A few households were better off with more than two incomes. Hannah Chuck, wife of John, was a dairywoman while her two teenage sons were employed as garden labourer and farmer’s boy. There were six in their cottage in Pooley’s Lane for which they paid the considerable rent of thirty shillings a quarter, much more than the average. Joseph Child’s household also had three additional incomes: William his labourer son and two plaiting daughters. One of these was a pauper; perhaps her allowance had something to do with the third daughter who was the wife of the workhouse master. Seven in that cottage included a grandson. Children being brought up by their grandparents were not uncommon. It was a relief from overcrowding and in such situations children sometimes slept with neighbours and relatives.

The worst situation for men and their wives was if they had many children but apparently no additional earnings from wife or children. At Water End there was John Joice with four children (sixpence a week in school fees) and Andrew Vines with six. At Roestock George Joy had another brood of six. Such were the different conditions of wellbeing in the 1850s.

Photograph of Building workers, Mimwood c1910
Building workers, Mimwood c1910

How much had they changed thirty years later? It is not possible to give a full answer but something is known about the men and their households just mentioned. All twelve had stayed in the parish and only one had changed his occupation. Richard Chuck had moved to Pancake Hall; his wife Anne no longer plaited but two sons born in the interval earned something as farm boys, one only twelve years old. His eldest son Richard, now thirty one, had risen in the world for he had set up as a baker in Pooley’s Lane with a family of four of his own. Job Kemp had stayed put in all except age. The fortunes of Pollard, Covington and George Kemp had varied. Pollard had become a widower; the young children of the 1850s had departed but there were three more sons at home and two of them were agricultural labourers. His household had more incomes and fewer dependants than before. Joseph and Rebecca Covington were now by themselves, the children having left, and his income consisted solely of his wages. George Kemp and Isaac Webb were in the same situation. Two of the men had fallen on hard times in their old age. John Mansfield aged 79 and John Chuck 82 and their wives Ann aged 70 and Hannah 74 had become paupers and were dependent on the goodwill of the relieving officer and the guardians for their allowances. John Chuck’s sons were not in a position to help their parents. John junior who had been a farmer’s boy was now a general labourer with a wife and four children to support, albeit one teenage son was also a labourer. The other son James was little better off. He had followed his father as agricultural labourers. Some extra income came from his laundress wife, from one teenage son as a carter and from another who, aged thirteen, was a farmer’s boy as his uncle had been, but there were school fees to pay for three other children and a baby to feed. The Mansfields had a grandson living with them, a fourteen-year-old gardener. Both those aged men had moved to Water End.

Photograph of William Aslett and John Nash at Hawkshead c1900
William Aslett and John Nash at Hawkshead c1900

Joseph Childs had died but his son William became a roadman, perhaps working for the parish surveyor, a widower with his sister and little daughter dependent on him. The situation of Joice and Vines, still at Water End, had perhaps improved somewhat. Joice had only himself and his wife to keep on his wages. All Vines’s children had also flown and his Amelia was earning as one of the growing number of laundresses. George Joy had lost his wife and now lived alone in Welham Green.

Along with that dozen survivors into the l880s there were eight others - John Burgess, Samuel Burr, Richard Day, James Gray, Benjamin and William Longstaff, Henry Pollard and William Webb, already an agricultural labourer at the age of eleven in 1851. Their lives had been on a similar pattern. For example John Burgess remained in Bell Bar as R W Gaussen’s farm carter at Brookmans while Ann his wife who had brought up five children changed from charwomen to dairywomen. The children had all gone leaving the old couple with two grandsons and a lodger, the gamekeeper. They had gone through the family cycle and perhaps had reached the penultimate phase of greater comfort. Such was the outcome after a generation of these men and their families. There had been little overall change in their circumstances.

All the time, however, their hamlets had undergone change of a different kind. In each decade from 1851 onward most of the men had moved their homes from one hamlet to another. All the hamlets were, of course, within walking distance of each other, though from Roestock to Water End was a good two and a half miles. There was clearly much movement between them. The hamlets could hardly have had much permanent neighbourliness or have been self-contained communities. The community was the parish in which the church and its numerous welfare organisations hound the hamlets together.



The Spaniard. Miguel Yzquierdo, had belonged to a Carlisi guerilla band. A young man of twenty four, by trade a tanner, his home was near Teruel in Aragon. The Carlist wars raged intermitently in Spain during the nineteenth century. Don Carlos Maria Isidro claimed the throne against Queen Isabella II who was supported by Britain. When one of the Carlist risings was defeated Yzquierdo escaped to England with his companions.

He had become separated from them and then lived by begging and stealing. In August 1853, having been in England for seven weeks, he appeared in North Mymms. On Tuesday 2 August, meeting a shepherd from Blakey’s farm at Potterells he asked him if there was a village nearby. He needed food and footwear. That night he broke into Brewhouse Farmhouse and took three loaves, three pounds of cheese, a napkin and a table knife from the pantry. The same night, some distance away at Moffats Farm, tenanted by Samuel Giddins, he walked off with the canvas boots of the housekeeper, Sara Bryant, who had left them in her scullery.

At about l0am on Thursday 4 August Yzquierdo was walking through a field of standing barley on Coursers Farm, the property of Fulke Greville Esq MP, squire of North Mymms Place. George Scales, the fourteen-year-old son of George Scales, Greville’s shepherd, was nearby. Armed with a loaded shotgun, his business was to look after Greville’s plantations. Elizabeth Sams had seen him going there with a gun on his shoulder at 9.45am and heard him call out to his mother, "Mother, is it almost beaver time?’ Benjamin Baldwin, a lad who was ploughing in the next field, suddenly heard George call out, "by! There is no footpath down there, come to me and I will show you the footpath." Ten minutes later Benjamin heard George shout "Oh, Oh" and then moaning loudly.

Other people were about there that morning. George Dickins, a labourer from Colney Heath, saw the stranger in the barley field and ran to tell William Webb, Greville’s gamekeeper. Apparently the stranger was setting snares for game. On seeing Webb, the stranger ran off but Webb set his dog on him and the dog seized him until Webb came up. The stranger felled Webb with a blow of his stick but Webb closed with him. After a prolonged struggle Webb remembered that he had a pistol and a threat with it was enough to subdue the stranger. As Webb shouted for help, Dickins and other labourers, James Allen, James Draper, James Harding and George Scales’s father arrived on the scene. Webb noticed that the stranger’s stick was covered with blood which was not his own. He took him into custody for poaching; as the stranger was led away he called out for his bundle.

Dickins and Harding then looked around to see if the stranger had anyone with him. Dickins discovered a bundle and a loaded gun. In the bundle he found a handkerchief soaked in blood which he thought had come from game. Harding went into the middle of the barley field. There he came across the body of George Scales, still quite warm and the face covered in blood. One of the boy’s laced shoes was lying about a yard away from the body. They fetched a cart to lake the body to Denyers farm.

The matter had become more serious. The stranger was taken to Hatfield Police Station. Inspector Abraham English proceeded in haste to the field, noted how the barley was trodden down, the body in the farm cart, the boy’s gun, a napkin containing a loaf and some cheese and a woman’s cloth boot. At the police station he found that the stranger was wearing the other cloth boot arid had a boy’s braces wound round his body; there was fresh blood on his fingers and nails. He surmised that the stranger had been surprised in the act of unlacing the boy’s boots.

At the inquest the stranger was identified as Miguel Yzquierdo. His own story emerged: the boy told him that he was trespassing and should go away, but he refused to be dictated to by a boy, the boy pointed his gun at him and threatened to fire, he took hold of the gun and beat the boy about the head with his stick. After five months in Hertford Gaol the prisoner came up for trial at the Assizes. During that time an official from the Spanish Embassy visited him; Yzquierdo felt that he had hit the boy in self defence and did not realise the seriousness of his situation.

When the Hertford Spring Assizes opened in March 1854 the chaplain and the governor of the goal gave evidence that the prisoner had spoken freely in Spanish and a few words in English during the first two months, among other matters approving of the meat. the "boeuf", that he was given to eat. After that he had refused to speak, thrown himself about on the floor and complained of headaches. In Court the prisoner still refused to speak. The jury was instructed by the judge, Mr Baron Alderson, to decide whether his silence was wilful or an Act of God. When the jury had considered their foreman said that the safest course was to postpone the trial. This advice annoyed the judge. He declared. ‘That is a question for me to decide. You are not to postpone the trial. I am to do that. You are taking my duty upon yourselves. I want you to take your own." The jury then decided that they were not fully satisfied that the prisoner was wilfully mute. To which the judge replied. "Then you find that he stands mute by visitation of God", and remanded the Spaniard to the next Assize.

When he next came up for trial in July he had been in gaol for almost a year. A Spanish Embassy official revealed that Yzquierdo had declared that if he were sentenced to death he would be revenged and "there would be blood at his death". This time the jury found him mute of malice and a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf.

Evidence was given by the boy’s father, George Scales and by his sister Elizabeth aged seventeen and others. Scales and his wife Rebecca had lived in the parish, in the shepherds house, for twenty years. They had six children living with them between three and twenty two years old. The three eldest daughters were hat makers. The boy was his only son. He had not known that the dead boy was his son until the prisoner was taken to Hatfield. Elizabeth testified that the braces produced and a percussion cap box found on the prisoner were her brother’s. Police Constable Randall told the court that when the body had first been taken to the Maypole Inn, the boy’s braces were missing. Inspector English said that the gun was still loaded when found.

The judge instructed the jury that they had to find the prisoner guilty of either manslaughter or murder. They asked him if the boy had said anything which might be considered provocation. The answer was no. The verdict was guilty of murder and the judge put on his black cap to pronounce sentence of death.

While the prisoner awaited execution which was fixed for 3 August, he received a visit from a Spanish Roman Catholic priest but he refused to listen to him. In the mean time the Hertfordshire Mercury pleaded for commutation of the Sentence on "this ignorant foreigner", arguing that the death penalty was useless. Residents of Hertford, unwilling to have the spectacle of a public execution in their town, and the Society for Abolition of Capital Punishment made representations to the Home Secretary. In the last week of July Lord Palmerston commuted the death penalty to penal servitude for life. When Yzquierdo was told he remained silent. The Hertfordshire Mercury welcomed "a good blow against the inhuman and brutalising practice of hanging" and hoped that it would lead to a change in the law.



The old saying, a woman’s work is never done, was about housewives bringing up children and caring for a family. They were the unpaid workers of the parish. Some of them worked for a wage part time as well, usually out of necessity. Other women did a full day’s work; they were usually the heads of the households, widows supporting a family, though some were younger single women earning a meagre living as domestic servants. These women of all kinds worked because there was a demand for their services or because they were pressed by a need for money.

In 1851 most of the part time workers, those who often doubled as housewives, were straw plaiters, seventy-four of them. They have been fully described in North Mymms People in Victorian Times - chapter4. Usually the wives of low paid farm workers, they supplemented the family income, sometimes earning as much as their husbands and thereby gaining themselves some independence. Their social superiors might complain that they neglected their housework but their work was in demand from the hat industry in Luton and St Albans.

Well below their living standard were those working women who, through the loss of their husbands, had been left to maintain themselves and their families, some twenty of them. There were exceptions among these widows. Hannah Speary, licensee of the Sibthorpe Inn, Elizabeth Messer the baker at Bell Bar, Sarah Smith shopkeeper were surely well above the poverty line. But most of them took on ill-paid work as well as their housework. There was a demand for their services as laundress, gardener, seamstress, dairy woman. Much depended on how many children they were left with, how many were old enough to work and how many other young ones there were. Susannah Cadbury, a labourer’s widow of Water End had two children earning a wage but she also had five children still at school and enough to do without her laundry work. Jane Flawn of Welham Green also a laundress was perhaps better off with only one daughter who helped with the laundry; and a lodger to help pay for the rent. Martha Shepherd in Bell Bar had taken up charing and she had a wage earning son with her, but Eliza Prudence of Water End had been left with two small children and no means of earning. A few of these women had been left quite alone and independently earned a living like dairy woman Eliza Clements and straw plaiter, Annie Fuller. A few others, such as Anne Burr of Welham Green, having given up independence through age or incapacity, depended on parish relief.

Most women worked solely as housewives. Their labours underpinned the whole system of landowners, farmers and labourers and they enabled the farm work of their labourer husbands to continue from generation to generation. They were the real heroines of the parish. Recognition of this came from the vicar, praising, ‘Our Cottagers’ Wives’, who find that it is better economy to stay at home and make home and its duty their sphere of labour, rather than taking to field work which, where there is a family at home, can only be carried on by neglecting what is the wife’s proper work and care.’ But these women were urged to raise their standards of work. At the Cottage Garden Show of 1872 prizes for them were announced as follows.

Prizes will be given for Needlework to Labourers Wives. Those who take in needlework will not be deemed eligible for these prizes, as it would be unfair to allow regular needlewornen to compete with the Agricultural Labourer’s Wife. The prizes will be as follows:

Best made Men’s White Shirt - Three prizes, 2/6, 2/- and 1/6
Best made Men’s Coloured Shirt - Three prizes, 2/-, 1/6, and 1/-
Best made Flannel Petticoat, Cotton or Worsted - Three prizes, 2/-, 1/6, 1/-
Best patched Shift or Shirt - Three prize, 2/6, and 1/-
Best patched Sheet - Two prizes, 2/6, and 1/-
Best made Children’s Frocks - Three prizes, 2k, 1/6, and 1/-
Best made set of Baby Linen - Two prizes, 5/-, and 4/-
Best made Patch-work Quilt - Two prizes, 3/6, and 2/6
Best-made Loaf - Three prizes, 2/-. 1/6, and 1/-

Twenty-four prizes in all. Whatever the wives thought of this, after a year only eleven prizes were awarded and thereafter there is no record. It was a man, Richard Church, who won the contest for the best loaf.

House work was also to be encouraged with prizes for "the wife of a bona tide Agricultural Labourer for the Cleanest Cottage where there are five children at home under twelve years of age" (the age for starting work). Mrs W Longstaff of Foxes Lane won the first prize from Mrs Simpkins of Roestock; not because of a higher degree of cleanliness but her eldest child was only eight, younger than Mrs Simpkins’s. Mrs John Chuck of Balloon Corner received a mention, but it is not clear what that meant. The gentry, having drawn away the daughters as their servants, evidently felt that the wives’ interminable task of keeping their cottages clean needed some stimulus.

If there was money in the purse there was shopping to be done, if not so frequently perhaps more pleasantly. Housewives could go for groceries to Henry White in Welham Green or Catherine Littlechild in Pooleys Lane; for meat (but not often) to William Reynold in Roestock, and for anything else to Susan Ansell’s shop in Foxes Lane and Sarah Smith’s at Mimwood Hill. Shoemakers and dressmakers plied their trades in various parts of the parish. No doubt the housewives also waited for the hawkers to arrive. These men sometimes fell foul of the law. A hawker from Hadley was charged in 1845 with selling one yard of figured net, two muslin handkerchiefs, one pair of gloves and one bootlace in Welham Green without a licence and was fined £10.

The wives of the artisans, gardeners and gamekeepers were superior to the labourers’ wives. They had to pay threepence per head per week for school fees, a penny more than die labourers’. They were in three separate groups. The gamekeepers’ wives, four of them, also worked as seamstress, bonnet sewer and straw plaiter. Those married to the gentler and expanding trade of gardener, eight in number, did not. For some, like Sarah S minions looking after two working sons and four children at school in Folly Lodge, it would have been impracticable. Eliza Butler at Mimwood Hill perhaps did not need to for two of her daughters were dressmakers.

The village artisans and tradesmen, wheelwrights, carpenters, a stonemason, a joiner, bricklayers, .boot and shoemakers, the odd shopkeeper, altogether about twenty five, were the aristocrats of labour in the parish. Their wives were apparently not concerned with earning but there were a few exceptions. Mary Ann Arnold of Welham Green acted as bootbinder to her cordwainer husband as well as caring for four young children and an apprentice but no doubt her wages were all in the family. Ann Hutchins of Mount Pleasant had the time to do some straw plaiting besides looking after her carpenter husband, for her daughter was old enough to be a dressmaker. But one may wonder how much dressmaking Hannah Pratchett could do while she had living with her at Balloon Corner eight children, four of whom were wage earners and four at school, as well as the builder her husband. Mother wife, Ann Peck was a charwoman and in addition her son worked on a farm and her two daughters at hat weaving and straw plaiting. Perhaps her shoemaker husband was not doing too well for there were plenty in his trade in the village, and no doubt there was plenty of scope for her work in Brookmans close to her cottage in Bell Bar.

Higher up in local society were the twenty or so farmers’ wives. They paid sixpence a week for each child at school. Some could afford that more easily than others for the size of farms varied between twenty and four hundred acres. Five children meant two shillings and sixpence weekly. Most likely these women did not have the inclination or the time to earn, as working farmers’ housewives. Rebecca Reynolds, straw plaiter, was the only exception. Her husband had the smallest farm in the parish, one of only twenty-two acres at Hog Lane, No doubt what she, as well as her two young daughters could earn at plaiting was needed as she also had two younger children at school. In contrast, at Potterells Farm of 400 acres the large Blakey family, Samuel and Sarah his wife, their five daughters and two sons, occupied the farmhouse, together with three farm workers they had brought with them from Lincolnshire, a household of twelve. Five of the children were of school age or younger. There was no resident domestic help hut doubtless the two teenage daughters enabled Sarah to keep the place in order.

Such is a picture of most of the women in the middle of last century, in so far as it is possible to draw it. Not much more is known about them. Occasionally there is a more personal glimpse. The vicar, Horace Meyer, writes in his diary about Mary Kemp: "the wife of Job Kemp, a rough labourer, a refined, gentle invalid, a holy living Christian, converted by a tract left by the Rev Faithfull as she was at her washtub." The young Kemp couple lived at Balloon Corner; she did strawplaiting.

With earning ability, especially of the plaitworkers, went a degree of independence and authority. There is also the fact that so many wives were older than their husbands, no less than a quarter of them. Was it because older women had been able to accumulate some savings, which were an attraction? There is evidence that the plaiters put their earnings in a savings bank so as to afford getting married. The women lived longer than the men but not for long, for only one in twenty reached seventy years. The cottages they swept and polished were insanitary and unhealthy.

Photograph of John Chuck's wife on her bread round. The bakery was opposite the Hope & Anchor in the 1900s
John Chuck's wife on her bread round

During those lives they could fall back on the welfare of the age. They could subscribe to the numerous clubs - a club for adults clothing, another fur boys’ clothing, another for girls’ and one for bed clothing, clubs for coal, for the rent and fur shoes, a kind of insurance subsidised by the gentry on the principle of one nation, not two. This provision was not as effective as it might have been for when the energetic, reforming Rev A S Latter came to the vicarage in the 1860s he put it on a better footing. The parish charities met some of the needs of some of the deserving women, those who had not been a burden on the poor rate. Four widows were given four shillings a week each and another one shilling and sixpence a week, and all of them received bread, meat and potatoes at Easter.

For those women who fell by the wayside there was in the last resort the Poor Law, most to be given outdoor relief in their homes, a few going to Hatfield Workhouse. A dozen women, still plaiting, others former servants, mostly aged widows, bad parish relief at home, some with what were called medical tickets. It was, in fact, cheaper to grant outdoor relief than to maintain a workhouse inmate. In l851, only two women and three girls were taken into the House. Ann Sudle with a baby was destitute; AnnTurner, an epileptic, was taken to the House in a cab by Mrs Peck, the charwoman wife of Samuel the shoemaker. The three girls, Elizabeth aged 10, a plaiter, Eliza 8 and Emma 5 Rands, had been deserted by their mother in their cottage in Hog Lane; their father, a railway labourer, had been sentenced to seven years’ transportation for stealing a leg of mutton in Catherine Littlechild’s shop.

After a generation changes in the women’s lot might be expected. One change, in the balance of the sexes was hardly an improvement from the women’s point of view; by the early 1880s there were more women than men. There had, however, certainly been a general advance in another direction. The housewives’ cottages were not so insanitary as before. After the Sanitary Act of 1866 those dwellings which had no privies or cesspooLs were provided with them, and the risk of disease among the children was somewhat reduced.

An equally important change was in the opportunities to earn money. Straw plaiting and its successor, hat weaving, had disappeared, while the husbands’ wages as farm labourers had risen only slightly. Also, some other occupations had shrunk, the charwomen from six to three, seamstresses from five to one and the dressmakers from ten to only two. The charring had probably been taken over by the swollen retinue of servants in the big and lesser houses. The seamstresses and dressmakers catered for working people and perhaps they had been superseded by manufacture. Those losses had been partly offset in other ways. Domestic service and laundering, maintaining the well being of the hater off and well to do families had expanded.

That cleanliness came text to godliness was a favourite motto in that age but it was easier said than done for most people. The great houses had their own laundries and three laundry maids worked at North Mymms Place, two at Potterells and two at Brookmans but all the other families who could afford it relied on village women. From eighteen laundresses the middle class of Little Heath claimed five. Nearly all of them, working with their own tubs and irons, were poor, widows or wives of farm labourers. One prospered. Eliza Chuck, helped by her husband Jimmy who fetched water from the stream, made enough money to build five houses in Holloways Lane and to own their own house in Abdale Cottages where the laundry work was done.

Far removed from laundry work, the occupation of three women was "working in the fields" - Emma and Mary Perry, daughters of a farm labourer in Roestock and Ann Hutchins who maintained her eighty year old aunt. Such work for women was not mentioned in the 1850s, though there was undoubtedly part time field work. Those three women were hardly an advance on the fifties in view of Victorian opinion that farm labour was "unwomanly". In fact, they came from Norfolk where the organised gangs of women and girls were well known.

The women who were heads of their households doubled in number over the years in a population which rose only ten per cent. Of these forty women all but four were widows; a high mortality among husbands. These women kept their homes together as laundresses or needlewomen, on the wages of their offspring, on parish relief. A few exceptions like Hannah Bodger licensee of the Hope & Anchor, Eliza Littlechild of Parsonage Farm, farmer Rebecca Chuck of Welham Green and Letitia Haines the headmistress of Water End School, were more fortunate.

For the deserving the parish charities continued though they did not keep pace with the widows, and for the undeserving, parish relief. In the harsh winters when the frost kept the men out of work their wives could now go to the soup kitchens provided by the kindness of the gentry. The landowners contributed towards the cost with a little of the rent from the farmers who could not or would not pay their labourers. Other forms of welfare became better organised, more numerous and more heavily subsidised by the gentry led by the vicar. As well as the old thrift clubs other bodies, mainly for women, had appeared - the wives’ friendly society, the widows’ and sick fund, the medical club and, on a moral plane, the Girls Friendly Society. The girls’ school at Water End also played a part in improving the women’s lot, for the girls were allowed to stay at school longer than the boys and were literate earlier than they were. The mothers on the other hand, could, since the early 1870s, go to their Meetings where the ladies of the parish received them at Abdale, Potterells and the vicarage. The women were relieved of their children for an hour or two and, for the vicar, the Mothers’ Meetings showed "that the rich and the poor had mutual interests binding society together and erecting and maintaining kindly feelings between class and class".

There was a darker side to the lives of women whether waged or unwaged for they were always liable to suffer violence or seduction. Earlier in the century, in the 1830s, Mary Fields, Ann Puller and Harriet Wacket were among those granted maintenance orders against the fathers of their illegitimate children. The amounts payable varied between is 3d. and 2s 6d. per week. The Bastardy Laws required the County to report to Parliament the number of cases until much later. One case was that of Fred Clover of Colney Heath who was summoned at Petty Sessions in 1859 to support the child of Louisa Jackson described as "a respectable young women supporting her mother, who had been seduced on a promise of marriage". Glover, working for his father who had two farms in the parish, was made to pay 2s 6d. a week. Louisa, a dressmaker, continued to help her aged mother run her grocer’s shop in Mount Pleasant.

More serious offences such as rape went to the Hertford Assizes as in 1849. An eighteen year old garden labourer employed by R W Gaussen of Brookmans was committed by his master for "violently assaulting and feloniously ravishing" a laundress of Welham Green. Depicted in the press as "a masculine woman", she related how the assault took place in the presence of another young woman who ran for help. The judge in his male wisdom took her story with a pinch of salt. ‘There was some kind of assault", he opined, "but if it was of so criminal a nature as stated by the prosecution, no adequate resistance could have been offered," His meaning, though obscure, told against the woman and the youth was found guilty of no more than common assault and received only four months hard labour. It was a male world. The young woman who lived with her widowed mother, also a laundress, became the wife of a railway labourer in due course.

Anne Nash at Skimpans c1916
Anne Nash at Skimpans c1916

If one were to assess whether the women were better off after a generation the balance would be in favour of the 1880s if only because of the coming of the Temperance Society and the Band of Hope. Both these bodies flourished, initiated and vigorously encouraged by the church. The meetings in Welham Green and Bell Bar, the teas, entertainments, soirees, dialogues, recitals and speeches from reformed drunkards, were immensely popular with the wives for whom the hazard of violence from tipsy husbands was somewhat reduced.

What that hazard could be may be seen from the case of James Bovingdon who, in 1858, was charged at the County Petty Sessions with assaulting his wife and a neighbour Baines, not to mention damaging a door. Bovingdon was a fifty-year-old labourer living in Reeves Lane with two teenage daughters and one at school. Eliza his wife told how he had struck her on the back with a lump of salt and turned her out of doors. He was not drunk, she said, but "a little the worse for liquor.’ She ran to the nearby house of Baines who heard her cry, "For God’s sake open the door" which he did and shut it after her. This was at 10.30 P.M. Bovingdon came running up in a rage, without his shoes, and broke down Baines door. Baines tried to take him to his own house, begging him to go home quietly but he would not, swearing to kill Baines. The law appeared in the person of the young police constable William Dunn who arrested Bovingdon. "He was very violent and threatened he would shoot Baines if he had a gun.

Eliza explained to the Bench that she could not live with James any longer; she had put up with his ill usage long enough and she was afraid for ha life. She does seem to have had a good deal to bear. Two years before James had been charged with failing to support Eliza so that she had had to go on the parish. The Bench had dismissed the case, contenting itself with advising the couple to live happily together. Clearly, this had not been enough. James was led to protest strongly. "Give a dog a bad name and hang him’, he burst out. "I would rather some one put me down out of the way than go on like it is with me. It is all false what they say and I have spoken the truth if you blow my brains out for it." All the same he was fined £5 for each assault or four months in gaol in default and required to find sureties to keep the peace for six months.

Barely a year passed before Eliza had more trouble with her husband, again "not sober but not drunk". He had not been able to pay the fines and four months in prison had not improved him. This time they quarrelled about money. He was angry because he had been cheated by fellow workers and when she told him that if he did not give her more money he would go back to gaol he threatened to cut off her head with his razor. While she ran to a neighbour he made off and was found by the police. Although he pleaded that the threat was only a manner of speaking and that he would not hurt a hair of her head, he had to find two recognisances of £10 and two sureties of £6 to keep the peace. Whether he found them or went to gaol for another spell is not known. However, three years later the couple was still together. By then their circumstances were somewhat easier, for Ellza had the earnings of a strawplaiter to fall back on and there were only two daughters at home, one of whom worked as a dressmaker.



Throughout our history the public houses, whether inns, taverns, alehouses or beerhouses, have been the solace of the labourer, the frequent friend of the farmer and the tenant of the landowner. This chapter considers the relation between the publicans of the parish and those people and also that between the two great institutions of the church and the drink trade. The publican played his part in government as juror and elector and conversely he had a relationship with the authorities who controlled him. He had his friends and his enemies.

Hertfordshire was always well provided with public houses. In 1902 the county council considered it over provided. By that year one licence for every 166 inhabitants in the county, compared with one in 326 for England and Wales, was the greatest proportion for all counties except one. North Mymms contributed to that figure. It had six public houses or one for every 261 persons, men, women and children.

Earlier on, in the mid 19th century there were the six public houses for a lower population, about to every 130 persons. Some of them had a long history.. To go back no further than 1756 at the start of the Seven Years War when, after the loss of Minorca Admiral Byng was shot ‘pour encourager les autres", the Government required a billeting return from all victuallers. It showed that at Bell Bar the White Hart had four beds and stabling for ten horses, The Bell had two and twelve and the Swan eight and twenty; in Welham Green the Duke of Leeds (later the Sibthorpe) had two and four and the Tollgate two and one, while at Water End there was the Maypole with two beds and stabling for three horses and the Tollgate had two and three. The Swan could evidently take more cavalry than the others and this is confirmed sixty years later when it had become a farmhouse and was described as having "a Range of Stabling, Weather boarded & Tiled, containing one for Six Horses, one for a Single Horse and another for Five Horses, another Range of Stabling for Twenty Horses, divided into Six Apartments with Hay Lofts over, Brick & Tiled." That year was not the first time the Government had relied on the public houses. Immediately after the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 the Secretary at War compiled a list of all the inns and alehouses showing the beds and stables available for troops.

While the publicans could be useful to the Government (and to a political party later on) they also had to show the authorities that they were proper persons to hold a licence. From 1552 until 1828 they had to satisfy the Justices of the Peace that they were such persons by taking up a bond of surety or recognisance for the orderly conduct of the public house. This requirement involved them in close relationships with villagers of some substance. These men were usually farmers. Solomon Baxter, the farmer at Potterells, was much in demand in the 1820s. Subsequently there were friendly relations with other farmers. Stracey Lake of Moffats farm took over from Baxter as John Massey’s surety, George Littlechild, Brookmans farm, stood for Thomas Speary when he succeeded to the Duke of Leeds, and farmer William Giddins supported Robert Franklin at the White Hart.

The link thus established between publicans and farmers continued. There were few other figures of sufficient standing, apart from the gentry who owned the public houses. There were also other connections. Massey had been a farmer before going down Hawkshead Lane to take over the Maypole at Water End, Welch of the Bell on the other hand, went down hill, in a different sense, and became an agricultural labourer. Publicans and farmers met and conferred regularly at the Vestry, which met to fix the poor rate for the year. The licensees of the White Hart and the Maypole served in that way in the early 1800s when churchwarden Joseph Sabine was busy reducing the rates by cutting poor relief. Both farmers and publicans could only have welcomed his efforts, though the later perhaps not so warmly if it meant the poor buying less beer. Such friendships were no doubt tested somewhat if the sureties were endangered. The White Hart was at one time in bad repute, at least according to John Byng in 1793. When he put up there for a night he was disturbed by the drunken haymakers and mine host himself, ‘Mr Mayes", was much the worse for liquor.

The publicans continued to take part in Vestry meetings, discussing parish affairs with the farmers, right up to 1894 when the Parish Council succeeded the Vestry. Henry Bodger of the Hope & Anchor and even on one occasion Mrs Hannah Bodger, George Dickens from the Woodman, Edward Woalley from the Swan and his successor Charles Chatman, William Aslett from the Sibthorp. all met at the Vestry at different times. The last named, in fact. became a councillor at the first meeting of the Parish Council in 1894. There, the same century old friendship continued as Aslett and the farmers at Potterells, Bell Bar and Moffats supported each other at subsequent elections.

Both publicans and farmers were tenants of the landowners, but whereas class united them, it divided them from the latter. The inns proper, distinct from the beerhouses were all owned by resident landowners, W C Casamajor followed by North Mymms Place and by R W Gaussan, except for the Maypole of which the owner throughout the nineteenth century was Thomas Clutterbuck, brewer of Stanmore.

Photograph of The Old Maypole, Water End c1900
The Old Maypole, Water End c1900

The relationship in this case was financial one. Both publicans and farmers had in common the payment of rent to the landowner. It was not always a simple matter, as in the case of Gaussen v Charles Dawes to Eject in 1840. R W Gaussen of Brookmans had let to John Chuck Whitehead, two public houses in North Mymms, one of them the White Hart, on a yearly tenancy but then served him with notice to quit. This he could not do because he had sublet the White Hart to Charles Dawes at £21 per annum and he refused to move. Evidently Whitehead had driven a hard bargain for he retained for himself ‘the Brewhouse Store House, back cellar, Small Beer Cellar, half the Granary & malt house & the Malt Mill which is to remain in the room adjoining the Brewhouse; all the horses litter Dung in Stable Yard etc to be the property of Whitbread & can be moved ad lib; all Ale & Beer sold by Dawes he shall buy from Whitehead."

Since the publicans received their licences from the Justices of the Peace who were also landowners, one class controlled the other. The value of public houses. One of them, the Swan was described as follows some years earlier.

The Public House at Bell Bar


Most eligibly situated by the side of the Great North Road, opposite to the 17 mile-stone, is a regular Station for the changing of Stage-Coach Horses, and otherwise a well-frequented House of good business; containing a good sized Parlour, Tap-Room. Bar, and small Parlour adjoining, all in front, a back Kitchen, Pantry and two Cellars, and five neat Bed-rooms and a Lumber Room.

This House is Brick and Tiled

The Out-buildings are as follows, viz:- A Stable for eight Horses brick and tiled, with Piggery adjoining; Wood Shed, posts and thatched; a range of Stabling, weather-boarded and tiled, containing one Stable with four stalls, and open Stable for five Horses, and another for four Horses, with Hen-house adjoining; an inclosed Chaise-house, and an open one.

5 - The Site of the above Buildings,
with Yard and good Garden £0 1s 20d
4 - The Rick Yard behind the Garden
now used with the Farm £0 1s 24d
16 - The Three Acres across the Road,
adjoining the South side of Swan meadow - £3 0s 16d

Total quantity of Lot 7, all in the
Parish of North Mimms £3 3s 20d

All Freehold. Appointment of Land-Tax, 3/-,The Timber, Saplings, and Pollards, on this Lot, to be paid for, are valued at 23/-. This is one of the most desirable Public House Properties that any Proprietor can possess.

The publicans were not always happy with the landowners’ terms. Charles Chatman gave up the Swan in its later years because he refused to pay an increase in rent; but that had been imposed by a later, less prudent Gaussen.

Their relationships with the labourers and the poor were more simple but sometimes more varied. This might arise because the publicans quite often had a second occupation. John Massey at the Maypole was blacksmith and farrier as well as licensee. That dual business was continued throughout the nineteenth century by generations of Masseys including Mrs Mary Ann Massey, in 1870. Andrew Bodger retailed beer at the Hope and Anchor but he also worked as a carpenter which linked him with a different set of people. At the Woodman the licensee George Dickens spread his interests as grocer. The sale of beer was not their only service to the labourers. Friendly or Benefit Societies often met in the public houses as did the Amicable Friendly Society at the Swan in the 1850s. One may speculate how much the relationship and behaviour was affected by a woman holding the licence. There were several of them. Mrs Eliza Blow of the Builders Arms in Little Heath, Mrs Hannah Bodger at the Hope & Anchor, Ann Small and Elizabeth White successively at the Swan and Mrs Harriett Dickens of the Woodman as well as Mrs Hannah Speary at the Sibthorp, all ruled the public house at different times during the nineteenth century. There is no record of their ever clashing with the law.

The law, as well as keeping an eye on the publicans, also called on their services. Occasionally Quarter and Petty Sessions met for a special purpose in a public house, The Justices held a special session at the White Hart in 1800 to consider the diversion of a road from Colney Heath via Shenley to Ridge Hill. More onerous was the liability to service as jurors. Among those who qualified for jury service by being assessed for the Poor Rate on a value of not less than £20 were the licensee at the White Hart, Robert Franklin, .James Welch of the Bell and John Massey, the farrier at the Maypole. Mixing with their fellow jurymen brought them into a wider community than the parish. Some publicans such as Edward Woolley of the Swan in the l880s also qualified as parish overseer and undertook that duty in the community. In that capacity he knew all about the values of the property and the rate assessments in the parish.

It seems that the publicans of North Mymms stood in well, for the most part, with farmers, labourers and landowners and with the law. There were, of course exceptions. The Hope & Anchor was fined in 1838 and the Bell two years after. Some forty years later the parish constable, William Cozens, was called out on three occasions to quell disturbances at the Swan. Their relations with that other great institution, the church. was another matter. A change began to take place in the mid nineteenth century as the temperance movement gathered strength.

Before that time there appears to have been no conflict between the drink trade and the church. The custom of paying a publican for beer for the church bell ringers went back to the eighteenth century and probably beyond. In 1762 the churchwardens paid Thomas Gurney of the Maypole £1 for four days’ ringing and in the following year £l 17s 6d. for eight days’ ringing. Perhaps that was to celebrate the victorious end of the Seven Years War with France. The Maypole continued to provide the church with this service. Mrs Chaffey, the licensee refreshed the ringers for eight days bell pulling in 1820 and 1821 and her successor John Massey carried on in the 1830s.

The year 1830 was a turning point in the drink trade. A campaign to free the trade in beer, but not in spirits, from the control of the authorities culminated in the Beer Act of that year. It was also argued that if beer and spirits were sold separately and the duty on beer was removed, people would switch from gin to beer. Therefore there should be beer shops distinct from the existing public houses. The Bill was popular in Parliament and in the country; it passed the second reading by 245 votes to 29. The opposition came from the magistrates who were responsible for public order and the publicans who organised petitions against the Bill because their sale of beer would be open to competition. Colonel Sibthorp, opposing, expressed the prejudices of the country gentry. In effect, after 1830 any householder assessed to the poor rate could obtain a licence to sell beer on or off the premises simply by paying two guineas a year to the excise.

After the Act there was much criticism of its effect on law and order. The beershops, which proliferated throughout England, were said to be centres for poachers and poaching was not regarded as a crime by their customers. One drinking place for each village had been the custom but now the beershops outside the magistrates’ control had made it more difficult to supervise the labourers’ recreation. In North Mymms the first mention of one of them, the Woodman at Water End, where the Maypole had been long established as an inn, is in 1843 as a beerhouse with a blacksmith. Soon after it was in the hands of a resident brewer Robert Bradshaw. A second beershop was by 1841 apparently conducted by James Mansfield in Welham Green. And at a third, also in Welham Green, James Hutson retailed beer. Thus Hannah Speary at the Duke of Leeds (later the Sibthorp Aims) had plenty of competition for the sale of beer and Welham Green probably had three beer sellers all to itself. The people of Roestock were not neglected; they could buy their beer from James Freeman.

The bell ringing connection with the church was transferred from the Maypole to James Hutson at the Hope & Anchor, in 1849 - "Hutson for 6 days ringing £1 16s 0d." It was strengthened by his ability as organist for which service the churchwardens paid him £5 a year for some years. The connection of both kinds ended by 1852. It is a moot point whether this happened because Hutson gave up the beershop soon after, being over sixty five, or whether the growth of temperance views in the church was responsible. The evangelical group in the Church of England began to turn towards teetotalism. Thomas Cook had run his temperance excursion train in 1841. The Church of England Temperance Society started in 1862 and spread the message with its own magazine. By that time the Rev Horace Meyer had been vicar of North Mymms for seven years. His view was, "The public house is amongst the most formidable obstacles the Gospel has to contend with. The licensees and the beersellers perhaps reciprocated that sentiment. None of them were among the three hundred and fifty parishioners who signed the address to the parting vicar.

Photograph of The Sibthorpe, Welham Green c1902
The Sibthorpe, Welham Green c1902

That conflict of interests grew sharper under Meyer’s successor, the Rev Arthur Latter, who established a branch of the United Kingdom Temperance Society in 1876. That summer he wrote in the parish magazine:

"The hay season, which is just beginning, will, of course, be a time of temptation to many engaged in it. The hard labour and the great exertion and fatigue, in what is often a very hot time of the year, make men require a larger amount of drink than they would ordinarily take. And our good friends the Farmers will be doing a real kindness to their labouring men, if they will provide for them an abundant supply of tea, with milk and sugar, which will quench the thirst, support the strength as well, and even better, than beer, and leave no injurious effect behind. Men do not get tipsy on tea; and they never feel after it the feverishness and inaptitude for work, with which many a man begins the day, when, on the previous night, his thirst has led him to take more beer than was really good for him. Several of our Farmers, and employers of labour, have in previous years supplied tea to their labourers in the hay field and always with good result."

If the plan could be invariably adopted of the wages being paid, not so much per week, and so much beer, but the wages all paid in money, adding to the weekly wage what would have been given in beer; and then, in addition, give an abundant supply of tea - both the employer and the labourer would find they had made a good bargain. The employer would have his work better done in every way; the labourer would have more money in his pocket, and would be a stronger and healthier man at the end of the hay time, than he would have been under the old system of satisfying, or rather trying to satisfy, his thirst with beer.’

A month before he had written a lesson for the publicans’ customers: "Money which should be spent in providing the necessaries of life for the family and good education for the children is now so often spent on selfish indulgence to the benefit only of the publican and the beershop." And the next year he foretold what he hoped would be the effect of the Band of Hope: "Some of these children if not all will enter on life with the idea fixed in them that money spent at the Public House is money lost to the home and spent away from, and to the injury of, wife and children."

The Temperance Society flourished and the vicar’s claim that nearly a quarter of his parishioners were total abstainers could hardly have been good news for the publicans. They must have had mixed feelings as the Rev Latter organised a petition to Parliament, "signed by every goodly number of persons here" in favour of the Sunday Closing Bill of 1879. This was not the first or the last attempt to close the public houses on Sunday. The debate was lively. Opponents argued that the Bill was class legislation but supporters claimed that the working class in the North was in favour. In Parliament the mover of the Bill compromised by agreeing only to reduce hours of opening from 12.30 to 2.30 p.m. and 6 to 10pm to 1 to 2 p.m. and 6 to 10pm. But that was not enough and as the vicar reported, "public opinion was hardly ripe for such a measure, though the adjournment was carried by a majority of only three. The vicar was satisfied. What the publicans thought of his argument that the publican will be allowed his one day’s rest from labour in seven as well as the other members of the community is not known.

The place of the publicans in the community became therefore a smaller one than before. If the Temperance Society could claim one hundred and eighty abstainers from drink (including the Rev Latter) as it did in 1883, the publicans must surely have suffered. Some of the Society members were women no doubt but that number of abstainers in an adult male population of about three hundred meant that the drinkers had much diminished. There was the example of William Marlborough, railway platelayer who told a meeting: "At one time on Sunday morning he was hankering after his beer and hanging about the public house, waiting until half past twelve for the doors to open; but now since he had been a teetotaller, he cleaned himself on Sunday morning and found his way down to church; and that money which used to be spent on beer now went to make his home comfortable and to pay for the clothing of his family."

The publicans still had a central role in the parish community, but the last word may be left with the crusading vicar: "Gradually but surely a good many of our labouring men we beginning to think there must be ‘something in it’ when one after another of their own neighbours and fellow workmen were beginning to tell them that they could work just as well, nay, even better without the beer’."



As the Crimean War was drawing to its close in January 1856, at a cost of 25,000 lives and 70 million British pounds, two magistrates in Hertford, G W Brassey and Abel Smith junior, ordered John Dymock of North Mymms to be "removed and conveyed’ away to the parish of Ridge. Dymock, a 56-year-old agricultural labourer, had been living with relatives at Water End.

The order may seem curious today when men can be prevented from travelling from one county to another. That Victorian removal was, however, quite lawful, even if today’s practice may be dubious. It was ordered under the Settlement Law of 1662 as amended in 1846. This law was only for the poor. A person had a right to relief from his parish if he had a settlement in it. Originally he could have a settlement only if he or his forbears had been born in the parish but by John Dymock’s time a settlement depended on five year’s residence. If that was not the case the man, woman or child receiving poor relief would be carted off to wherever he or she had a settlement. Relief could be medical and this was so in Dymock’s case but the responsibility for paying it depended on whether the disability was temporary or permanent.

The justices’ order to the churchwardens and overseers of the poor in North Mymms on the elaborate legal document – "Whereas Complaint hath been made to us" etc - stated Dymock had no legal settlement in North Mymms, not having lived there five years, but was receiving relief and therefore must be removed to Ridge where he had one. Ridge appealed in Quarter Sessions against the removal order on the grounds that Dymock was only temporarily, not permanently sick. Then began a legal battle with solicitors and counsel briefed on either side.

North Mymm’s solicitor became busy preparing the defence against Ridge, and his charges mounted up. First he had to confer with William Goulburn, the assistant overseer of the poor. Goulburn had been the schoolmaster for many years and knew all about parish affairs. Next he visited R W Gaussen JP and churchwarden for his instructions, these two items being charged for at 13s 4d. The opinion of the medical officer Dr Drage concening Dymock’s illness had to be sought - 5s 6d.

At this point the North Mymms solicitor, realising the weakness of his case, asked Ridge to withdraw its appeal. When Ridge refused he proposed that North Mymms should "abandon" the Order. This meant further conference with William Goulburn so that he could put it to the Vestry but the Vestry persisted in its case. There was nothing else for it but to brief counsel (£4 9s 6d.) and to issue subpoenas to Mr Kite the workhouse master, Dr Drage and the relieving officer Myoneth. Finally he wrote to the other North Mymms churchwarden Samuel Blakey, farmer of 400 acres at Potterells, requesting his attendance at Court. Blakey was to bring with him "the Pauper" i.e. Dymock who incidentally was now in service, not in North Mymms nor in Ridge but in South Mimms.

The scene was now set for the Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions of Easter 1856. The result? Ridge failed to enter its appeal in Court and consequently it was ordered to pay North Mymms’s costs. Some one had slipped up. Ridge had to pay £32 3s 10d. As for John Dymock, his illness had ceased before the original Order was signed, sealed and delivered, and he had left North Mymms, not to return. He was fortunate.

William Goulburn had a number of other cases to deal with in the l850s and 1860s. It was always a question whether a pauper living in another Parish which wanted to remove him or her to North Mymms, had a settlement in North Mymms by birth or residence. If the answer was yes North Mymms had to receive the pauper. Goulburn’s enquiries about settlement, sometimes made through solicitor Longmore, were directed towards preventing any additional burden on the parish rates.

The cases were often straightforward but they could be so involved as to necessitate legal opinion. A pauper could, under the Settlement Act of 1861 one of many amendment to the law, become "irremovable" by virtue of three years’ residence. In the case of Mary Langton, Longmore had to advise North Mymms in 1863 that she had lost that status at Stoke Newington where she lived because North Mymms had given her relief, and therefore the parish was liable to receive and support her. Parishes throughout England were engaged in such disputes right into the 20th century. Removals of the poor in their thousands persisted until the second world war. The Settlement Law remained until it was abolished by the Labour government in 1948.

Picture of a map of North Mymms Parish from 1896



Cherry Dell is a small field, or close as it was formerly called, at the west end of Hawkshead Lane, about a hundred yards above the little bridge over the Mimmshall Brook. Long ago it was known as a good place for game. 0n 2 October 1836, a labourer, James Keep, saw three men in the field with three dogs in full cry. He asked them what business they had there to which one of them replied, "Well, I am only here after a rabbit and if I catch it I will kill it." Keep told them to clear off, but they refused. Keep then went to tell the landowner’s bailiff. As a result, early in November William Pilgrim and James Pratchett, were up before the magistrates at Barnet’s new police station, charged with trespassing for game. The third man charged, Pratchett’s brother Thomas did not make an appearance.

The prosecutor was the bailiff, John Tappenden. He was a man of some standing and substance who lived in Bell Bar with his family and a farm servant called Charles Banks. Tappenden served the squire of Potterells, William C Casamajor, resident and farmer there since the early years of the century when he had been visited and commended by the agricultural expert Arthur Young. Casamajor’s exotic name came from a family of wealthy West Indian merchants. At Potterells he enjoyed the benefits of a splendid house which were also shared, to a modest degree, by his butler and his family, his footman and half a dozen female servants. The two young men, Pilgrim a whitesmith of Water End and Pratchett a bricklayer of Pancake Hall, faced the bench. Respectable artisans, they were not among the poor of the parish for whom poaching might be necessary to keep the wolf from the door. They were not to be put upon by any one, least of all by a labourer such as James Keep. When Keep had given his evidence, Pilgrim on being asked if he had anything to say, drew himself up, stuck his hands in his pockets and with the utmost dignity replied. Yes, I have a question to put to Mister Keep that will bother him to answer. Pray Sir, did I not leave the Dell? To this the witness said no. But Pilgrim who had considered his line of defence, had another question: Pray Sir, what posture was I in when you saw me? Did I not stand thus?" (with hands in pockets) But Keep replied that he did not know. Pilgrim insisted on repeating the question forcibly, loud and clear, so as to emphasise that he had his hands in his pockets at the time of the alleged offence, but he could get no confirmation from Keep.

Pilgrim’s dignity was further at risk when a second witness, William Brown "a simple country lad", who had been with Kemp, innocently referred to him as Bill Pilgrim. That would not do and Pilgrim, laying his hand on the lad’s shoulder, solemnly corrected him - ‘William Pilgrim, if you please!", only to provoke laughter on the bench. The defence of his partner in crime, Pratchett, was that he had gone to gather nuts. Pi]grim’s, equally plausible, was that he was in the field to ring some strayed pigs; "he had gone to search that there deli for them there sows." It was all to no avail. Both men were convicted but the penalty was mitigated to a fine of £2 each plus costs or two months hard labour in default of payment.

On being removed the angry Pilgrim told the officers not to touch him, declaring that he was ‘every inch a man". All the same, he returned to the court to plead mercy. Meeting with no response, he paid the fine on the spot and retired in a rage. James Pratchett was given a fortnight to pay, being not so well supplied with ready cash. As for the absentee Thomas Pratchett, a warrant for his arrest was issued but what happened thereafter is lost in obscurity.

They were by no means the only parish poachers to be caught throughout the 1830s, 40s and 50s. The punishment for day poaching was usually a fine or in default of payment a corresponding period of hard labour in the House of Correction. The fine varied according to the seriousness of the offence and the mood of the magistrates, depending on whether the defendant was merely ‘trespassing in search of game", or had a gun or a dog, or was setting snares, or had actually taken rabbits, hares or birds. It was usually beyond the means of the labourer.

James Pratchett continued to brave the Game Laws in the 1830s and twice more fell foul of them. Along with him there were quite a few - Thomas Sams, George and Thomas Cornwell, David Cox, George Rands, William Dell, William Ward. all fined for various amounts. Others followed into the 1850s. John Rand convicted of shooting partridge on W Lysely’s land at Mimwood was perhaps lucky to be fined only £2 l0s. 0d with 15s. 6d costs or indefault six weeks’ hard labour.

There were James Morris’s trespass in search of rabbits - £2 and 15s. 6d or two months in the House of Correction; George Collins, Chas Maddams and Charles Pope - for the same offence only 30s, plus costs; George Long’s snaring on Gaussen property costing him £5 plus costs or three months hard labour; Frederick Sleet and Thomas Tapster for the same - 40s plus l0s. 9d or two months; James Plumb for setting snares for pheasants - 50s.; William Constable, described as an old offender, for snaring hares belonging to R W Gaussen - £5 or three months. William Pew, ‘a healthy, tidy and good looking agricultural youth" set snares for hares at Tollgate Farm, was convicted on the evidence of R W Gaussen’s gamekeeper George Tuley and was fined £2 plus cost which was duly paid. Thomas Tapster again and John Sleet for setting snares, for pheasants this time, in Colonel Sibthorp’s wood - £5 and costs or three months hard labour.

Allowances could be made. In January 1856 the young William Harris led astray by an older man was seen to trespass in a wood with a gun and dog and take a rabbit and a hare. The watcher, James Wanstell told them that he would inform ‘Squire Gaussen" who let some land to the youth’s father. Harris senior, a haybinder, explained to the Court that his son had no previous offences, that he was out of work because of the frost and had therefore got into mischief. The penalty was £2 l0s. 0d plus costs or two months. The father pleaded for part of the fine to be paid there and then with time allowed for the rest and, contrary to custom, this was allowed.

All the above were North Mymms men. Sometimes an outsider came in to get what he could from Squire Gaussen’s coverts. A desperate character occasionally appears such as Joseph Griffiths who, when he had been fined £2 for trespassing for rabbits, was shown to have been sentenced to death for highway robbery, commuted to transportation and subsequently had had eight years in gaol. But throughout the 1850s the labourers of the parish continued to defy the Game Laws. Variations in the penalties depended on the circumstances. It was "three respectable looking lads, Joseph Shambrook, Jeremiah Drummond and William Long, who got away with a 5s fine and l0s costs each for killing a pheasant at Lower Woodside. The extenuating facts were that they got the bird while they were hoeing turnips on farmer Tingey’s fields and when village constable William Dunn called on the culprits they produced their prize. The moderate fine of 20s plus costs or one-month was levied on William Field and David Read when they "trespassed for conies’ at Leggatts. In contrast, the chronic offender Thomas Tapster incurred £5 and costs or three months hard labour for shooting partridges. Two respectable labourers, Thomas White and Joseph Staines informed on him, telling the court that as they were going to church on Sunday they saw Tapster fire a gun from the road and pick up the birds. Tapster had a record; he had been convicted at County Petty Sessions on seven occasions and had been in St Albans gaol three times. He pleaded to be let off more lightly, without success, and then to the surprise of all present he paid the fine on the spot.

There were fewer of the more serious offence of poaching by night, punishable by transportation until it was abolished in 1853 and then by longer terms of imprisonment. One offender Thomas Sams in 1851 escaped transportation but received six months in gaol plus finding sureties for the following twelve months. The parish was well stocked with game; shooting rights were an important property. And as poaching increased during the century so did the gamekeepers to keep pace with it from only two in the parish in 1841 to eight forty years later. None of them were local men, no doubt a prudent policy. But there is little doubt that the poachers who were not caught out numbered those who were. A few indeed were caught but acquitted for though the gamekeeper’s evidence was usually enough to convict there were exceptions.

One of them was Thomas Tapster again, twenty four year old illiterate labourer, charged along with three others in 1850 with night poaching from Fulke GrevilIe of North Mymms Park. The under keeper William West gave evidence; he had known Tapster since infancy. But unbreakable alibis got him off. James Morris also appeared at the County Petty Sessions in the following year for poaching on Col Sibthorp’s land. He and three other men were seen by keeper John Burr walking in the woods as if searching for game, but without dogs or snares. They were defended by the Hertford solicitor Longmore. Perhaps that helped the chairman to decide that "the keeper had been too quick on them" and to dismiss the case. What of the punishment? Most of the men convicted could not pay their fines and so performed hard labour. Hard labour in Hertford House of Correction in the 1860s consisted of "the treadmill, crank labour for pumping water, oakum picking, making mats and matting and cleaning." Hertford where most of the convicted parish poachers were sent had had a treadmill since the 1830’s. Originally used to grind corn for the prison and for sale, it was later only a punishment device for forty men at a time. Treading the mill was carefully calculated. The height of each step was seven and a half inches, the number of steps per minute - 48, the number per day in winter 13,440, in summer 16,120. The prisoner trod on the mill, known as the ‘shin scraper’ , wearing shoes with thick wooden soles, in spells of quarter of an hour or twenty min utes for a maximum of seven hours per day in winter, eight and a half in summer, all in silence. Any one who spoke or turned round was punished. While the novice tried to mount the revolving steps the old lag waited for the step to rise to his level. Such a case hardened offender was the "man of considerable intelligence" who told the Inspector in 1862 that he had, "eaten his last five Christmas dinners in the prison having on each occasion been convicted of poaching and worked on the treadmill.’

Photograph of Gamekeepers, Brookmans 1904
Gamekeepers, Brookmans 1904

Poaching was one thing, theft and assault was another. Offences against property were much more frequent than those against the person even though these included matrimonial conflicts. For theft, a whipping was often added for many years to a term in prison. In 1831 John Pedder, of North Mymms was given three months hard labour and a whipping for stealing James Welch’s smock frock. In the same decade others who received the lash included Frederick Pointon for theft of a coat valued at 15s., George Rands of Welham Green and James Plummer for stealing hay and wheat, Charles Bennett for theft of knives of 1s value. This punishment continued into the 1850s for Charles Squires, a lad of fifteen. for theft of a flannel jacket after "he had had a good deal to drink". A year before he had been had up for stealing peas; P C Dunn, had been asked "to frighten" him because his relatives complained that he had robbed them. The boy had lost his mother; now he was to lose his liberty for fourteen days as well as receive a whipping. Another, John Allen, a Welham Green labourer, was sentenced to three months hard labour and whipping for the theft of seven fowls and three turkeys from farmer Pilgrim.

The evidence in that case was that the nail marks of his boot fitted exactly the marks he had left in the snow. The value of evidence from boot nails became well known, some time later, Thomas Carrington also a labourer, faced a charge of stealing three fowls from his master Frederick Gunter, of Bell Bar farm in December 1856, perhaps for his Christmas dinner. When Inspector English from Hatfield had visited the suspect he found that Carrington had removed his boots and had had the foresight to extract some nails from them, which however the inspector found. Unfortunately Carrington’s footprints in the rickyard corresponded with his boots, except for the missing nails, and this was enough to earn him three months hard labour.

Whipping had a long history. In the eighteenth century the philosopher Jeremy Bentham envisaged a machine which would administer the lash impartially. In Hertford in the 1830s the number of lashes with the cat of nine tails varied between thirty and sixty; in one year, 1836, twenty one men were "privately whipped’. For juveniles it was the birch. In the 1850s thirty-six strokes with the birch rod were given for stealing turnip tops. A fee was payable for whipping boys - 1s per boy.

Yet another kind of punishment was ‘Solitary’. Fathered by the reformer John Howard in the London Penitentiaries, solitary confinement was meant to be benevolent. The offender was to reflect on his crime, realise his guilt and become a reformed man. Some North Mymms men had the benefit of this practice.

The motive for imposing solitary in some cases but not in others is not clear, but perhaps it may be inferred from what is known of the following in the l840s: George Squires for stealing barley valued at three pence from his master John Massey - four weeks hard labour and two weeks solitary; Joseph Howard for theft of £3 6s. 2d from John Hutchins of Roestock - six month hard labour of which the first and the last weeks in solitary (a double opportunity for repentance); John Justice for theft of a shirt from Charles Flint junior - only one week’s solitary. Continuing into the 1850s William Rands was one who got into trouble. He pleaded guilty to the theft of pieces of wood from Thomas Brassey the railway contractor then building the Great Northern Railway, and was given three months hard labour including solitary for one week, the lad Charles Squires, mentioned above, received solitary to reinforce the effect of the whip. In his case one month’s hard labour with a week in solitary and the whipping were for the stolen jacket and six weeks hard labour including a week solitary on the second charge of theft of a clasp knife and two pounds of beef in Hatfield.

Even so, the treadmill and the whip were preferable to transportation to Australia or Tasmania. Those Members of Parliament who served on the Select Committee of 1837 showed some understanding of the labouring poor when they reported:

"Exile is a very severe punishment to persons who have strong affections for their native land, for their kindred, and for their acquaintances. Generally speaking, it is most dreaded by those offenders against the laws of their country, who may be termed accidental criminals; that is to say, by those who have not made a trade in crimes, but who have been induced to commit crimes by the impulse of the moment, or by some accidental combination of circumstances, or by some powerful temptation; and who may, in many cases, be possessed of good moral feelings. Transportation, though chiefly dreaded as exile, undoubtedly is much more than exile; it is slavery as well; and the condition of the convict slavery as well; and the condition of the convict slave is frequently a very miserable one. The punishment of exile is viewed with apprehension by offenders from the agricultural districts, who entertain a horror being removed from the land of their birth."

Those may well have been the feelings of North Mymms men who were transported. In the 1830s they were John Coleman, Joseph Harding and George Brown for the theft of £1 from a fellow labourer; James Ewington convicted of stealing a gun worth 5s. and three ducks worth 6s. from farmer Franklin; John Ansell for stealing a turkey from farmer Mary Chappell, all for seven years. Then in 1842 seven years was also the sentence of James Greenham for taking food worth 3s. 11d, from Mary Hart of Redhall farm. In the few years before abolition of transportation other men were shipped overseas. James Plummer was sent for trial to the Old Bailey where that was the likely sentence, for he, a carter at Little Heath farm, was charged with the theft of clover and meadow hay from Thomas Kemble Esq JP. William Gilbert convicted of stealing four ducks and two hens from Joseph Tingey, the farmer at Tollgate, was given a longer exile of fourteen years for he had two previous convictions. The evidence against him came from fellow labourers who, as they were "reposing in Tingey’s rickyard", saw the awful deed. In the same year, 1851, the theft of meat in Welham Green led to William Rands being transported for seven years. His wife had left him with three young children to care for. His case aroused some interest in the press:

"William Rands, aged 33, labourer, of North Mimms, was charged with feloniously breaking and entering the house of Mr James Littlechild, at North Mimms, and stealing therefrom a piece of mutton and apiece of beef. It appeared that the prosecutor, who kept a grocers shop at North Mimms, left some beef and mutton on the counter in his shop when he went to bed, a little after ten o’clock. The shop was properly fastened up and the next morning it had been entered and some of the beef and mutton taken away. Suspicion fell on the prisoner, who had been in the shop for a loaf of bread, at ten o’clock; and, on his house being searched, some beef was found, which was identified by the prosecutor. On his person was found a shoulder of mutton bone, which corresponded to the knucklebone left at Prosecutors shop. Prisoner said he was innocent as a child three weeks old, and nobody had ever seen him in the shop". The jury returned a verdict of guilty. A former conviction was proved and the prisoner was transported for seven years". After his conviction his three daughters, Eliza 10, Elizabeth 8 and Emma 5, were taken into the Hatfield workhouse.

Young delinquents also were about occasionally. At the County Petty Sessions in 1849 the brothers William and James Brooks, aged 18 and 20, labourer’s sons of Tollgate Cottage, faced charges of many robberies and assault on the police. At their first appearance in court the charge was theft of a mare from Downes Farm, Hatfield. But this was only the beginning, previously they had been arrested at Buntingford for stealing four fowls and had given false names and addresses. Meanwhile they went to Tewin and stole a copper warming pan from a labourer. On their second appearance before the Bench the matter was more serious. Continuing their travels they had reached Roe Hyde, Hatfield, begged for money, asked for work from farmer Wicks and finally stole his two donkeys, value £6. Unfortunately for them inspector Evans was on patrol at midnight. Between the Red Lion, Hatfield and Potters Bar he saw two men riding donkeys and when he stopped them William struck him drawing blood. The two brothers were committed for trial at the Assizes. Anything less then transportation was unlikely.

In contrast petty offenders who got off lightly abounded. Isaac Taylor, that uncommon person in 1851 a yearly servant was charged with staying out late and neglecting the work of his master, Joseph Hunt of Red Hall farm. As he promised to behave better he was only given a caution and made to pay 2s. 6d. to Hunt. The same year John Wright committed the crime of cutting turf on the heath in North Mymms, the property of lord of the manor Fulke Greville for which he paid l0s. and costs. When pheasants could not be got at their eggs were fair game. When William Kingham took nine pheasants eggs he was made to pay 5s. for each, and James Plumb, found to have stolen four eggs, incurred a penalty at the same rate plus costs or four weeks’ hard labour. Partridge’s eggs were the choice of young James Longstaffe who took fifteen at Mimwood where he worked under the gardener Henry Johnson. Johnson gave evidence but W J Lyseley, future Member of Parliament, would have forgiven the boy if he had not taken his apples as well, and so the penalty was 5s. or fourteen days in gaol. Fourteen days was also the penalty paid by George Deards. convicted of ‘embezzling £1 l0s. from the hay carter at Leggatts and spending the proceeds at Hoo races.

Need, however, was the cause of many thefts, particularly of food and wood for fuel. Whether it was so for Mrs Posnett is open to doubt, though she "borrowed" rather than stole. The wife of a railway labourer who resided in "a miserable hovel in Welham Green" she was accused of the theft of a brass stew pan from the widow Giles, but was discharged. The pan was found under William Posnett’s bed but "as there was no evidence how it got there" he too was absolved and the stew pan was restored to its owner. For William Marlborough though, it was a case of necessity when he helped himself to a farmer’s turnips. (The taking of turnips or only turnip tops was not uncommon in emergency). He was disabled and destitute because of the failure of his benefit club. A nominal fine of sixpence without costs was imposed. In the upshot in 1851 James Ansell and George Jones, stewards of the Amicable Friendly (sic) Society meeting at the Swan Inn, Bell Bar, were summoned to pay Marlborough the sum due to him arising from his accident. AnselI’s defence was that as there was only £200 in the bank he had decided to close down and "gather his resources for a new career", all without the members’ assent. The Bench could not interfere because the Society was not registered under the Act and they could only remonstrate with the stewards for Marlborough to be given six weeks benefit. All Ansell would do was to give the opinion of the Bench to a meeting of the Society and whether Marlborough got his money to pay the fine is not known. Such benefit clubs were the background to the vicar’s decision in the 1860s to start the parish welfare clubs, subsidised by the gentry as they were.

If the offences of poaching and petty theft were numerous, those of assault and violence against the person were much less so and less serious. Few as they were, the cause was usually poaching or sex, an assault on a gamekeeper or a matrimonial dispute. William Seymour found guilty of assault on Sarah Smith in the 1830s was merely fined £1 l0s. In the same years when James Welch assaulted Gaussen’s gamekeeper, Charles Flint, he was only fined. In contrast, the same James Welch, former licensee of The Bell, and WilliamTaylor, convicted of stealing harness from The Bell, were given a year’s hard labour and a whipping.

Men who neglected their dependants, whether legitimate or not were also dealt with by Petty Sessions, especially if the burden fell on the parish. They issued maintenance orders in respect of bastard children for half a crown or so a week on the putative fathers.

Neglect within the family was more of a problem for the magistrates. ‘All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion’. The trails and tribulations of James and Eliza Bovingdon appear in chapter four. For carpenter John Lindop in 1850 the threat of violence was from his wife. Any undue charge on the parish was serious and his offence was that he made his wife and child chargeable to North Mymms parish while he could support them himself. After he had abandoned them they went to the workhouse for four days before being rescued by his father in law. His apparently reasonable excuse was that "there was no peace or comfort at home’ because of his wife’s temper. She had threatened to stab him and cut his throat. The father in law complained that it was hard on him since the husband was earning 30s a week in London; could he not be compelled to support his family? But the Bench said no, unless the expense came on the parish. They did, however, order Lindop to pay the cost of four days in the workhouse, which was 3s. 6d, plus legal costs which were rather more at l7s. This he paid at once. The magistrates could only admonish the unhappy pair to ‘make it up and live together", as they had the Bovingdons.

Photograph of Hatfield Police Force
Hatfield Police Force

On the whole North Mymms seems to have had its fair share of what the authorities called rural crime. Poaching was the chief offence and the rest was mainly petty theft. The poachers were numerous, sometimes persistent, offenders against the laws protecting the landowners’ game The motives were mixed - need, defiance, sport, the right to take wild animals. Rabbits and hares were a different kind from pheasants; ‘the leveret is wild’, but it belonged to the landowner. If poaching was an offence by the poor against the rich, theft was too often a matter of the poor robbing the poor and informing against each other. The facts suggest that North Mymms people were no more law abiding than elsewhere, and the record is only of those who were caught.



An enormous number of women were in domestic service, it was by far their biggest occupation. They were housekeepers, cook housekeepers, cooks, kitchenmaids, scullery maids, lady’s maids, upper and lower housemaids, ‘tween maids, nursery maids, laundry maids. In 1851 there where over one million of them. But that was not enough to keep pace with the increasing wealth of the upper and middle classes. Thirty years later the number had grown to one and a half million and by 1900 it had leaped to two million. The men were not so numerous but as butlers, footmen, pages. coachmen, grooms and gardeners they rose from some two hundred thousand to double that number in the years before 1914.

North Mymms was not behind in this onrush. The servants in the parish rose from 111 in 1851 to 167 in 1881, almost exactly in proportion to the nation. It was a much bigger increase than the parish population, which grew only nine per cent. Everyone who had the money was demanding personal service, and for poor women there was little choice but to provide it.

The servants resident in the parish were of several kinds. The chief difference was between those in the big houses with many servants and those who, often employed by a farmer or a person living on dividends, were maids of all work. North Mymms had half a dozen such big houses and they had about half of the total servants and nearly all the butlers and footmen. Another division was that between the indoor domestics and the outdoor men and women - gardeners, coachmen and grooms. It was among these that the most marked increase occurred in the parish. Gardeners and a coachman indicated their masters’ standing in society. Whereas in the 1850s there were coachmen only at North Mymms Park (as it was called), Lcggatts, Little Heath House and at Brookmans (with two), thirty years later there were ten of them, with Hawkshead House, Moffats, Mimwood, Heronfield and Heath House added. Coachmen had their grooms, or rather the most prestigious one did, since the grooms increased by only one. The lesser coachmen had to care for their horses themselves. Nearly all these men were "furriners", from all parts of the country. Only one groom John Perry, a lad of sixteen, was parish born.

Furriners are here defined as those who were not born in North Mymms. Of course, there were many other servants whose parents had moved into the parish and who would not then have been considered as furriners if they or their parents had resided in the parish for some years. The servants brought many furriners" into the parish. The retinues in the big houses were nearly all gathered from all parts of the country and even from abroad. In the 1 850s of the fifteen servants at North Mymms Park only one was native or locally born Emma Phipps in the lowly situation of scullery maid; none among the eight at Leggatts and of the six at Brookmans only the groom Joseph Reddington. The curate Henry Crawford employed two girls one of whom, fifteen years old Anne Day, daughter of an agricultural labourer as many of them were, was a native. The natives among those serving the gentry were still very few thirty years later: Job Burr footman at Brookmans, Ellen Sibley housemaid keeping Potterells clean, Annie Burgess doing the housework at the vicarage in the company of the Rev Batty’s cook and footman from foreign parts. In the expanding hamlet of Little Heath James Hocombe, the solicitor of Osborne House employed the village girls Emily Childs as housemaid and Kate Pollard the fourteen year old kitchen maid along with two male servants from Kent.

The other, lesser servants, those in smaller houses where there were no men servants and often only one girl, had also usually moved into the parish. They or their parents had come mostly from neighbouring parishes or from farther off in Hertfordshire. Few girls or boys born in the parish found service in it, a mere dozen in 1851. They were Mary Fowler at Bell Bar; Emma Gidding who served the grocer and baker in Welham Green, widow Hannah Parsons, daughter in law of the licensee at The Old Maypole, Charles Pollard aged 14 son of a widowed straw plaiter, James Scrivenor groom at Mimwood, Emma Constable at Travellers, Ann Smith who cared for two old fund holders in Welham Green. Two others, Mary Smith and Sarah Bryant are mentioned elsewhere in chapter four on women workers. In addition there were a few servants who were living at farms. They were the wives and children of that disappearing breed the male farm servant. Jane Littlechild was at Skimpans, Elizabeth Draper at Hawkshead and Betsy Constable and her servant son James age 14 at Travellers.

A generation later, even fewer of these servants were North Mymms by birth, only three of them in a bigger total number. They were Emily Childs who lived at Reeves, Sarah Childs at Boltons Farm and John Perry mentioned above. Domestic service was an itinerant occupation. Few boys or girls born in the parish seem to have started their service in it. Perhaps some of them returned to it if there were vacancies.

In spite of the demand for servants there was a shortage of vacancies by the I880s. Earlier on there is no record of unemployment but the census for 188 shows no less than nine unemployed indoor servants. Three of them were middle aged - Selina Hart the butcher’s sister, Ann Valentine unemployed housekeeper and a lady’s maid Sarah Turner. The others were young enough to be waiting for their first situation. Elisabeth Chapman, Emily Harrow and Caroline Hill were the daughters of agricultural labourers and Mary Marlborough of an equally humble railway platelayer. Born in the parish they very probably attended the girls’ and infants school at Water End. The preparation for domestic service, which they received there, had had a doubtful outcome. Only a few years earlier the gentry had encouraged the connection between school and domestic service. At the Cottage Garden Show of 1872 it was announced that:

"Prizes will be also given to Female Servants, who have been brought up at our National School, and who have been longest in one situation since 1865, and who can bring a thoroughly good character from their present Mistress - Three prizes, 20/, 15/, 10/."

The prizes were duly awarded. The first went to Emily Childs with five years four months in one place, second to Anna Morris with five years in her present place, and third to Sarah Childs with three years four months also in her present place. Others were commended for their faithfulness: Selina Busby. Emma Edmunds, Sarah Hipgrave, Susan Bailey and Charlotte Gray. Eight girls had done what was expected of them. There was no shortage of contestants and perhaps this encouraged a surplus of servants later on.

The indoor servants were an example of the mobility of the parish people. The outdoor servants such as gardeners were equally so. In the 1850s there were fourteen gardeners, eight garden labourers and two garden women. Two of the gardeners had to double up, Charles Sheppard as groom at the vicarage and John Elliott as bailiff at Brookmans. The garden women were two widows, Elizabeth Pursell and Elizabeth Redington. The latter also gained a pittance by cleaning the church for 2s. 6d. a week. She had eight children aged nineteen, fifteen, eleven, nine, seven and seven, five and two and she had rent of £1. 5s. 0d. to pay to the squire of Brookmans. Her nine-year-old boy George was already a farm labourer along with his elder brother. Of the total of twenty-two, eighteen had migrated into the parish, some from nearby e.g. Essendon, a few from farther off, Kent and Surrey; John Elliott had come from Northumberland.

By the 1880s gardening had gone up in the world and there were thirty-nine head and under gardeners; but no such person as garden labourer. The increase was in Little Heath. That place now had nursery a of its own of three acres run by John Butterfield from Lilley, and there were thirteen gardeners in the hamlet where there had been only one before.

Very few of that considerable number were local men, most had come from all over the country, Wiltshire, Scotland, London, Devon whence Clement Serle at Moffats and John Gold at Moffats Lodge had migrated. The few born and bred in the parish who had turned to gardening bore old North Mymms names - William Longstaff and under gardener William Littlechild of Bell Bar, George Shadbolt of Welham Green, George Pollard of Pooleys Lane, Albert Nash at North Mymms Park.

The servants status depended a great deal on their situation. There was a large difference between the staff of the establishment at North Mymms Park or Potterells and the single-handed drudge in a modest household. The children of William Goulburn schoolmaster of Welham Green school were of the first kind. His two sons were livery footmen and his seventeen year old daughter served as housemaid at North Mymms Park. The two occupations were not far apart. By 1861 she had graduated to cook at Abdale.

Status also depended on the master’s position in the parish, this is exemplified by the characteristic incident of the pews in St Marys Church. The archdeacon of St Albans who was called in to settle that dispute wrote to the churchwardens on 14 January 1860:

I beg to communicate to you in writing the decision I expressed by word of mouth on my visit to North Mimms Church respecting the Pew occupied by Mrs Kemble and respecting the complaint made on behalf of Mr Lyseley’s tenant at Mimwood Farm, which had been brought to my notice.

1. In regard to Mrs Kembie’s Pew - although it is larger than her family now requires, yet, considering that she occupied one of equal accommodation on the same spot in the Church before it was re-pewed; considering too her position in the Parish; and especially that it did not appear than anyone was aggrieved or deprived of sittings in the Church through want of room. I saw no reason to disturb her, but confirmed her occupancy of that Pew.

2. In respect of Mr Lyseley’s tenant, Mr Milward, the complaint appears to me to be so far well founded viz., that he was not seated according to his rank and position in the Parish his Pew being behind those occupied by Mrs Kemble’s and Mr Lyseley's servants respectively, and I decided that he ought to be moved forward, the servants occupying Pews behind him in the order assigned to them by the Churchwardens; so that Mr Milward should occupy No.11 in the Plan of the Church submitted to me; Mrs Kemble’s servants No.12; - and Mr Lyseley’s servants 13.

I wish to notify you, at the same time that Churchwarder is in the assignment of Pews or sittings, should be careful to give precedence to resident occupiers and Ratepayers in the Parish, over the servants of private families. Under any circumstances, my opinion is, that, servants can have Pews assigned to them only upon sufferance - certainly not to the exclusion or prejudice of the Parishioners having claim to be seated. If after these have been provided for, further more remains, that more may fairly be assigned to the domestics of the resident Gentry, at the discretion of the Churchwardens. Even so, however, they would be liable to removal, should any fresh claim for seats on the part of Parishioners arise."

The churchwardens duly altered the allotment of pews.

Mrs Virginia Kemble and her son William of Leggatts lived on dividends from Government stock and were strong supporters of the Church. Their butler, footman, lady’s maid, cook, housemaid and kitchen maid had to move back behind the farmer. They were all "furriners". Presumably the outdoor staff had to do likewise though that would have been unfair since the two gardeners, George Wilshire and Alfred Samuel and the boy servant Henry Samuel were natives of North Mymms arid therefore had ‘a claim to be seated’ which the others had not. Did the old coachman William Samuel also have a claim since he had been at Lcggatts for many years? Even so, although they had to move back "on sufferance" they were still in front of the Lyseley servants from Mimwood, all furriners. Mrs Kemble’s servants had precedence over W I Lysely’s although he was a member of Parliament because of her long and high standing and benevolence in the parish.

The archdeacon made a clear distinction between gentry’s servants and parishioners a number of whom were also servants of a humbler sort. There was probably little relationship between the two. One exception proving the rule was James Cheeseman, the coachman at Brookmans and a native of Buckinghamshire. Two of his daughters were born in North Mymms and an elder daughter had become a teacher at Woodhill School. From the 1860s until the 1890s he was a pillar of the local branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, of which he was treasurer. Perhaps he received encouragement in this work from his paternalistic employer R W Gaussen who was, in fact one of the churchwardens to whom the archdeacon addressed his instructions. At any rate, there seem to have been few, if any, like him.

Photograph of Welham Green St. Alban's Road
Welham Green St. Alban's Road



Bell Bar is an old place with a history going back far beyond the years of this chapter. The "Bar" was probably the gate which controlled pasture on the common and it may have been named after the ancient Bell Inn which stood nearby.

In the ‘North Mymms Parish and People’, Dorothy Colville wrote:

"Bell Bar, the little hamlet that clustered about the gates of the manor of Brookmans, was a self contained community at the beginning of this century" (the 20th). "It had its own smithy and bakehouse, two farms, an inn, a mission room, a post office, nine or ten cottages. That community of about a hundred persons had even then lived for hundred years in the domain of the Gaussens of Brookmans who owned all the land and most of the property in Bell Bar. That had no doubt preserved the place, though it had undergone changes, and its people, many more."

The most dramatic change was twofold, the construction of the Great Northern Railway through the parish in 1850 and the diversion of the Great North Road from its route along the street of Bell Bar to its present position as the A1000 in the following year. These two events must have had a great effect on the inhabitants. For whereas the stir and bustle of the coaches from London to the North had been a daily event of their lives, the traffic was soon to vanish and some of the prosperity it brought with it. Kershaw’s Coach which ran from the Greyhound Smithfield to Hitchin every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, returning on Wednesdays and Fridays was taken off the road soon after the railway came.

The pecuniary loss was clearly seen by R W Gaussen the squire, if by no one else. In making his case for payment of £300 per acre for his land required by the railway company he gave details of what he expected to lose:

"In his village of Bell Bar there were formerly three public houses all doing a good business and paying high rents. One of these Mr Gaussen pulled down three years ago finding that the railroads had done so much injury to the North Road that there was only support left for 2 - The Bell and the Swan. Those two must of course follow the fate of the other, The White Hart, if the London and York Scheme should succeed and the rents be lost to Mr Gaussen. Another source of loss will arise from the cattle which now pass on their way to Smithfield, and which by paying considerably for their nights keep, enhance the value of the farms by the road side, not to mention the value of the manure; they will of course henceforth go by railway, and a fall of the rent of those farms ensues of course."

While Gaussen had, he wrote, "offered no vexatious impediment" to the railway, he got his price and the cost of diverting the North Road which passed his mansion was borne by the railway company. The effect of those two events on the villagers was, most likely, somewhat different. A comparison of the people of Bell Bar between 1851 and 1881 may tell what that difference was.

If, in the Spring of 1851, one had taken a walk along the half mile stretch of road which was Bell Bar, one could have started at Brookmans at the south end. This 17th century mansion was the home of R W Gaussen, the biggest landowner in the parish of North Mymms. He himself was not in residence but the butler, housekeeper, two housemaids, page and groom were awaiting his return. Of these, only the groom, Joseph Redington, was a native of the parish. In the stable block there were the coachman’s wife and her four young children. Close by lived the young gamekeeper, Joseph Tuley, his strawplaiter wife and two little children. A hundred yards away the lodge was the home of an elderly garden labourer, his wife and two daughters, one of whom worked as a seamstress. Next, a few yards further on, was the responsible figure of the farm bailiff (also a gardener), John Elliott, a young man of thirty three from Northumberland with his wife and little daughter, substantial enough to have a servant girl. In contrast, close by was the dairywoman, a widow of sixty living by herself.

Next was one of the two tenant farmers in the hamlet, Edward Fan who employed seven labourers on about 115 acres. The farmhouse, a tall shallow building with 18th century front, still stands today. Adjoining it, facing the road, were three cottages. The first must have been over full with an elderly farm worker, his wife, two sans of twenty two and thirteen, both in the same work as their father, a daughter of fourteen still at school and a pauper woman. But there was the undoubted advantage that R W Gaussen, his employer, charged no rent. The second cottage was even fuller. The elderly James Hawkins, who had lived in the parish for many years, was a coachman, his wife worked as a laundress, one of his two daughters did dressmaking and there was a son still at school. The Hawkins had four visitors that day - a son with his wife and baby, and a friend. The third cottage sheltered only an elderly widow, the charwoman Martha Shepherd and her road labourer son.

A few yards separated them from the wheelwright, young Joseph Holton, with his wife and baby son and his apprentice. Earning good money, he could afford his rent of £3. 10s. 3d. per quarter to Gaussen. The observer, proceeding northward, would then see on the same left hand side of the road five cottages all about the same size but with widely different numbers of inhabitants. In the first, Sarah Peddar, seventy five year old widow of a farm worker, was on parish relief along with her ‘afflicted" daughter; her son in law with her was employed as a labourer. The next two cottages were crowded with farm workers families each with five children. Only one child was a farm worker, so that Sarah, Rose, Henry and George Chalkley and Martha, Mary Ann, John, Eliza and William Burgess had plenty of playmates. Whereas the Burgesses lived rent free, the Chalkleys had to pay 15s. 9d. per quarter; a nicely calculated discrimination. In the household next door Thomas Stan, though only thirty-seven, was another pauper. His wife went out charring and there were four small children to support. Next to them James Billow, elderly widower and farm worker, had his cottage to himself. Only a few yards further on lived that important person, the baker of Bell Bar. The substantial foursquare house, rented from Gaussen at £2 a quarter, stood, and still stands, on the corner where Bull Lane leads off to Welham Green. Elizabeth Messer, had recently been left a widow with two small children at school but she had living with her the journeyman baker, an older man, who no doubt did the hard work, and a niece working as a dressmaker.

Picture of a drawing of Bell Bar by Buckler c1840
Bell Bar by Buckler c1840 - courtesy of Hertfordshire County Records Office (HCRO)

Across Bull Lane was Bell Bar Farm; the half timbered medieval farmhouse, still there today, was perhaps the oldest building in the hamlet. Once an inn, the White Swan, it was the resort of the drovers on their way to London with their cattle. At a sale in about 1815 it was described as ‘most eligibly situated by the side of the Great North Road, two Miles and a half short of Hatfield, and only seventeen from the Metropolis. The farm which consists of a Dwelling House (formerly the Swan lnn). Lath and Plaster and Tiled, near to the Seventeen-Mile Stone, containing Three Parlours, Hall, Kitchen, Brewhouse, Cellar, and Pantry, Seven Bedchambers, and One Garret. A Barn, of Two Bays, and a Threshing-place, with lean-to Chaff-house adjoining, Brick and Tiled. A Range of Stabling, Weather-boarded and Tiled, containing one for Six Horses, one for a single Horse, and another for Five Horses: another Range of Stabling for Twenty Horses, divided into six Apartments, with Hay Lofts over, Brick and Tiled. A Cowhouse for Nine Cows, with Calf-penns at each end, and Shed and Piggery adjoining. Weather-boarded and Thatched. A Cattle Shed, Posts and Thatched; Wood House, Boarded and Thatched; Cart Shed of Three Bays, Posts and Thatched; and a Chaise House adjoining, Boarded and Thatched; a high Shed for a loaded Cart to be placed under; and a Granary, claimed by the Tenant." And the land was 138 acres made up of meadow, pasture and amble. The current tenant in 1851, William Bolton from Warwickshire, farmed about 180 acres, mostly grass, worked by thirteen labourers. They were conveniently close to the last building, the White Swan. This public house had also been up for sale in the same year.

William Anderson had been the licensed victualler since he came from Bedfordshire in 1832. He and his wife with two young children had the help of his ostler nephew and a servant, Mary Valentine.

Now we cross the street and turn back on the other side, southwards, to where a cluster of cottages houses the blacksmith, the shoemaker, two farm labourers and the but1er’s family. One of the labourers old Henry English and his wife had a domestic servant living with them, probably a free lance. The other, young James Plummer, was fortunate in having his wife and daughter earning as straw plaiters. Emma Guttridge, the butler’s wife, had two little children and, as befitted her status, a house servant, Harriet Simmons. That essential figure the journeyman Smith, John Jackson had come all the way from Devon, bringing three children with him and begetting two more in North Mymms. The equally necessary journeyman shoemaker James Peek, a Hertfordshire man from Essendon, also had a full house with wife, three grown up children and a young man from Hatfield who, it may be thought, was visiting one of the daughters. There were five earners in that cottage; the wife at charring, a son who was a farm worker, one daughter a hat weaver, the other a straw plaiter.

On that side there was no more to be seen until the Bell Inn at the junction with Bell Lane. The licensee of this ancient hostelry young George Archer was a newcomer. An ostler and a servant helped to deal with the coach traffic but that was disappearing and the Bell with it. This little community was, from below three paupers, a dozen farm workers, two labourers, four charwomen, a laundress, four strawplaiters and weavers, two dressmakers and a seamstress, two ostlers, two gardeners, two bakers, a shoemaker, two wheelwrights, a blacksmith, two tanners and last but not least a dozen domestic servants of varying status, most of whom were to the mansion.

About seventeen were directly employed by Gaussen and many others were dependent on him. By today’s standards it was a young community with thirty-nine children under fourteen and only nine persons over sixty, three over sixty five. The hamlet had benefited from both the coach traffic from London to the North passing along its length, and a wealthy and not ungenerous lord of the manor, and was probably better off than others in the same parish. No doubt these influences had effected a good deal of mobility; only fifteen adults had been born in the parish while many more had come in from neighbouring villages and others departed.

If, a generation later in 1881, the same observer took the same walk but the other way round, he would easily recognise the place; it was still owned by the Gaussen family. He starts at the White Swan, now licensed to Edward Woolley from Harpenden, still very much in business with an ostler for the horses. And, going south up the road, the ancient Lower Bell Bar farmhouse still stood. The young tenant farmer, Charles Robarts had about thirty more acres than his predecessor and required two extra boy workers. His wife Selina with two little children also had a lodger, an undergraduate of London University, of the somewhat advanced age of twenty-seven perhaps due to his distant birthplace in Brazil. No doubt the servant girl of sixteen was kept busy.

Photograph of Bell Bar c1900
Bell Bar c1900

In the next little group across the road, the shoemaker had gone and the hamlet was without one. In his place was Emma Peck (of the same name) widowed "garden woman" with three sons. The smithy had survived. It was now in the hands of the widow of the former blacksmith, Elizabeth Jackson and her two blacksmith sons. This was a full house with two other grown up children, a granddaughter, and a daughter with her two children who were visiting from Lambeth. The next cottage was just as full, the home of the young farm worker William Harding and Martha with a brood of seven young children.

At the bakery opposite, William Cozens employed his son who had been born in Bell Bar, and had diversified into grocery. A new building would now catch the observer’s eye on the opposite side of the road. This was the mission room built by R W Gaussen of corrugated iron, but handsomely wainscoted inside. Many meetings were held there, Temperance Society, Band of Hope, Bible classes and readings, Sunday School gatherings; an outpost of evangelicalism in the hamlet. Capt. Toop of the Church Army operated with lanternslides.

The five cottages in line with the bakery now had completely different occupants. They were a widowed needlewoman with four children, two under gardeners each with six children (a prolific lot those gardeners), a farm worker with only five children, and an elderly herdsman, a widower with two older children earning. A hundred-yards further south, there was now no wheelwright. His place had been taken by the substantial figure of Edward J Howling, from Wivenhoe, builder who employed three men and an apprentice, symbol of change and progress. More than that, he had fathered six children. His carpenter, living with him, had followed him from Essex.

The three cottages next to him had also changed hands. Farm workers occupied two, one with five young children, and an elderly couple with two grandsons and a lodger, the gamekeeper William Pales who could perhaps help out with rabbits. In the third cottage lived the widow of the thirty seven year old pauper of thirty years earlier. Her four children had departed; previously a charwoman, she now earned her keep as laundress, alone in her rent free cottage. Next at the farm Mark Tarry had moved in only a few years earlier from a smaller farm at Roestock. While there he had been a Sunday school teacher and every year had given the value of a lamb to the Church Missionary Society. Now as a farmer of some standing and a considerable ratepayer he had been appointed overseer of the poor of the parish for the year. Although he had slightly fewer acres and fewer labourers than his predecessor of 1851, he had many more children, no fewer than ten between two and seventeen. He and his wife Jane were model parishioners in the eyes of the vicar. Three middle-aged, single farm workers lived together in a nearby cottage.

As the observer looks across the road he has a shock. The old Bell Inn is no more; George Archer and his ostler have gone long since. Finally he comes to the Brookmans Park domain. Before reaching the mansion there are the head gardener, a man of some importance, from Tiverton, and the elderly land agent Archibald Gorrie, a man of greater importance, from Scotland, widower with his daughter and, as befits his status, a servant girl. Two young gardeners, single men, are in The Bothy. In Brookmans Lodge there lives alone Rebecca, widow of the gamekeeper George Tuley who has gone to prevent heavenly poaching. The coachman James Cheeseman and his family occupy the stable block. The eldest of his three daughters Ellen Mary, at nineteen years old, was already schoolmistress at Woodhill School, which was attended by the Bell Bar children. Cheeseman had come from his previous job in Kensington a good many years before. As a teetotaller, a useful qualification for a coachman, he was a well known figure in the parish temperance society, frequently addressing its meetings on the evils of drink. Under him were the grooms, two young single men.

At the mansion the Gaussen family was not at home, as before, but the domestic staff were more of them than in 1851. That may have been because the squire had recently been succeeded by his son, a captain in the Grenadier Guards. Those present were the butler, who now had a footman, two housemaids, an upper and a lower as before, and three additional servants - two laundrymaids and a scullery maid, but no housekeeper or cook this time. Only the footman, Job Burr, a lad of eighteen, was a local.

Thus compared with a generation earlier, the difference was as follows: - no paupers, the same number of farm workers, no other labourers, no charwomen, one laundress as before, no straw plaiters, only two instead of four dressmakers, one less ostler, four more gardeners, one more baker, no shoemaker, no wheelwright, two more blacksmiths, two farmers as before and one more domestic servant. The total had risen slightly from 113 to 124, including Brookmans. The community was now a younger one. Only six persons were over sixty and the children had increased by 80%, probably because of the Education Act of 1870. There had also been much coming and going. Of all the residents in 1851 there were only nine survivors thirty years later.

Such was the effect of the big events of 1850 and 1851. Some occupations had gone, others had remained. As well as change there had been the continuity to be expected of a community dominated by a squire who controlled the rents, wages and housing of the farmers, labourers and artisans. The extension of the franchise to farm workers was still three years ahead and it was another thirty years before the first break up of the Gaussens’ Brookmans estate occurred.



Albert Thom, greatly missed in the parish, recorded some memories of five old residents. The following is an attempt to piece them together. It seemed a pity if the memories were lost. All five spent hard working lives but their fortunes varied. There were two boys, one was a farmer’s son, the other a farm bailiffs. Of the three girls one grew up as a farmer’s daughter, the other two were not so advantaged.

One of the boys, son of the bailiff at Brookmans, belonged to a family of ten who lived in a small cottage near to where the Post Office was at one time in Bell Bar. So crowded was it that his brother got away to join the army. Soon after the family moved to Foxes Lane. The boy went to school in Little Heath but only until he was eleven. He received some edification in the Bell Bar mission room opposite the old bakery. He rang the bell and, along with all the other children, had two hours instruction on Sunday afternoons and games of dominoes and draughts on weekdays.

His father was in charge of the milking, rising every morning at half past five; there was hardly any ploughing. For that he was paid twenty-one shillings a week in 1910 and the four men under him eighteen shillings. The family was never short of meat for he used to market calves and pigs and a load of rabbits occasionally. When the family moved to Foxes Lane where the two cottages housed twenty two persons, they kept sheep and pigs and the bailiff brought his calves down there to fatten. The boy set traps for the moles arid sold the skins at sixpence a dozen.

His first work was gardening at North Mymms Park and for Lady Church at Woodside. A keen footballer, he turned out for the Bell Bar eleven, playing in his trousers and hobnail boots. Then he had a turn in the militia "to see what it was like", and the thirty shillings a week was useful. The family had military connections; an uncle was a long serving sergeant major.

Marriage came in 1914, shortly before the war. He was not one of those who rushed to enlist in the first patriotic fervour of l9l4 but joined up in 1915, was sent to India and returned home four years later. On being demobbed he did not go back to North Mymms Park but, seeking more money, he worked at the girls’ school at Water End and then took to excavating for the new gas mains coming to North Mymms.

The father of the second boy took the farm at Moffats with three hundred and fifty acres, tenanted from Capt. R G Gaussen of Brookmans. When the boy was at school before 1914 he would get tune off for potato picking at Moffats, Burn’s and Crawford’s farms and to help drive the cattle to Barnet market. At that time the farm had fourteen horses to be looked after. He could see the hay carts going up to London. One of the men engaged in this work was George Dickens who bought the hay from the farmers and carried it to London while his wife Harriett ran the Woodman. For some men haycarting was their only job, putting a load on one day, carting it on the next, returning with a load of manure and then loading up again. The carters from all around had their horses shod at the Maypole smithy.

He watched the big engines working for the pumping station at Water End in 1911 before flooding stopped the operation in 1914. Grandfather had a contract to cart coal there from Marshmoor sidings. The boy helped his grandfather to deliver the clean linen from his grandmother’s laundry. Grandma’s laundry in Water End, for which she had had a well sunk

in addition to the village well at the Woodman, catered widely for, amongst other customers , Abdale House, Admiral Fellowes at Roestock, Sir William Church and Hatfield Rectory. Water End, centred round the boy’s neighbours Thomas Eaglestone the blacksmith, Gray and Neal, had its share of poor families, widows who had to go out to work. There was little gleaning to be done there.

The boy started work odd jobbing on the Burns farm. This was followed by five years in the woods, clearing and planting, along with four or five others. After the 1914-18 war his working life was at Moffats farm. His father did a milk round with horse and cart for fifty years. The young man’s working day at the farm in the 1920s began at 5.15 am with a cup of tea and a slice of bread and butter and, until he could buy a bicycle, a walk of one and a half miles to Moffats. Then the routine: feed the cows and milk, breakfast of bread and cheese, then clean out and feed the outside stock. It took half the morning to clean the sheds and boxes and get the food ready for the day, mixing it all up to last out the day. The surplus milk was separated for butter and the separated milk went to the pigs. He took his dinner of bread and meat, beef, bacon or ham, with him. At half past two it was time to feed the outside cattle and at three o’clock time to start feeding the cows and cleaning out ready for milking until milking at half past three to five. There were eighteen to twenty four milking cows, about eighty all told. Next he had to separate the afternoon milk and then feed round again, the last feed round being at half past five, or six in later years because there was more work and fewer men. The end of the long day came with home at half past six for tea of meat, vegetables, apple pie or whatever there was, and then digging in the garden to grow potatoes and all kinds of green stuff.

For the three girls work meant domestic service. One girl loved school; she used to take seeds for the little garden and she received two medals for good attendance. She hoped to become a teacher but family means prevented it. Instead she helped her mother when she cleaned the school to leave at fourteen and begin work as scullery maid at Mymwood for £10 a year. The cook thought she could make her into a kitchen maid but the girl grew tired of the hours of work. Sundays were off until nine but every weekday she was required to be back at the house by six p.m. to prepare dinner, and so she left. After three years she moved to work for a lady at Redbourne, related to the vicar of North Mymms.

Photograph of The Swan, Bell Bar c1900
The Swan, Bell Bar c1900
Another girl started one step up as kitchen maid at Lochinver, after some part-time work, for the somewhat higher wage of £1 13s. 4d. a month. At the end of three years she went to Liverpool as cook and she began courting there. After a year she returned and nursed her mother for two years. Then it was, during the 1914-18 war that she saw the Zeppelin in the sky. Because her husband was shell shocked she was the breadwinner. She worked at anything that was available, laundry, cooking, gardening, mending and stitching, baby sitting.

The last girl used to spend a lot of time before and after going to school with her grandma at the Swan. Her grandpa Charlie Chatman, kept the Swan from 1886 to 1910, a six days licensed house. When he first came down in the morning he always started the day with his rum and milk. The house was open from eight o’clock in the morning until ten at night. Grandpa would not allow any smoking before nine in the morning. The hay carters going up to London used to stop there for a break and go in for a drink. Her grandpa had two broughams, a wagonette, a brake and a Victoria for hire and a dog cart and a trap for grandma when he went to Barnet market. A maid lived in. One or two of the girls from the village went to work there after they left school. T he water at the Swan could not be used for drinking. It had to be fetched from across the main road, past Cumberland Place, to the well, sometimes with a yoke or with a barrel on a frame. When her grandpa gave up the Swan because Gaussen raised the rent he went to live with his family at Puttocks farm, which was rented from Burns, where they had moved from Kentish Lane.

After the maid had given the little girl a bath and got her ready for bed the child used to go down and sit on a small chair beside the fire in the bar and be given lots of sixpences and pennies. Before she went to bed she had a glass of lemonade or ginger beer and a sweet Brighton biscuit or an arrowroot biscuit as big as a saucer or cracknel biscuits and sweets.

Her mother’s people were the bakers at Bell Bar. Her parents were married from there when they were twenty-five. Her mother’s brother took on the bakery when her grandparents died; he did all the baking. She and the other three children were born at Kentish Lane. Her father was in Woodhall choir and she was christened in Woodhall church.

When the family moved to Puttocks farm, the girl often acted as cock boy, leading the old horse up and down in the Buckmore fields and brought many a load of corn down Parsonage Lane to the stackyaid at the farm, brought the empties back and then took another load down. Father would be in the stable, with grandpa cleaning the harness so that the horses all came out spick and span. She used to take the horses down to the Maypole to be shod.

They walked for miles. When they were at Puttocks she had to go to Sunday school in the morning at Water End, march from there to church, home to dinner, and back to Water End for Sunday school. At the age of twelve or fourteen it was down to the vicarage for Bible class in the afternoon, home to tea and back to church at half past six with her parents. Grandma went m the pony and trap. They were all in the choir.

At sixteen the girl went into service. Grandma thought it was terrible to work in a shop. In service a girl served only one class of people but in a shop she had to serve everybody, even if it was a tramp. She started in service with Col Daniels at Frowick during the 1914-18 war.



Before the parish council was established in 1894 the officers of the vestry had carried out the administration of the parish for several hundred years. They were the churchwardens, the overseers of the poor, the surveyors of roads, the waywardens, the vestry clerks, the beadles. They were close to the lives of the villagers. Together with others, some voluntary, some paid a small amount, the temperance workers, the organists, not to mention the school teachers who are dealt with elsewhere, they were the pillars of the little society of North Mymms. Overseeing them were the vicars and the gentry, themselves often churchwardens. More remote from the parish, was another group of men, the guardians of the poor who regulated the poor law from Hatfield Union. But since they controlled parish relief, medical aid and admission to the workhouse, they also buttressed the social order.
Over-arching them all sat the justices of the peace at petty and quarter sessions. Throughout the long period of Victoria’s reign the magistrates of North Mymms were landowners, the Gaussens of Brookmans, the Kembles of Leggatts and W J Lyseley, barrister at law. Their function was to maintain the law and keep the peace in the parish and elsewhere in their division. They were responsible not only for the punishment of crime such as poaching but also, equally close to village life, for the licensing of public houses. Offending publicans could be punished as when James Hutson of the Hope and Anchor beerhouse incurred a fine of £2 in 1838.

Some justices were also guardians of the poor ex officio, for the first years after the introduction of the new kinds of Poor Law in 1834 so as to lend weight to it. The operation of this law was then put into practice by the Boards of Guardians. Invariably substantial owners or occupiers of property, the qualification being £30 rateable value, and elected by tbose with similar qualifications, the guardians were considered to be able to judge the needs of the poor of the parish and what public assistance they should have. Such were W C Casamajor of Potterells in 1835, R W Gaussen and Kemble again in 1851, all large landowners.

The pattern changed somewhat later in the century when the farmers were more active as guardians. Thus, J T Stillman, farmer first at Moffats, then at Boltons, was guardian from 1871 to 1885, Thomas Barker junior another farmer at Potterells, Daniel Crawford, later of Potterells farm, guardian from 1886 to 1893. They were still diluted by superior esquires - John Schofield Esq., landowner and stockbroker of Little Heath House, Thomas Scruton Esq of independent means at Heathfield, TB Forward Esq. of Hawkshead House, Thomas Smith at The Laurels, Pancake Hall, all in the 1880s at different times. Sitting monthly at the Hatfield Workhouse they decided with their fellow guardians from Hatfield, Essendon and Northaw, presided over by the Marquis of Salisbury, how the very poor should be treated.

These farmers and gentry decided the guidelines within which their officers, the receiving officer, the medical officers such as Dr Drage, the master and matron of the workhouse, acted in North Mymms. They sanctioned living conditions in the workhouse, the outdoor relief given to people and the amount of medical aid for the sick in their homes. But they, in their turn, were accountable to the Poor Law Commissioners in London (nicknamed The Three Bashaws of Somerset House) with whom they did not always agree. At the time in 1835 when a dozen paupers were transferred from the North Mymms workhouse to the Union workhouse in Hatfield]d, and the guardians were new to their work, they insisted on retaining their own diet for the inmates because they considered that the one required by the commissioners was inadequate. Later on, however, their attitude was more akin to our own Victorian virtues when in 1877 they resolved, "Where a man is earning 15 shillings per week and is in constant work, with a family of not more than three children, medical orders should be granted only by way of loan." The labourer was to pay later when he could, if ever. Medical aid was, in fact, a considerable item, not surprisingly in view of the insanitary state of many cottages in the parish, as revealed in 1867 by the North Mymms Sanitary Committee. Eleven parishioners were given medical tickets entitling them in treatment in 1851. Twenty years later the number had risen to fourteen.

As many parishioners were also closely affected by the guardians’ power to grant outdoor relief to the needy. That power was limited by the ruling from London that relief must not be given to able-bodied workers who, if they needed it, were to enter the workhouse. The guardians could make them take an alternative test. In 1835 they ordered the unemployed men in the parish to work for the surveyor at two shillings a day. When Michael Lee and seven of his mates struck against this, other men were given a paper to enquire for work from the farmers.

In effect most of the North Mymms people who were given outdoor relief were old or infirm or widows without any means of support. Under the Settlement Law they must have resided in the parish for a given period, five years at first subsequent]y reduced to three years and then to one; widows had to be resident for only one year and temporary relief for sickness needed no such qualification. The parishioners receiving medical relief in 1851 were Ann Pratchett, Sarah Peddar, Susan Rands, all widows, Jane Childs, and six others; they were all called permanently (not temporarily) sick and disabled. In addition the guardians granted relief to eleven persons on the ground of needs: the widows, servant Aim Burr, lacemaker Hannah Wells, worsted weaver Ruth Starkis, servant Maria Witamore, strawplaiters Rebecca Gray, Susan Webb. Elizabeth Willson; and also to Sophia Brindley, charwoman Elizabeth Howard, and one apparently able bodied labourer John Webb. Thus a total of twenty persons had poor relief in that year, and probably more. Only a few of them were born in North Mymms and their Settlement qualification would have been examined.

Photograph of The village smithy, Bell Bar
The village smithy, Bell Bar

Twenty years later the guardians role was much the same but the circumstances of their influence had changed somewhat. for one thing the law of settlement had been relaxed considerably. Their masters in London had been replaced by the Local Government Board and the new broom wanted to sweep away the national increase in outdoor relief which was giving grave concern to politicians rooted in rnarket values. In fact, that increase had occurred because it was cheaper to give outdoor relief than to maintain paupers in the workhouse. In the parish there were only four old people getting out relief - Henry Brinkley, Mary Field, James Day and Edward Tapster. Whether this reduction was due to the guardians obeying their new masters or to the genera] prosperity of farming in the previous years is debatable. What is certain is that the number of infirm and sick paupers receiving medical attention had risen, as noted above, in spite of the landowner’s provision of privies and cesspools at their cottages. When the invalids came to the end of their days the guardians seem to have been sensitive to the necessity of a decent paupers burial. The undertakers who failed to carry out in a proper manner the funerals of Sophia Brinkley and Sarah Lawrence were reprimanded.

A few of the guardians were also churchwardens such as J T Stillman, farmer at Boltons and Daniel Crawford of Potterells farm who was both at the same time and a man of considerable influence in the parish. Before the Poor Law Act of 1834 the churchwardens had a responsibility for poor relief but after that date theft role was chiefly one of looking after the church accounts, the fabric, heating and cleaning of St Mary’s church and paying the wages of the vestry and parish clerks and the beadle.

These secondary pillars gave good service to the churchwardens. William Goulburn the schoolmaster was vestry clerk for more than thirty years for which the churchwardens paid him £5 a year. Master bricklayer William Groom served as parish clerk to several vicars for nearly as long but for rather more pay - £8 per annum. Henry Dann, garden labourer of Pancake Hall received £2 12s. 0d. for the post of beadle, entrusted with the task of keeping order in church, as did his successors the agricultural labourer Joseph Gibson and William Burgess, the woodcutter, who also supplied faggots to heat the church. The official coat for the beadle cost £3 l0s. 0d, more than his salary.

Until 1868 the churchwardens fixed and levied the compulsory church rate. A rate of twopence in the pound on a parish rateable value of £7965 14s. l0d, brought in an income of £66 7s. 8d. When this stopped they had the task of raising as much from collections in church. Another duty was to allocate the pews so that the places for worship corresponded with the social status of the worshippers; this on one occasion required a ruling by the archdeacon. The churchwardens had an important role because the church played a large part in most people’s lives as much in managing the welfare available, the numerous thrift clubs and the temperance society, as in religious observance. Men of standing were required, whether as vicar’s or as parishioners’ churchwarden.

The vicar’s warden was usually from the gentry, the Gaussens father and son owners of two thousand acres at Brookmans, Samuel Gurney Sheppard stockbroker of Leggatts, Cotton Curtis banker at Potterells, T B Forward of Hawkshead House. The parishioners’ wardens, on the other hand, were often farmers such as Samuel Blakey, Thomas Barker, Charles Honour of Home Park farm and later Moffats farm. But there was no strict social line. Both Forward and Curtis were successively vicar’s and parishioners wardens and gentry such as W R Winch of North Mymms Place and Captain (later Admiral Sir John) Fellowes, represented, in some way, the parishioners. Some of the churchwardens linked the church with the Conservative Party. Fellowes, Forward and Crawford were leaders of the North Mymms Habitation of the Primrose League, thus effecting a double influence on the villagers.

In the same way as some men doubled as guardian and churchwarden so did others as churchwarden and overseer of the poor. The overseer merited that full title before 1834 when he had the duty of providing for the poor in whatever way his conscience dictated and raising a rate accordingly. After that date their job was only to collect the amount required of the parish by the Hatfield Board of Guardians. Thus as the vicar recorded in 1871. ‘There was a Vestry Meeting on 11 May to grant a rate to the Overseers for the ensuing quarter of 15 pence in the pound including poor, road and county rates.’ The vestry meetings were small, with an average attendance of seven or eight, mostly farmers with one or two landowners.

The overseer’s task was a ticklish one for it involved fixing the rateable values of properties and consequently the amounts which landowners and farmers had to pay. Smaller as well as large properties had to be assessed. The rateable value of The parish School Masters House, Garden & Yard owned by North Mimms Poor was fixed at £7. L0s. 0d. and the Duke of Leeds Public House owned by Willlam Casamajor, the landowner of Potterells at £13 Ss. 4d. in 1838. Fifty years later it was the turn of all the numerous new small houses in Thornton and Frampton roads as Little Heath grew. The effect of the rates also entered into the farmer’s profit and loss. This in turn affected not only the wages they paid but also how many labourers they had to turn off in bad times and frosty weather. The labourers and their families then had to rely on the soup kitchens provided by the gentry in the parish in the 1870s and 1880s. Much therefore depended on the overseers decisions, whether or not to change rateable values and rates. These men, taking their turn at financial matters, were the farmers at Hawkshead, Puttocks, Upper and Lower Bell Bar, Home Park, Potterells and, mixing with them Edward Woolley, licensee of the White Swan, the builder Edward Howling, the baker Richard Chuck, the bootmaker Alexander Arnold and the joiner and estate foreman John Bates, all men of some substance and standing.

The road rate which the vestry was empowered to raise was to maintain the parish roads. To see that this was done another officer was elected, the waywarden who reported to the Hatfield Highway District until it was abolished in 1880 and after that to the parish’s own surveyor. Over the years, the waywardens were a mixed bunch. There were some farmers as before, the two incomer Scots - James Sinclair of Tollgate and Danield Crawford again, Stillman again, and the land agent at Brookmans, Archbald Gorrie, and going up the social scale - Thomas Smith of The Laurels and the barrister and magistrate S Soames Esq residing at Hawkshead House. When the time came for the vestry to appoint its own surveyor two of the waywardens, Stillman and Barker were promoted to that position, to be followed by the carpenter T K H Nash. Since there was a salary of, at first £20 then £30, these appointments aroused much interest and occasioned record attendance at the vestry meetings called to make them. All the time, or at least after 1876 there was another group of men, and women in this case, quite different from the others mentioned, though linked to the church, but with a different purpose. They were the works in the temperance movement. Foremost among those who gave encouraging addresses to the often crowded meetings in the Welham Green schoolroom was James Cheeseman, the Gaussens coachman at Brookmans. He spoke at one of the first meetings and after twenty years he still "added a few words of good counsel. As treasurer of the North Mymms branch of the Church of England and Temperance Society he promoted it until there were a hundred and eighty abstainers. Another stalwart with both the temperance branch and the Band of Hope was James Pousty, from a different social level, residing at The Laurels, Pancake Hall. He combined the two occupations of auctioneer (for was which there could not have been much scope in North Mymms), and local preacher for which there was probably a great deal more. When he gave his farewell addresses in 1881 they were followed by a well-earned presentation.

Many other men and women, notably the schoolmasters and school mistresses who have been recorded elsewhere, maintained the social fabric of the parish community, but those mentioned were probably the main pillars of society in their day.

Photograph of three Nash family members c1917
Three Nash family members c1917



In their time Edward VII and George V aroused strong feelings of loyalty and affection among the people of England. The parish of North Mymms was not backward in this respect. In 1902 and in 1911 it organised fetes to celebrate the coronations of the two monarchs. There was, however, a difference between the two which may say something about their times.

The celebration in 1902 started with a parish meeting on 20 May called to consider what steps should be taken and how the money was to be raised. It was well attended by thirty to forty men, a few from the gentry and the secretary, schoolmaster Benjamin Mallett. The rapidly growing village of Little Heath had decided to combine with Potters Bar on this occasion.

Decisions were taken. The fete on 28 June would be in the field opposite the post office at Welham Green, kindly lent by Daniel Crawford, beginning with children’s sports at 12 o’clock, children’s tea at 3 and adults’ ‘luncheon at 5 to be followed by adults’ sports. The adults would have ham, beef (roast), rolls (bread), tea (for those desiring it), cheese and rice pudding. For the children the tea would be bread and butter, jam (2 kinds), cake (3 kinds) and tea. Mr Hieber, "refreshment contractor" of Barnet would supply this for 1s 6d. per adult and 7d. per child. Salad and roast mutton would also be available. A thousand tickets would be printed, though there would be seating for only five hundred. KK ale would come from McMullen and fifty gallons of ginger beer and fifty gallons of lemonade from R White. Music was to come from the North Mymms Brass Band which, though at first requiring payment, agreed to play without charge.

Everything was well in hand when the king had to undergo a serious operation. The event was postponed to 9 August and Mr Hieber had to receive compensation, which was, fortunately, paid by Mrs Burns of North Mymms Park. Mr Slater of St Albans was happy to take his place, though his price for the "meat tea’ rose to 2s 0d. He was guaranteed 600 adults and 300 children. The weather was favourable, the catering gave entire satisfaction, the sports proceeded according to programme, and altogether, the festivities went off very well. The finances were satisfactory. Payments exceeded receipts by only £2 12s. 7d. which was due to the treasurer, S B Pope, Mrs Burns’ agent, who had accepted the post on condition that he would not have to meet any deficiency.

Success was no doubt due to the widespread support. No less than 291 persons subscribed a total of £104 6s 8d. Of this sum rather less than a half came from a handful of the gentry. All the rest came in small sums from the villagers: 29 at threepence each, 76 at sixpence, 96 at one shilling and so up the scale.

The festivities in 1911 were a more hurried affair. The first meeting in the Welham Green school was only five days before the fete on 24 June. The subscriptions amounted to only £65 6s 10d, from 273 persons which was a smaller proportion of a larger population. This time more than half came from the gentry. There were more small subscriptions: 44 at threepence, 91 at sixpence, 71 at one shilling etc.

Consequently expenditure was more modest. The tea consisted only of bread and butter, cake (2 or three kinds), lettuce etc, cakes and buns" for 556 adults and sixpence for each of the 240 children. But there were fireworks costing £5 and 11s 0d. was paid to the Hertfordshire Constabulary. Beer was not on the menu this time, on]y lemonade. Nor was it exclusively a men’s affairs for among the collectors was Mrs Gardiner Wilson, wife of the railway official at Tollgate Farm, who gathered in £2 16s 6d.. Naturally, the "Ladies willingly assisted at the tables".

The schoolmaster, Benjamin Mallet was again the presiding genius, as chairman, secretary and treasurer rolled into one. It followed that the sports were well organised in eleven events for children and eleven for adults. The events included a Slow Bicycle race and a tug of war between Welham Green, Bell Bar, Water End and Roestock. Consequently too, the committee was able to "state their gratification that the Celebration passed off without disorder or ill feeling of any kind", though perhaps the absence of beer and the police presence on this occasion helped. "The whole of the arrangements were carried out in a manner entirely worthy of the auspicious occasion’ the committee considered.

Auspicious? Perhaps, though not with hindsight. Events in Europe were already moving towards the slaughter of war, only three years ahead. At home a bitter struggle was in progress between Commons and Lords over the Parliament Bill to reduce the power of the House of Lords, which did not end until August 1911. The country had already had two general elections in 1910 on the issue. In the midst of this turmoil the death of the popular Edward VII had dismayed the man in the street and in the village. Little was know of the navel officer who became George V. The feeling was, according to one historian, that "he should be given a fair start".

Some of this may explain the differences between the two celebrations. At the time of the earlier one, while Queen Victoria was deeply mourned, the change from an aged queen living in frugal retirement to a king who was a man of the world was not unwelcome. Add to this the fact that the dubious South African war of her reign had ended in peace at last in the month just before the fete of 1902. It was a different climate of public opinion and sentiment from 1911.

A third great celebration took place in the parish of North Mymms eight years later, on 19 July 1919. The Peace, so ardently longed for, was the occasion. In London general revelry had continued for three days after the Armistice. The rejoicing in the parish was more sober but as universal. No less than 393 parishioners contributed to a total fund of £154. That was over a hundred more, and from a smaller population, than in 1911. Forty-six men from the parish had been killed. The sum raised was also more than before, even allowing for wartime inflation. It was, however, made up differently. The large contributions of £10 and £5 from the gentry and middle class incomers formed a greater part of the total. Some people1 notably the farmers had done well during the war. The rank and file had not done so. The cost of living had more than doubled while wages had lagged behind. This showed in the greater number of small subscriptions of sixpence. a shilling, two shillings and half a crown.

The useful sum of £154 gave plenty of scope. The committee, with the evergreen schoolmaster, Benjamin Mallett again as secretary, planned activities and refreshments in the by now traditional way, but this time with the addition of dancing to a band in Crawford’s field. This innovation may have arisen from another one, the inclusion of four women on the committee and three more as collectors. Celebration was no longer a male affair; women over thirty had just received the vote.

Fireworks were again let off but the main attractions were the sports and the dancing. In the high jump, the vicar, Rev C G Ward, won by clearing 4’ 9" but declined the prize of eight shillings. The tug of war included a pull between married and single women which, predictably, the married won, while Bell Bar won the men’s event. As for the dancing, performance was perhaps all the better when, as the rain came down, it was transferred from the field to the schoolroom.

Everyone was well pleased and there was a balance in hand of £39 15s 6d. which helped to fund the subsequent Welcome Home to Returned Service Men. Sir William Leese, Bart., presiding over the fete, recorded its deep sense of gratitude to Mr Mallett for his untiring efforts with out which they feel that no entertainment at North Mimms can possibly succeed." He read out the King’s message ending, "I rejoice with you today at the restoration of Peace which I trust will bring us all unity, contentment and prosperity. George RI". Down at Water End a big bonfire lit up the night sky and the Kaiser was burnt in effigy.

Grandfather Stuckey and Grandson c1916
Grandfather Stuckey and Grandson c1916


Sketch of Welham Green with the Hope & Anchor on the left. by Buckler c1840 - courtesy of Hertfordshire County Records Office (HCRO)
Welham Green with the Hope & Anchor on the left. by Buckler c1840 
Image courtesy of Hertfordshire County Records Office (HCRO)


Chapter 1 - Awake and Sing
Horace Meyer His Life Story. London nd
Presentation to Horace Meyer 1864. HRO D/P 69 29/1
Enumerators’ Returns, 1861 Census
Dorothy Colville, ‘A Storm In A Tea-Cup’, Hertfordshire Countryside August 1976
Dorothy Colville, ‘North Mymms Remembers Horace Meyer’, Hertfordshire
Countryside December 1979

Chapter 2 - The Rude Forefathers
Census Enumerators Returns 1851-1881
Presentation to the Rev Horace Meyer. HRO D/P 6929/1 N Mymms Parish Magazine 1865-1890
Hatfield Board of Guardians Minute Books 1851-81 HRO Hat 6
Hatfield Board of Guardians Workhouse Admission & Discharge Registers 1869-80
K D M Snell Annals of the Labouring Poor 1985 passim

Chapter 3 - The Spanish Guerilla
Hertfordshire Mercury 6.8.1853-29.7.1854
Census Returns North Mymms 1851
Calendar of Prisoners for Trial Hertford Gaol. HRO QSMisc B I 17B

Chapter 4 - Women’s Work
Hertfordshire Mercury 15.5.58, 16.8.86
Census Enumerators’ Books 1851-1881
Parish Magazine 1865-1885
Hatfield Board of Guardians Minute Books & Workhouse Admission and Discharge
Registers HRO HAT 1.3741-54

Chapter 5 - Publicans in the Community
Census Enumerators Books 1841-81
PRO WO 30/49 Victuallers Billetting Return 1756
North Mymms Parish Magazine 1870-80
HRO D/P69 5/1 Churchwardens’ Account Book
HRO QJLB/93 Jurors’ Lists
Calendars of Hens Sessious Records Vols 1X-X HCO
North Mymms Valuation List 1838 HRO CP65 19/31
Victuallers Recognisances HRO QSVar/23 & 54
‘John Byng Rides Again’ by M Tomkins in Potters Bar Historical Series No 3 1987
‘The Inn as a Community Centre’, by W B Johnson in amateur Historian II No 5

Chapter 6 - North Mymms versus Ridge
HRO QS Misc B67A and D/P 69 1213
Census Enumerators’ Returns 1851, 1861

Chapter 7 - Law and Order
Hertfordshire Mercury 1830-1860
Calendar to Quarter Sessions Vols IX & X HRO
Hertford Petty Sessions Convictions 1830-1855 IIRO QSC Shelves
Register of Juvenile Convictions HRO QSC 42
Census Enumerators’ Books 1841-1861
Tobias JJ Nineteenth Century Crime 1972
Betmead MM. Thesis Hertford County Gaol 1960-63 HRO

Chapter 8 - In Service
Census Enumerators Schedules 1851-81
North Mymms Parish Magazine 1872, 1895. HRO
HRO DP69 5/1

Chapter 9 - Change in Bell Bar
Census Enumerators’ Schedules 1851-81
HRO 34239

Chapter 11 - Pillars of Society
Census Enumerators’ Schedules 1851-81
North Mymms Vestry Minutes 1870-1894
North Mymms Churchwardens Account Books 1760-1907. HRO D/EP 69/1
North Mymms Parish Magazine 1865-1894

Chapter 12 - Expressions of Loyalty
Minute Book of the Coronation and the Peace Celebrations.

Peter Kingsford, 1989

Online editor’s note

All the books on this site have been scanned and uploaded retaining, as close as possible, the layout and character of the original publication. However, typeface and formatting has been changed for most because of the fonts used in the originals and the equivalents now used in the digital age. For the longer books, a table of contents has been added to help readers navigate to specific chapters. We have also improved the quality of the images, graphics and maps used in the books by sourcing the original material from the former North Mymms Local History Society archive. Those assets have been digitised and enhanced by local photographer and historian Mike Allen as part of the Images Of North Mymms project, so that what we now have on this site, The North Mymms History Project is a clearer representation of the original work.

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