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The East India Company and North Mymms

Photograph of drawing of East India House in Leadenhall Street, London as drawn by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, c.1817 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
East India House in Leadenhall Street, London as drawn by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, c.1817
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This article, which looks at the influence of the East India Company (EIC) on North Mymms, was written by local historian Peter Kingsford and appeared in Volume 34, Spring 1993 edition of 'Hertfordshire’s Past', published jointly by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Council and the Hertfordshire Association for Local History.

This is the second piece on this site about the EIC. The other, entitled, The East India Company's impact on North Mymms 1757-1857 by Chris Jeppersen, looks at the sources of the wealth that EIC involvement brought to the area.



The East India Company and North Mymms


This article describes connections with the East India Company which have influenced developments in the parish of North Mymms. It seems likely that other parts of the county can show similar influences. Peter Kingsford.


Fifty years after the East India Company was established a certain Samuel Sambrooke was appointed in 1650/51 'writer of the Company's letters and Keeper of the Callicoe warehouse at the salary of £120/an'. A descendant of his, Jeremy Sambrooke, purchased in 1707 the Gobions Estate in the parish of North Mymms, famous in its day as a pleasure ground. Samuel's son, an earlier Jeremy, had risen higher than his father. Evidently he prospered for his marriage settlement required an expenditure of £8,500 on land and property. After serving as warehouse keeper at Fort St George, Madras, he eventually became deputy chairman of the Company (1683-4), received a knighthood in 1682 and subsequently a baronetcy. A member of the Haberdashers Company, he was elected alderman for the Cripplegate Ward. He was a forerunner of the Nabobs who came home to invest their wealth in property and politics in the era of Clive and Warren Hastings. After his death his wealth and the baronetcy went to the later Jeremy Sambrooke who was thereby enabled to buy Gobions.

This Sir Jeremy, a bachelor, set about creating the famous Pleasure Grounds and improving the mansion. He employed the landscape artist Charles Bridgeman and the architect James Gibb. The result of their labours may be envisaged from contemporary accounts. Daniel Defoe called the place 'one of the most remarkable curiosities in England'. The earliest printed description of Gobions by George Bickham appeared in 1748: (1)

"Imagine to yourself a vast Hill, shaded all over with a Forest of Oaks, through which have been cut an infinite Number of Alleys covered with the finest Gravel ... a large Square, embellished with Orange-trees and Statues, and with a beautiful Summer-house, whose Windows present on every side a most delicious prospect ... a magnificent Bason, adorned with green Pyramids, Orange-trees, Statues, and surrounded with wide-extending Alleys; and then you see a kind of verdant Circle, all covered with the Trees of the Forest, but illumined with so much Art and Taste, as to fill the eye with Raptures. In short, the Beauty of the Alleys, whose verdant Hedges are of a surprising Height, the pleasing Variety of the prospects, the Richness of the Ornaments, the singular Taste that prevails through the Whole Distribution, and the Choice of the different Parts of this charming Place, form all together almost the only Garden in its kind."

Queen Caroline, "Walpole's most loyal ally",  had been there in 1732 with her daughters to see ''the fine gardens, waterworks and the collection of curiosities".

When Sir Jeremy died in 1754 he directed that "the Statues, Urns and Ornaments in the Gardens I do hereby order and direct shall remain in the said Gardens to be held and enjoyed as Heir Looms". Fifty years after his death a French guide book could still describe Gobions as "un des plus agreables sejours des environs de la capitale". (2)  Gobions had been continued in its glory by more East India Company money. It came into the hands of John Hunter who "by long service in trade as a free merchant in the East Indies had raised a very substantial fortune of upward of £100,000 and arrived to a seat in the East India Direction". Hunter, like Jeremy Sambrooke, became deputy chairman of the Company - during the trial of Warren Hastings. He achieved prominence in Hertfordshire as high sheriff and, following the nabob pattern, became member of Parliament for Leominster. While maintaining Gobions he took advantage of the enclosure of North Mymms Common in 1778 by buying land on it. A tablet in the parish church commemorates him and also his wife Anne who made her contribution to parish welfare with a bequest providing for bread to be given to the poor.

The riches from India continued to flow to Gobions in the next generation. John Hunter's will left "all my capital Mansion House called Gubbins [Gobions], farms and tenements in North Mymms and in South Mimms" to Thomas Holmes of Worcestershire. Holmes, "a gentleman high in the Company's service in Bombay" at one time, had also "acquired a fortune in the East Indies". Having changed his name to Hunter he remained at Gobions for about twelve years. He seems to have maintained the Pleasure Grounds much as they had been under John Hunter and as described in a route published in The Ambulator or The Stranger's Companion on a Tour around London in 1774: (3)

"A charming wood [with a walk] irregularly cut through the underwood leads [to] a perfect rotunda, of about the same diameter with the ring in Hyde-Park ... On one side is a large alcove. Opposite to the place of our entrance ... is another avenue, which brought us to a large alcove, situated at the end of an oblong piece of water, on each side of whose banks are fine gravel-walks, lined with rows of trees. The pond is so formed, that a part of it is deep, and therefore the bottom not easily seen, but the other part is shallow ... The grass at the bottom, when covered with water, hath a fine effect. From the alcove we have a view over the water to a fine large figure of Time ... holding a large sun-dial ... beyond whom, through a vista, the eye is led to an obelisk at a considerable distance beyond the gardens. Leaving this spot ... we were conducted through a most superb and elegant walk, which terminated at a summer house, built of wood, in the lattice manner, and painted green. We then turned to the left through meandering walks ... to a grotto, which having passed a large arch presents itself across the walk, and through it we behold a cascade. Continuing onward, we turned to the right ... to a seat where the cascade has a more distant sound. This is a very contemplative situation. From this seat a walk brought us to a good statue of Hercules ... from whence, through a verdant arch, appears a beautiful canal, at the end of which is a handsome temple, whose front is supported by four pillars. In this temple are two busts of Miss Sambrooke ... On one side [of] this canal is a Roman gladiator ... Leaving the canal we ascended a straight walk, which brought us on the left to a Cleopatra, as stung with an asp ... and on our right appears a very large and beautiful urn. The top of our walk terminated at a large oak, from whence there is a view, over the canal ... to the gladiator, and from thence through a grove to a lofty pigeon-house [Plate 196]. Turning to the right we came to a neat and retired bowling-green [Plate 198], at one end of which is the urn ... at the other a summer-house full of orange and lemon trees. On one side of the green is a statue of Venus, and on the other one of Adonis."

The funding of Gobions from India ended with Holmes/Hunter. The last family to own Gobions as a separate estate, the Kembles who acquired it in 1817, drew their wealth from elsewhere, though they did have a connection with the spice trade. They maintained the Pleasure Grounds, as is indicated by the following description by an estate agent (4) when the place was bought by R.W. Gaussen of nearby Brookmans in 1838.


The Important FREEHOLD MANOR,
and ESTATE,
of GOBIONS,
HERTFORDSHIRE.

Particulars
of the valuable and highly important
FREEHOLD ESTATE
called
GOBIONS
Tithe Free and Land Tax Redeemed, formerly the
much celebrated Residence of the
Illustrious SIR
THOMAS MORE,

together with the
Manor and the Noble Mansion
most delightfully placed in the centre of a
MAGNIFICENT PARK,
of
328 acres
chiefly rich meadow land
Embellished with Stately Avenues, Groves and Woods of the
Finest Timber, a Triumphal Arch commemorative
of Queen Elizabeth's progress in 1560,
Pleasure Grounds, Lawns, Shrubberies, Gardens, conservatories, A
splendid lake, fishing temple, canal, ice house, ornamental
Lodges, and other decorations of a superior order,
Commanding a Finely Elevated and picturesque situation,
only Sixteen Miles from London, in the much
admired
COUNTY OF HERTFORD,
Within a short Drive of Hatfield House, and other
distinguished Residences of
the Aristocracy.

Gaussen pulled down the mansion and left the gardens to be taken over by nature. Only recently are they being restored by the Gobions Woodland Trust established by the residents of the parish.

It is probably no coincidence that the other main contribution by the East India Company to North Mymms was made by a man who must have known John Hunter and was certainly his neighbour. John Michie was deputy chairman of the Company in 1788 when John Hunter was a director in various years between 1781 and 1799. He bought a property adjacent to Gobions, a house and farm called Moffats in 1776, a year before Hunter bought Gobions. The large, handsome house of 17th century origin, came with 61 acres of grass and arable which later increased to 150 acres oh the acquisition of some Bradmore lands which Arthur Young had condemned and abandoned, while giving a bad name in his View of the Agriculture of Hertfordshire (1804).

John Michie had been elected a director of the Company in 1770-5, 1770-80 and 1783-86, and chairman in 1786, a man of great influence in the City and in relations with the Government. He was in office at a crucial time during the struggle between the Company and the Government for control of Indian affairs, which was marked by the Regulation Act of 1773 and Pitt's India Bill of 1784. He came to North Mymms a year after he became a Company director. He first rented Skimpans in Welham Green, an old substantial house with its hall, parlour, library, drawing room, five bed chambers and dressing rooms, five garrets and servants' hall. He contributed to the parish as a farmer, by reason of his activity in the parish charities and, in a wider sphere, as high sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1782.






This plan (above) accompanied the estate agent's description of 1838. It shows several of the features which were mentioned in the Ambulator in 1774, including in the southern part of the wooded area the long stretch of water known as the "canal". The small structure at its western end is the temple in the woods "whose front is supported by four pillars", which is separately illustrated. The open area within the wood, numbered 8 on the plan, is the bowling green, round which were located the large urn and the statues of Venus and Adonis.

Below is a photograph of the original xylograph for the plan.

Woodblock for the Gobions Park Estate plan  Image by Alan Last, part of the Peter Miller Collection
Xylograph for the Gobions Park Estate plan
Image by Alan Last, part of the Peter Miller Collection




Michie's 150 acres included 52 from North Mymms Common. He benefitted from its enclosure in 1778 by his allotment of 16 acres and his purchase of another 36 acres from commoners who were unable or unwilling to keep their allotments. He seems to have employed six or seven local men and boys. They belonged to families long established in the parish which have continued until the present day - Pollard for ten shillings a week, Marlbro or Marlborough for nine shillings. They included a carter, a cowman and a horse keeper. The crops over the years were wheat, oats, barley, turnips, peas and clover. Hay, however, was the main crop. Wagons of hay were sent to London, sometimes twice a week, returning with loads of the London 'night soil'. Michie's policy seems to have been to combine crops to feed the livestock with hay for profit, and thereby feed the earth. The livestock at various times was cows, pigs and sheep but the main work was in haymaking, reaping and binding, threshing, hoeing and sheep shearing.

How profitable Moffats was, or whether it was subsidised in John Michie's time or in that of his brother Jonathan who succeeded him in 1788, is not known. Profit did come later when the Michie's solicitor, Frederick Booth, took over in 1802. It is clear that John Michie had much to do with his fellow East India Company director at Gobions. One of his fields, Reddall, was formerly owned by Hunter. Hunter sent the son of one of his men to work for Michie. They were each responsible for maintaining adjacent sections of road under an agreement "by the Gentlemen and Farmers of the Parish of North Mymms to keep the respective allotments of the Roads against their Names in repair". On another occasion the diversion of a highway went through the lands of both men. Hunter also, like Michie, benefitted from the enclosure of the common. (5)

Michie's means were somewhat limited. "Never having it in my power", he wrote, "to spend, considering the drawbacks which hung upon me, much above £800 per annum, and now not near so much, from my great losses by the American War, but I have always determined, and hope shall continue to do so, holding to that resolution, to conform my expenses to my income". He was writing to his nephew Jonathan Duncan serving the Company in India, advising him not to return home until he was worth at least £60,000. He went on, "I live very private in the Country, satisfying myself with a little soup, or fish, a joint of meat and plenty of Garden Stuff. . . I have a coach in the Country which carries us to church on Sundays drawn by two of the Farming Horses, and now that I find Riding disagreeable, always come to town in a covered one Horse Chaise, without a Servant, which Horse and Chaise standing costs me two shillings a day, and Hackney Coach here with duely weather to and from the India House, four shillings more; my pay as a Director is about 8 shillings per day, therefore as I never had any other advantage, I have on the whole been out of pocket by being in the Direction. . ." (6)

The two East India Company men made a mark in the parish in another way. Some reflected glory may have shone from the fact that both were in turn High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, Hunter in 1780/81, John Michie in 1781/2. This ancient position as the king's representative in the county was one of some influence and was no sinecure though there were two under sheriffs to carry out the duties. These included the responsibility for the gaol and the custody of prisoners (Hunter and Michie received calendars of the prisoners held in Hertford gaol), the arrangement of any elections, summoning jurors for assizes and quarter sessions and putting in execution (sometimes literally) their decisions.

The high sheriff, unlike his deputies, was unpaid and he incurred quite heavy expenditure in the lodging and entertainment of the judges and their retinues. At one assize the under sheriffs paid for seventy-five dinners with copious supplies of claret, "Lisbon" and sherry. This expenditure was covered in part by sums allowed under statute to the sheriff but it usually exceeded them. After that assize Michie paid the under sheriffs £65 from his own pocket. This may be compared with his own pay as an East India Company director. (7)

Apart from these normal duties Sheriff Michie suddenly came into prominence because of events in the American War of Independence. In May 1782, after the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown the nobility and gentry of Hertfordshire requested Michie to call a general meeting of the county to consider an address to the king. This was to ask the king "for his compliance with the Wishes of his People, in removing the late Ministry, and recommending the consideration of an effective plan of Economy through all the branches of the Public expenditure". After the meeting in the Shire Hall, Hertford, Michie received its unanimous thanks "for his readiness in calling the County together and his obliging and impartial Conduct at the Meeting".

Whatever enhanced status Michie thereby brought to North Mymms it may well not have extended beyond the local gentry and farmers. However it is clear that his own interest included also the lower orders, apart from his own farm labourers, for he played a part in the parish charities. At a time when the charities' trustees had dwindled to one he intervened. Under Sir Thomas Hyde's bequest of 1655 he ordered the parish apprenticeships to be continued and likewise for the distribution of bread under Dame Lydia Mews's bequest "to such poor as should attend the service of the church at North Mymms". In his will he provided for his "beloved natural daughter Maria Michie" and for her mother, his former servant Ann Jones. (8)

John Michie made a noticeable contribution to the economy of the parish and to its welfare. While he gained from the enclosure of the common he supported the charities. Hunter's contribution lay in the Pleasure Gardens and the employment there. Thus through Jeremy Sambrooke, John Hunter and John Michie the wealth, and the poverty, of India had some considerable influence on the parish of North Mymms.

I am indebted to Mr. W.K. Killick for much help with this article.

REFERENCES

1. Terry Friedman, James Gibbs. 1984.
2. Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1975. Gentlemans Magazine
No.l, p.874. J.H. Plumb, England in the 18th Century 1950.
3. India Office Library. East India Co Home Misc. 764, Minutes B23, B24, B26. Parker, Direc
tors of the East India Co. 1754-1790. HRO 79188, 79199, 79201. L.S. Sutherland, The East
India Company in 18th Century Politics p.378, 1952, Friedman op. cit.
4. This estate agent's description of 1838 is among papers collected by the late Mr H. J. Butcher,
of the Barnet Record Society. I am indebted to Mr. R. Bayman who kindly made it available to me. The agent's reference to Sir Thomas More is not entirely accurate. The house was formerly the property and residence of Sir John More, the father of Sir Thomas, and has sometimes been called More Hall. Sir John More (d. 1530) left it to his wife, with reversion to Sir Thomas, but this reversion was confiscated by King Henry VIII. Sir Thomas (executed 1535) of course did not survive to own Gobions, and never lived there so far as is known.
5. Parker op. cit. HRO 35744-5. Private Papers, Muffets Farm Accounts 1807, Country Life 22.11.1984, pp.1564-5.
6. Guildhall Library Ms 5881/5.
7. Gentlemans Magazine Vol.52. HRO 70924-9.
8. HRO 70931-5. Dorothy Colville, North Mymms Parish and People



Online editor's note: The article above is scanned from a document in The Peter Miller Collection, embedded below.






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