Serving North Mymms through WWII
|The Rev Leonard Buxton and his family prior to their arrival at St Mary's, North Mymms|
Image by Olive Edis, courtesy of the Cromer Museum, Norfolk
A couple of family photographs of the Reverend Leonard Buxton, his wife Kathleen, and their six children have been acquired by a museum in Norfolk. The Rev Buxton was the vicar of St Mary’s, North Mymms from 1930 to 1944. The curator of the Cromer Museum has send digital copies of the images to the North Mymms History Project so that they can be shared on this site.
Fourteen years service to the parish
On Friday the 26th of September 1930 a peal of bells was rung at St Mary’s church to welcome the new vicar, the Rev Leonard Buxton and his wife to the parish. The bells rang for two hours and 45 minutes. For those interested, it was a peal of Stedman Triples with 5,040 changes conducted by William Nash. The board, pictured above in the belfry at St Mary's, records the occasion.
Fourteen years later, in October 1944, the Rev Buxton, sat down to write a farewell message to his parishioners. He’d served North Mymms throughout the war years, but, a year before WWII ended, the work was clearly beginning to take its toll.
In a booklet published by the former North Mymms Local History Society entitled On The Home Front - The People and Parish of North Mymms 1939-45, the Reverend’s mood was captured in a reference in Chapter Nine - Church And People. It also recorded how welcome he and his wife had been made to feel welcome by the people of North Mymms.
The Rev. Buxton wrote a long letter to his parishioners in the parish magazine of October 1944. He stated that the fourteen years spent in the parish had been happy ones for both himself and his family. He felt however, that the responsibility of so large a parish seemed to grow heavier and he felt no long able to fulfil it. He thanked the keen Church Council and loyal churchwardens and church workers who had helped him. He said, "there is scarcely a house the parish that Mrs Buxton or I can enter without being assured of a warm welcome."Below is a copy of the letter from the parish magazine courtesy of the Peter Miller Collection.
The outbreak of war
In the same booklet reference is made to another message from the Rev Buxton to his parishioners - but this one was written five years earlier following the outbreak of WWII. The message was published in the September 1939 edition of the parish magazine. In Chapter One - A Message From The Vicar, we can see how Rev Buxton attempted to prepare locals for what lay ahead.
“On September 1st Hitler's troops and aeroplanes invaded Poland. And on September 3rd Great Britain and France, in fulfilment of their promise, declared war on Germany.
That very briefly, as we all know, was the immediate cause of war. But we also know that we are not only fighting for Poland but for those eternal principles of righteousness, mercy and good faith upon which alone security and peace can be based. It is those principles that we must keep in mind and thus carry on the struggle for victory and calmness with courage and confidence.
“One obvious task is to care for the children whom we are sheltering in our home, to provide occupation for them, and to make their lives happy. We can also volunteer for various forms of service and, as far as possible, give our time freely to the service of our country.”
The impact of war
A year later North Mymms was starting to feel the impact of the war. In the same booklet, Chapter Three - The War Comes Home : Parish Bomb Damage we read about how Rev Buxton responded, and the message he conveyed to his parishioners, again through the parish magazine.
“In September 1940, it was reported that the A.R.P. (Air Raids Precautions) Hatfield R.D.C. was to issue to all householders with a card on part of which were instructions on what to do in an air-raid.
During September 1940, frequent air-raids interrupted school work at Waterend. School began at 10am from the 11th, when air raids continued after midnight. Ceilings were damaged during October and repaired by Nash the builders.
On July 22nd 1944, the school and house were blasted by a fly-bomb and there was damage to the roof, ceilings and windows. The Vicar in the parish magazine of September stated "it was a great mercy that the children were not in school" and sympathised with Miss Smith in the damage done to the house and school.
The Reverend Buxton was greatly distressed by the bombs and felt it "helped to make us more resolute that we will banish this curse from the earth and all the evil things in us and others that have brought this about. Thank God few were injured and there were no fatal casualties. But alas some of our church windows have been damaged. We hope it will be possible to repair it partially."
Following in their father’s footsteps
|From L-R: Kenneth Leonard, Kathleen Hannah, Ruth Lydia, Edmund Digby|
Rev Leonard (sitting), Digby Hugh (on father's knee), Kathleen Lydia, Daniel Richard.
Two of the Buxton sons, Edmund Digby (b. 1 Mar 1908, d. 23 Nov 2001) and Digby Hugh (b. 27 Jan 1916, d. 9 Nov 1997) entered the ministry. Edmund Digby can be seen standing behind his father in the image above; Digby Hugh is sitting on his father's knee.
One of the sons, Kenneth Leonard (b. 19 Jul 1909, d. Nov 2001) became a missionary, using his skills as a surgeon and as a medical officer. According to Plarr’s Lives Of The Fellows Online, Kenneth Buxton left North Mymms to serve in Africa five years after his father took over as vicar of St Mary's. Records show that Kenneth Leonard Buxton was evacuated from Ethiopia "along with the Emperor Haile Selassie".
After obtaining his FRCS in 1935, he went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as a missionary to found a new medical school. However, the Italian invasion meant that he was evacuated to Aden, together with his wife and baby son, and then returned to England, along with the exiled Emperor Haile Selassie.
In 1938, he returned to Africa, to work in Burundi with the Ruanda mission. With few resources, he designed, built and organised a hospital, training young Africans as nurses and dressers. A maternity unit and a nurse training school (which had government recognition) were later added. As well as having to deal with a remarkable range of medical and surgical conditions almost single-handed, Kenneth also worked as the architect, building instructor, engineer and mechanic.
During the second world war, Kenneth offered to join the British Army, along with the other missionaries in the country. They were requested to remain by the British government, in case there was a German invasion of East Africa. He returned home briefly in 1948 with his family.
So the Rev Buxton’s second eldest son would have been living abroad for the majority of the time his father was the vicar of St Mary’s.
The Buxton’s second daughter, Ruth Lydia Buxton (b. 2 Oct 1906) also worked in Africa, and according to Chapter Nine - Church and People, in On The Home Front - The People and Parish of North Mymms 1939-45, Ruth was presented to a Sunday school party in North Mymms to tell the children about her work in Africa.
The Sunday Schools flourished. Numbers of pupils attending were 100 at Roestock, Infants 60, Brookmans Park (at Moffats begun by Mr and Mrs Hoy) 30, Bell Bar 36 and Waterend 30. At the children’s service in the Boy’s School the attendance was 50.
Sunday School parties were much enjoyed. One year a fancy dress parade was judged by Miss Edwards. Games were arranged by Miss Robertson and followed by a Christmas play, 'Long ago in Bethlehem', produced by Miss Lorna Messenger. Tea followed for parents and children provided by Mr Nessling.
At the 1941 party the Vicar introduced his daughter Ruth Buxton, mentioning the ' little boys and girls of Africa to whom she would be returning shortly and they promised to remember both herself and the little black children in their prayer.'
Involvement in the life of the parish
In his book North Mymms Schools & their Children 1700-1964, local historian, Peter Kingsford wrote about some of the work the Buxtons did in the parish. In Chapter Five - Towards The Promise Land 1918-1939, he wrote:
With all these ideas current, the school managers were in for a busy time until 1939, though not so heavily as after the war. They were joined by Dr Flora Shepherd, Capt R Rushbrooke and Mrs Buxton, the new vicar’s wife. Following extensive criticism of the boys’ school building by the inspector, in the light of Hadow reorganisation, the managers opened a school extension fund in 1934. Subscription lists were opened; a garden party at Frowick, a church collection, a concert, a carnival dance at the scout hut, a sale, Bradbeer’s boys playing the handbells, a gift of two turkeys, all contributed to bringing in £328 in one year. £73 had been raised by the headmaster himself and the vicar gave generously. It was enough to pay for minor works - a new water closet, bigger urinals, modification of the wash house and additional lighting. The managers postponed the larger alterations recommended.In the same chapter, Peter Kingsford included the text of an appeal, by the Rev Leonard Buxton, in April 1937, for money to improve the educational facilities at the North Mymms Boy's School.
The time has come when it is necessary to appeal to the parishioners for help towards the extension and improvement of this School, which in some respects is inadequate for modern requirements.
The immediate needs are :
Why are these things needed? The children’s coats, when wet, are hung on top of one another and cannot be dried. In wet weather there is no covered room for exercise and games, and the playground is a quagmire, whilst in dry weather it is unfit owing to stones, for children’s use. The infants’ class-room is too crowded for satisfactory teaching.
- The rebuilding and enlargement of the main entrance to provide additional cloak-room for boys.
- The alteration of the infants’ cloak-room to do the same for infants.
- The re-surfacing of the playground. These items will cost about £450. In addition, the infants’ classroom is already full, and it is evident that either another classroom or an assembly hall will be required in the near future.
At present the Managers appeal for subscriptions for the £450 which is immediately required. The Parochial Church Council has agreed to give two Sundays’ collections towards this object, and it is hoped that we may receive grants from the Diocesan Fund and from the National Society. But it is obvious that generous help must be obtained from other sources as well.
We can remember with thankfulness those who in the past built the School, and the excellent work that has been done there under successive Headmasters. As a Church School it stands for the principles of religious education and for the grounding of the children in the Christian faith. It is for the sake of the children that the Managers ask you to help. It is hoped that present and past scholars and their parents will give as they are able. Small subscriptions, as well as larger ones, will be welcomed. The need is immediate. The work must be carried out this year. Please give now.
Subscriptions will be thankfully received either by the Vicar or by Mr A J Bradbeer at the School.
Chairman of Managers
In his farewell message to his parishioners, mentioned above, the Rev Buxton also made a plea for better pay for the clergy. He noted that, owing to the Tithe Act of 1936 the stipend would be £36 less. He ended his letter to parishioners with the following,
"... it is time that the dear old Church of England woke up to the fact that she cannot obtain a sufficient number of clergy of the best type unless she provides first of all for their training and then for their support. We have been too long content to live on the benefactions of our forefathers, and these are no longer sufficient. I have written this, not because I have desired any more for myself, far from it, but because I think it is good for you to know the facts and it is easier for me to say it than for those who come after. I need hardly say that you will always be in our thoughts and in our prayers. God Bless You."The Reverend Leonard Buxton retirement was short. As mentioned above, his farewell note was published in the North Mymms Parish Magazine in October 1944. Fifteen months later, on January 7, 1946, he died. His wife Kathleen lived for another 12 years. The image below shows the Rev Buxton in later life.
|The Reverend Leonard Buxton, vicar of St Mary's Church, North Mymms 1930 - 1944|
Image from the former North Mymms Local History Society
Part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
The immediate Buxton family
- Kathleen Hannah Buxton (b. 6 Nov 1905, d. 14 Aug 1999)
- Ruth Lydia Buxton (b. 2 Oct 1906)
- Reverend Edmund Digby Buxton (b. 1 Mar 1908, d. 23 Nov 2001)
- Kenneth Leonard Buxton (b. 19 Jul 1909, d. Nov 2001)
- Daniel Richard Buxton (b. 4 Mar 1913, d. 2003)
- Reverend Digby Hugh Buxton (b. 27 Jan 1916, d. 9 Nov 1997)
Family links with abolition of the institution of slavery
Those who want to dig deeper into the history of the Buxton family might be interested to know that the Rev Leonard Buxton was the great grandson of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, who worked for the abolition of the institution of slavery. Sir Thomas can be seen in the image below, the first face in the second row top left.
|The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 by Benjamin Robert Haydon (died 1846)|
Given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1880 by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society
Image from Wikimedia Commons.