Maintaining the tombstones of North Mymms

A call, 50 years ago, to preserve parish memorials


Dorothy Colville's own tombstone in the new burial ground at St Mary's North Mymms Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
Dorothy Colville's own tombstone in the new burial ground at St Mary's North Mymms
Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

Introduction


The image above is of the tombstone for Dorothy Colville, local teacher and historian, who is buried at St Mary's, North Mymms. Dorothy, the author of the book North Mymms Parish and People, cared passionately about North Mymms and the preservation of its history.

Half a century ago she wrote an article entitled 'A plea for tombstones', published in the Hertfordshire Countryside magazine in September 1969. The North Mymms History Project has reproduced the feature below, and embedded a copy of the original piece at the foot of the page.

We have also added some recent images of the tombstones which Dorothy wrote about to show how they have aged over the last 50 years.

Teacher and historian Dorothy Colville with some of her pupils at Water End school in 1960
Image from the former NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection



A plea for tombstones


Written and illustrated by Dorothy Colville


September 1969


Faced with rising costs of labour, and the difficulty of getting labour even at inflated rates, many a parochial church council with a large country churchyard to maintain has reluctantly decided to remove the memorials and then "grass down" the plot. What a pity this is! Formerly the duty of the churchwardens, the responsibility for maintaining churchyards has been vested in the parochial church councils since 1921, but the freehold of the churchyard remains with the incumbent. The rights of parishioners are limited to burial. The placing of a memorial is a privilege.

*     *     *


The Churchyards Handbook for 1962 suggests that the aims of the parochial church council should be (a) to conserve the character of the traditional graveyard, (b) to retain monuments of antiquarian merit, (c) to record the inscriptions accurately, (d) to make a photographic survey and (e) to send copies of (c) and (d) to the county record office.

Glancing through a book of epitaphs and memorials, I saw it suggested that most churchyards possess at least one specimen of fine lettering or carving, one telling epitaph or record of a tragedy, or even an unusual name which should be remembered. North Mymms has a churchyard which could be called typical. How does it stand up to that suggestion?

The earliest outdoor memorials were thick slabs of stone or slate which could be a simple rectangle - ledger-stone - or could be body shaped. They could be laid flat on the ground or raised on a plinth, in which case they were known as coffin-stones or coped-stones. The thick slate ledger-stone of Thomas Huxley, of Skimpans, has bold lettering, a tribute to the skill of the unknown craftsman who cut it in March 1695/6, and equally bold is the lettering on the slate ledger-stone of Sir Jeremy Sambrooke, whose death occurred in 1754. A coffin-stone of the type peculiar to the Home Counties, especially Essex and Hertfordshire, can be seen near the large yew tree. It has both a head-stone and a foot-stone.

*     *     *


But fashions change, even in memorials, and it is head-stones that mark the resting places of the Wood family. Their memorials, below the chancel window, show some delightful cherubs with hourglasses and trumpets, and pick-and-shovel and other contemporary decoration.

This stark head-stone with skull and cherub, hour-glass, and pick and shovel is the memorial to seventeen-year-old John Wood, who died in 1757 Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection
This stark head-stone with skull and cherub, hour-glass, and pick and shovel is the memorial
to seventeen-year-old John Wood, who died in 1757
Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection

Examples of the cherubs that decorate the head-stones of the Wood family Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection
Examples of the cherubs that decorate the head-stones of the Wood family
Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection

Examples of the cherubs that decorate the head-stones of the Wood family Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection
Examples of the cherubs that decorate the head-stones of the Wood family
Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection

The memorial stone to Joseph Hawkes shelters beneath a fine giant redwood and has an epitaph which, though not unique, is unusual and worth reading. It was first cut in 1798 and has recently been beautifully recut, saved for many years to come.


The head-stone of Joseph Hawkes, who was the parish wheelwright, a churchwarden and overseer of the poor of North Mymms 200 years ago Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection
The head-stone of Joseph Hawkes, who was the parish wheelwright, a churchwarden
and overseer of the poor of North Mymms 200 years ago
Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection

A reminder of the threat of invasion by Napoleon is shown on the stone to "Mr. John Cobourne, serjeant in the North Mimms Company of Volunteers," who died on January 2, 1806, aged twenty-three years. All these memorials follow the prevailing fashion of prefixing names with Mr. or Mrs.


With its lettering still clear bold the head-stone to Mr. John Cobourne, sergeant in the local volunteers, stands near the porch of North Mymms church Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection
With its lettering still clear bold the head-stone to Mr. John Cobourne,
sergeant in the local volunteers, stands near the porch of North Mymms church
Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection

Chest or altar tombs have been popular ever since the Reformation, and a particularly beautiful specimen is to be seen in the extreme south-east corner of the churchyard. It is the tomb of the Rev. John Alkin, who died in 1749 and who had "for forty years conscientiously discharged the duty of vicar of this parish - universally lamented by his parishioners, who knew and felt his worth."

There are few crosses in the churchyard, for anti-papist feeling ran high during the Georgian era, but two of a later date are interesting. Both were erected by public subscription - one to a loved schoolmaster who died while still in harness in 1880 and the other to a little schoolfellow who died on New Year's Eve 1884. The parish magazine of that date gives a harrowing account of his death from hydrophobia as well as a list of those who gave their halfpennies and farthings to buy the little memorial placed by the fence near the elm tree.

In 1888 Frederick T. Cansick made a list of the inscriptions to be found in North Mymms churchyard, but time and weather have done their worst, for many are now illegible and some have disappeared. The inscription

"Oh base ungrateful thought
To call the grave the last long home of
    man;
'Tis but a lodging, held from week to
    week
Till Christ shall come."

occurs on the gravestone of two young girl friends who died within a week of each other and were buried together in the south-west part of the churchyard. Cansik noted one to Elizabeth Bunning, who died in 1859, aged sixty-one, and who for thirty eight of those years had "lived a valued and attached servant in the families of G.J. Bosanquet, C. Franks, and R.W. Gaussen, Esquires" - local wealthy families who were interrelated by marriage.

*     *     *


Nothing outstanding, nothing to draw crowds, only memorials to the ordinary man and woman, but part of the history of the parish and typical of most country churchyards, which are the products of the talents of village craftsmen and poets. Crowds of students from secondary modern to university standard, self-assured, poised American ladies, softly spoken Australians and diffident natives spend time and energy rubbing the wonderful brasses to be found in our churches but ignore the equally fine work which can be seen in the churchyards. They rush through to fall on a brass, rub frantically for an hour or so and then rush off. The brasses are of great historical value for the years up to the middle of the seventeenth century, but for the 100 years from 1750 to 1850 the churchyards have much to give and their memorials should be preserved for future historians and genealogists.

Unless those interested in churchyard memorials bestir themselves all traces will have disappeared within the next two or three decades.

On the tomb of Mr. James Goddard, who died in 1754, Cansick noted

"Praises on tombs are trifles vainly spent;A man's good name is his best monument."

Perhaps that is a good thought on which to end—but can we try to keep memorials?

The familiar cherub motif used in the head-stone of Mrs. Sarah Ireland Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection
The familiar cherub motif used in the head-stone of Mrs. Sarah Ireland
Image by Dorothy Colville, part of The Peter Miller Collection

Dorothy Colville's original article


The feature above is a transcript of an article which appeared in Hertfordshire Countryside magazine in September 1969.  A cutting of the original article is embedded below. The item is part of the Peter Miller Collection.

Below the cutting are images of the tombstones Dorothy Colville featured in her article 50 years ago showing how they have weathered over half a century.





Weathered over half a century


The passing of 50 years has taken its toll on the tombstones Dorothy Colville was so keen to preserve in 1969.

The first tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018  Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The first tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

The second tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018  Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The second tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

The third tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018  Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The third tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0


The fourth tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018  Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The fourth tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

The fifth tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018  Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The fifth tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

The sixth tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018  Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The sixth tombstone in Dorothy Colville's article photographed in August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0


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