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Early Memories of Eleanor Vyse 1887-1976

Water End School c 1903. Headmistress Mrs Cooke on the left
Water End School c 1903. Headmistress Mrs Cooke on the left
Image part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
Eleanor Vyse left school before she was 13 to help her mother care for her brothers and sisters. She was glad to get away from the schoolmistress who was "stern" and who could control 60 children "by just looking at us". A highlight of the year - "almost the only one" - was tea and games on the vicarage lawn on Ascension day. A year after leaving school she moved five miles away to serve as a mother's help doing "stacks of washing up". It was not an easy life for some children growing up in North Mymms towards the end of the Victorian era.

This collection of memories of life in North Mymms at the turn of the 20th century and up to and including WWII is just one of several collected over the years by the former North Mymms Local History Society (NMLHS). Many are published on this site.
The original written memories have been shortened and comments have been added by the North Mymms History Project (NMHP). Those comments appear in italics and enclosed in parentheses. These addition are in order to add information. Throughout the piece we have added relevant maps, images, and links where we felt appropriate.

Early memories of Welham Green
by Eleanor Vyse 1887-1976

Queen Victoria's carriage outside St Paul's Cathedral, 22 June 1897
Photograph: London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company - Wikimedia
Click on image for a larger version
I can remember, faintly, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It was a lovely summer day and the celebrations were held on the cricket field which at that time was where Welham Close now is. There were sports and a tea, and a large mug was given to every child.

The location of the cricket field, where Welham Close now is, marked in red
Click on the map for a larger version without the marking
OS 25 inch 1898 map courtesy of the National Library of Scotland

School years

I went to Water End School. At school I did NOT like the schoolmistress. She was stern and wore a lace cap and controlled most of the 60 or so children by just looking at us, or so it appeared. Her hands were smooth and glossy. She always wore black dresses with many buttons down the bodice and full skirts to the ground.
(The schoolmistress Eleanor did not like would have been Mrs Letitia Haines, not Mrs Cooke who appears in the first photo and who was well liked.)
Water End School c. 1900s
Water End School c. 1900s
Image G Knott, from the Peter Miller Collection
(You can read more about Water End School in the Schools chapter of Dorothy Colville's book, 'North Mymms - Parish and People', and in Peter Kingsford's book, 'North Mymms Schools and their Children 1700-1964', which are both published on this site.)
The South African War was in progress about that time and I remember we were told in school when Mafeking was relieved. The rest of the day was a holiday.

St Mary's Church and vicarage c. 1900
St Mary's Church and vicarage c. 1900
Photograph G Knott, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
The only music we ever heard was at church or at school, and I remember standing outside a house listening to a young girl practising on a piano. At school, before lessons started, we always sang a hymn and said the collect for the second Sunday in Advent, with eyes closed and hands together. We also sang grace before and after midday dinner. But the one I liked best was the Doxology when we all stood with our outdoor clothes on ready to go home. I remember the fervour we put into that.

The vicarage and gardens seen from St Mary's tower - 1993
The vicarage and gardens seen from St Mary's tower - 1993
Photograph by Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
One of the highlights of the year - almost the only one - was the meeting of the G.F.S. (Girls' Friendly Society) in the vicarage garden. That was always on Ascension Day. There was a service in church, then tea on the lawn and games until dark.

Leaving school early

I left school at 12½ having passed the Labour Examination. For the next year I stayed at home to help my mother as there was a lot to do with five of us at home - children I mean.
(Eleanor Vyse probably meant 'labour certificate' rather than 'labour examination'. Labour certificate were granted to children by local education authorities allowing them to leave school early in order to take up work, in Eleanor's case as a ‘mother's help’. See an example of a labour certificate of 1901 below.)
A 'labour certificate' allowed the holder to leave school in order to work Image Victoria and Albert Museum, London used with permission
A 'labour certificate' allowed the holder to leave school in order to work
Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, used with permission

Haymaking c.1910
Haymaking c.1910
Photograph gifted by B Hickson, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
My father was a hay-binder by profession and he could tell how many loads of hay were contained in a rick by just looking at it. Gathering acorns was something we did every autumn. The price was 10d a bushel and it did take a long time to get a bushel. Once, when it was a bad hay year my father went acorning too and between us we got 40 bushel and that time they were 1 shilling a bushel, I suppose because hay was short.
(A bushel is a measure of capacity used for corn, fruit, liquids, etc. The pre-decimal currency system consisted of a pound of 20 shillings or 240 pence. A shilling was shorted to 's' and a penny was shortened to 'd'.)
Pony and cart was a common form of transport in North Mymms
Pony and cart was a common form of transport in North Mymms
This one carrying members of the Shadbolt and Nash families - 1912
Image from the NMLHS part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
At 13½ I went to serve as a mother's help. I and my box were taken by Nash's pony cart five miles from home to a lady who had four children. She lived at Ludwick Farm which was a stud belonging to Gurney Shephard of Leggatts in North Mymms. There was a large garden and poultry and we fetched milk from a dairy nearby. Mrs Robertson's husband was away in South Africa with his master, Mr Shephard, who belonged to the Imperial Yeomanry. I don't know that I was of much help but I suppose I must have been, doing stacks of washing up and preparing vegetables and taking the children out, blackberrying. I remember that I once had an afternoon off and walked all the way home and back again - all 10 miles! When I went back in the evening I was met by the children who told me their father had died in South Africa.
(Ludwick Farm no longer exists, but it would have been in an area called Hatfield Hyde, situated approximately where Hall Grove and Archers Ride is today, location - https://w3w.co/pace.shapes.risen. The journey, described by Eleanor Vyse, from Ludwick Farm to her home in Welham Green would have probably followed the route on the map below. She recalled that the round trip was 10 miles. The route on the map below is five miles each way. The green line is the probable route taken, the blue icon is where Ludwick Farm would have been, and the red icon would have been Eleanor's home.)

Eleanor's possible route from Ludwick Farm to Welham Green
Eleanor's possible route from Ludwick Farm to Welham Green
Map created on MapHub by the NMHP - click on map for a larger version
Elements © Thunderforest © OpenStreetMap contributors

From home help to post office assistant

I had been in this place a year, receiving 1s. 6d, a week all found of course (all found means with everything provided, such as food, electricity, heating and laundry, at no additional cost. The job is live-in and all found.), but I left soon afterwards and again had a short time at home helping my mother when the post-mistress came and asked my mother if I could go to be post office assistant. I was 14 and a half when I took up the post, or it took me up. The hours were 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with an hour off for dinner at midday. For this I received four shillings per week. The work was interesting and not hard except that I was expected to do a good many chores for the post-mistress, a Frenchwoman who, years before, had been lady's maid to the vicar's wife, Mrs Latter.

I remember having to go to a magistrate to take the oath not to divulge anything which came to my knowledge by being in the post office. This meant another ride in a pony-cart - a treat in those days - to a gentleman who lived four miles away at Mimwood. He was Mr Archibald Thompson, Chairman of the Parish Council, in fact the first chairman of the North Mymms Parish Council. When he died in 1916 a memorial to him was placed in church. It is in the stall where the vicar sits during the services.

Mimwood House, Shepherds Way - 1982
Mimwood House, Shepherds Way - 1982
Image from the former NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
A brother went with me and we rode with the postman who had to call for the mail at another village post office. I was by way of being in love with this postman; he was not much older than I was and of course knew nothing about that. But didn't I enjoy that ride! So I did the glass of milk and the piece of cake Mr Thompson ordered for me, but I was unhappy about my brother as he was waiting in the drive for me. We had to walk the four miles home.

I didn't do any divulging except when the news came through that King Edward's coronation was to be postponed. I knew that was expected and would soon be known by all anyway, but I got a stern reprimand — but the postman DID ask me. (not my postman).

I stayed with that and my four shillings a week for two years. The post mistress was not an easy woman to be with, and my brothers used to tell me that if I stayed much longer with that old woman I'd grow like her that is bad-tempered. The prospects were NIL for getting a better position and pay in the post office so I went to service again.

The two world wars

Towards the end of the war with Germany, 1914—1918, I joined the Army Pay Corps at Hounslow. I don't know how I had the nerve and don't ask me how I got to Hounslow from North Mymms. However I had heard of it and I itched to do war work of some kind.
(Eleanor's memories continued with several paragraphs about working for the Royal Army Pay Corps in Hounslow, but we have not included these in this edited account because of their lack of direct relevance to the history of North Mymms.)
The war came to an end whilst I was at Hounslow and no work was done on that November day. Two of my fellow-lodgers and I went up to London that evening and got as near to Buckingham Palace as we could. The crowd there was enormous; one could not move but had to go as the crowd took us, cheering, until we were nearly hoarse, the royalty when they came out on to a balcony. However, we got back to Hounslow at last and went to the office next morning. There was still plenty to do before things were finally cleared up. I would have liked to stay to the end, though the sitting down work did not agree with me after the activity of working as a house maid, but tragedy happened at my own home and was allowed to leave at once.

After America entered the Second World War the 'American Army Hospital sprang up in North Mymms Park almost overnight. After a time a local lady organised a party of village women as volunteer needle-women to do some necessary sewing for the men. There were four of us. Most of the work was sewing braid on their forage caps, sewing stripes of rank on their sleeves - upside-down - shortening trousers or putting new collars and cuffs on their shirts. Sometimes one of the women staff got us to mend something for her.

It was a long walk from Welham Green to the hospital and once I got through the wire railings to take a short cut. A sentry was there with a gun and told me off. I told him why and what I was going for and he let me go past.

"There ain't no beer"

The Woodman Inn c 1900
The Woodman Inn c 1900 
Photograph by G. Knott, gifted by R. Papworth
Part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

The Old Maypole in the 1940s
The Old Maypole in the 1940s
Photograph from the former NMLHS
Part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
At that time there was usually a shortage of beer at the local pubs. The Americans liked our beer. One evening, early, an old village chap named Sammy was hurrying up the road past my house. He was met by someone on a bicycle and greeted with "It's no good going up there Sammy. There ain't no beer. You'll have to go home and have a cup of cocoa". Sammy stopped and said "cocoa!" in a very disgusted voice.
(The two nearest pubs to the American Hospital were The Woodman Inn and The Old Maypole. Click here for a slideshow of North Mymms pubs over the years.)
At the end of things we, with lots of others who had helped in some way, were given a party and we needle workers were given a certificate by the American Red Cross. It is dated 29th June 1945. I am the only one left of the four.

(Eleanor Vyse died on 23 July 1976.)

Eleanor Vyse, Lorna Annie Jarman (nee Messenger), Daphne Helen Jarman
Eleanor Vyse (left), with Lorna Jarman and Daphne Jarman
Photographed by R Kingdon in the 1950s - Images of North Mymms Collection

The following tribute was paid to Eleanor Vyse by local author and historian, the late Dorothy Colville.

Born more than 88 years ago her early childhood was spent in the Water Splash area of the parish. She attended the Girls' School at Water End where the principal subjects on the curriculum were the 3 R's, the Church Catechism and Needlework — subjects which had a great influence on her life.

Quiet and reserved she had a dry sense of humour and was a keen judge of character. She did not suffer fools gladly.

During the early days of the School Meals Service, she served in one of the then newly built shops in Dellsome Parade, she was one of a small group of volunteers who served the meals and supervised the children during their midday 'break'.

An even smaller group did a weekly 'mend and button replacement' for the men at the American Hospital at North Mymms Park. For this the American Red Cross bestowed a Certificate of Loyal Service to each.

A staunch member of the W.I. her needlework was shown in London at one of the exhibitions organised by the Federation. During the 1939-45 War the W.I., by the collection of waste paper, was able to give a small money gift at Christmas to every serving man and woman in the parish. Miss Vyse walked miles delivering the gifts and making sure no one was forgotten.

Apart from these activities her life was devoted to the service of her family and the friends she gathered around her.

May she rest in peace.

D. Colville

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