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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 8 - Churchwardens' Accounts and Other Matters

The churchwardens' accounts of yesteryear provide interesting side-lights on the day-to-day life of the parish, while the bills paid by those officials are in striking contrast with today's cost-of-living and labour charges. The accounts that have survived commence in 1762 and the book is at County Hall, Hertford.

In 1763 the church underwent extensive repairs, and among those who contributed to the cost were the. Duke of Leeds, of North Mymms Place; Mistress Sambrook, of Gubbins; Charles de Laet, of Potterells; and John Cocks, of Brookmans. (John Cocks's mother had inherited from her brother, Lord John Somers.) Another contributor was Mistress Mary Biddulph, sister of Dame Lydia Mews. Mary's first husband was Gilbert Browne, of Skimpans.

The work of restoration seems to have taken six or seven months to do. The lead was removed and the Duke of Leeds and Charles de Laet carted it, free of charge, to Hatfield, where it was weighed and recast for further use. The first expense was incurred, for the people's warden made the entry "June 4th. Putting up my Horse two days at Hatfield to weigh the Lead, 0. 1. 0." Three weeks later: "Paid a man for carrying a letter from the committee to the plumbers 6d." and on the same day the curious entry “Workmen to drink at ye Church by Consent of the vestry Is. 6d."

Three workmen whose names are given were probably local men. Dan Martin, the bricklayer, was paid £48/10/6 for work done between July and December; John Shepard, the carpenter, received £36/14/9 for work which took a year to do; and Cornelius Nicholas, the painter, received £14/9/6 for his work. The unnamed plumber was paid £40/10/- from the total cost of £155/18/2.

It would appear that by the autumn the repairs were complete, for on October 25 "William Hurrill for fetching water to clean ye Church" was paid 10/10. Betty Underwood used the water to do the cleaning and was paid £l/2/-. She was assisted by "John Hawkes's daughter, who received seven shillings." A final bill for various locks, bolts, staples and "iron handle to open the door : the screen in the chancel" was settled in November.

Nearly 100 years later extensive repairs were again undertake and again subscribers paid the bills, which totalled £1,186/18/7. Whereas in 1763 the highest amounts contributed were £21 frcm the Duke of Leeds and ten guineas each from Charles de Laet and John Cocks, in 1859 five subscribers each gave £100 and Mr. Gaussen also gave two windows and a pew, while Mr. Daniell, of Mofatts, gave the font that is in use today. It was during this restoration that the brasses were taken from the floor and place: on the walls of the chancel.

The Bishop of Worcester preached at the reopening of the church which took place on Tuesday, May 17, 1859, but it was a very sad vicar who took his part in the service. His much-loved mother had died during the previous week and he had had to take the funeral service on Monday. His thankfulness at the restoration of the church was further marred by a dispute that had arisen with one his parishioners. The record is as follows.

On Friday, January 13, 1860, the Archdeacon of St. Albarns visited North Mymms church to investigate certain complaints made by Mr. Lysley on the subject of the allotment of pews. Mr Lysley's tenant at Mimwood Farm, Mr. Milward, complained of his allotted pew being behind those occupied by Mrs. Kemble’s and Mr. Lysley's servants. This complaint was sustained and a change made.

Churchwardens were warned "to give precedence to resident occupiers and ratepayers over servants of private families when allotting pews." The seating plan made at the time is framed and is preserved in the porch.

Throughout the accounts there are entries of payments made to the poor and to itinerant travellers. In 1773 "Gave to the weaver: and other travellers 5s. Od." and at Christmas 1793 "four distrest sailors" received 2/6. Dames Knight and Johnson and Wide Nicholls received small amounts from time to time. When J. Flacon had to be taken to Bethlem hospital the churchwardens paid F Hart 10/- for carrying out the melancholy service. The following entry refers to a tragedy which befell a little family during February 1847: "1847. Apr, 2. Paid to persons engaged in the recovery of the bodies drowned at Water End and to John Massey for refreshments, £3 17s. 9d." A mother and her two children who were crossing the frozen ford in a pony-trap were swept away and drowned, though the husband was saved. The men who were engaged in the rescue work were Gower, "Marlbrow" and Groom — all local men. John Massey, landlord of the Maypole, was paid 18/5 for the refreshments he served and the men shared the rest of the money allowed by the churchwardens.

When the vicar, the Rev. Anthony Webster, needed a new "surplus" in 1789 Mistress Dillin, who made it, was paid 10/6 and when, four years later, it needed mending it cost the churchwardens another half-crown.

The beadle must have been an impressive figure as he went about his parochial duties. Payments for new coats and hats are frequent, but only in 1843 and 1848 are we given details. In the earlier year Boddington, the beadle, had a "new Blue Coat with Scarlet Collar and Gilt Buttons" costing £2/10/- and five years later Hankin of Hatfield supplied a "Stout Paris Hat with Gold Lace Band and Buckle" for £4/14/-.

Whitewashing the church, quarts of "oyl" for the bells, faggots for the "stow" in church, mending the amber tankard, "Prayers" for the young Princess and for Admiral Jarvis, organ blowing and chimney sweeping were naturally the responsibility of the churchwardens, but as members of the vestry their powers were very much wider. Until 1894, when it was "shorn of its civil functions though still a recognized legal assembly," the vestry was the sole means of government in parish affairs and on it depended the smooth running of the secular matters of the community. The vestry was the rating authority, and it appointed overseers and guardians, waywardens and surveyors of roads, advertised for and appointed the workhouse master, elected the trustees for the charities and appointed and paid the village constable.

The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw a spate of house building. Mr. C. C. Sibthorp was modernizing his workpeople's cottages and Mr. J. E. Gray was developing the Pancake Hall area. In 1874 St. Paul's Cottages, with communal laundry and bakehouse, were rated at £5/10/- each and two years later the house built and occupied by Mr. J. E. Gray at Pancake Hall was assessed to the parochial rates at £30. The house was originally called The Laurels, then Welham Lodge, and is now known as Welham Manor.

In 1865 the vestry met to consider the state of the bridge at Water End, part of which had been washed away during the January floods; in 1885 it accepted the resignation of its faithful clerk, Mr. Goulburn who had served for forty-seven years; in the following year a special meeting was held at the vicarage "for the purpose of taking into consideration the best means of preventing the disturbance of the bed of the torrent at the entrance of the Church Avenue befcre injures the foundations of the Bridge . . . agreed that our Road Surveyor be empowered to do all that is necessary"; and in 1893 it agreed that "It is desirable to construct a footpath from Wellham Green to Hipgrave's Lodge" and gifts of gravel with which construct the said footpath were begged from Mr. Gaussen, of Brookmans, and from Mr. Bruce, of North Mymms Park.

The passing of the Local Government Acts at the end of the nineteenth century relieved the vestry of duties it had carried out from at least Elizabethan days.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 9 - The Parish Charities
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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