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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 11 - Schools

Until the middle of this century two schools had sufficed for the needs of the children of the parish - the boys were taught at Welham Green and the girls and infants at Water End.

Built in 1847 by Caroline Lydia Casamajor and generously endowed by her, the little school at Water End served the community for well over a century, training successive generations of girls in the Christian principles their benefactress desired.

The following quotations from the log books - which unfortunately date back only to 1897 - give some interesting sidelights on the day-to-day activities of this country school. The weather then, as now, was of general interest, but when going to school involved possibly an hour’s walk along roads that in summer were thick with white dust but in winter were ankle deep in soft wet clay the weather was of supreme importance.

Cold Winter and Hot Summers

The early autumn of 1898 was presumably one of long golden days carrying the summer well on into winter, a blessing to the farmers who were still gathering in the harvest, but it provoked the headmistress to record: "The great heat affected all. The younger children were allowed to sit under the trees in the playground, where they tried to work," underlining the word "tried." Poor little children in their thick "stuff" frocks, long black woollen stockings and strong, serviceable boots trying to work!

In January 1900 and again in February 1901 deep snow prevented the children from attending school, and on one day in the latter year only nine pupils out of 106 managed to struggle through the snow to take their places on the long, hard, backless benches ready for lessons.

Due to the nearby swallow-holes and the surrounding low-lying ground, flooding - always sudden and surprisingly deep - has been a problem with which Water End has had to contend over the years, and in June 1903 we read: "School was not open yesterday owing to the rain. The floods were so high it was not possible for any child to get to school", but in March 1916 "only fifty children were present on account of the terrible snowstorm and consequent floods and the children had to be carted over the flooded roads." When old girls forgather a gleam comes into their eyes as they remember that exciting day. The strong arms that lifted them up on to the school wall, the equally strong ones that swung them from the wall over the swirling water into the safety of the farm cart, and the unusual view over the hedges as they rode along, gently swaying to the rhythmic lift of the heavy hooves—all this they remember, forgetting the anxiety of their teachers and parents, forgetting too the name of the kindly bailiff who was worried about their plight that rainy day so long ago.

Reasons for missing school

Reasons for absence from school sound strange in our ears. Thus July 12 to 16, 1897 "the haymaking is lowering the attendance of the upper standards" and in October 1899 "a few absentees are acorning." The Education Act of 1870 had made education compulsory as well as free for all. Regularity of attendance was required, but the few pence earned by a day’s haymaking or by the collecting of a bushel of acorns became a valuable addition to the family income and more than compensated the risk of a possible visit from a zealous attendance officer.

Attendance was invariably poor in the upper standards at the end of the week, and a glance through any old issue of the parish magazine will give the probable reason for this. "Board day" - that is of the management of the poor-law institution - was on Thursday, and no doubt the bigger girls were kept at home to care for the babies while their mothers trudged to Hatfield to obtain "relief."

Two world wars occurred during the years covered by the log books, but it is surprising how little space is devoted to war. On November 12, 1915, the education director "expressed a wish that the children should work for the Red Cross" so from then onwards the bigger girls met at eight o’clock in the morning and sewed shirts, knitted socks or padded splints until school lessons started. On October 2, 1916, "teachers and children were quite unfit for work, having been up all night through the bringing down of a Zeppelin, therefore it was thought advisable to close school for the day." This was the Zeppelin brought down at Potters Bar, shot down by Lt. W.J. Tempest, D.S.O. "Numbers are low, attendances very poor and the weather severe. Some of the older girls are kept at home to bring coals from the siding as they cannot now be carted" is the entry for February 2, 1917. These entries cover World War I, and those of World War II are equally terse, containing reports of two-shift days worked in order to accommodate "evacuees" and references to trenches and black-out curtains, while potato picking in October, unlike the acorning of fifty years before, received official approbation.

Pencil sharpening

Visitors to the little school have been mystified by the deeply scored marks to be seen on the external walls of the building and have been surprised when told that these are marks left from the slate-pencil sharpening of days gone by. During the days preceding the diocesan inspection of 1906 no doubt the pencils received extra sharpening and so helped to earn for their owners the report that "the writing was neat and deserving

of considerable praise," but only two months later his majesty’s inspector sternly decreed: "Slates, if used at all, must be cleaned in a proper manner." One can only guess at what Mr. Wix saw, but no more is heard of slates until May 1916, when they came back into use, "the county council having requested it as an economy measure.

Memories of two headmistresses

How times have changed since the first pupils entered North Mymms girls’ school, but the kindly lady who gave the school to the parish would have been gratified at the results of her experiment in providing education for the local girls, for "This is a pleasant school to inspect" was the verdict of all inspectors who entered its doors.

With the closing of the little school at the end of 1960 it was perhaps inevitable that many of its past pupils should think back to their schooldays and of the teachers who ruled their little world. Two headmistresses whose combined years of service spanned more than a third of the school’s life are remembered with awe and affection, with pride and some amusement. They are Mrs. flames, headmistress from 1880 to 1902, and her successor, Mrs. Cooke, who stayed until 1920.

These two ladies, if one can judge from the anecdotes of their pupils and the entries in the log books, were vastly different in character and in outlook. Indeed, it could be said that Mrs. Flames was the last of an era - that of the dame school - and Mrs. Cooke the first of the "new look" in education.

Discipline

Both were strong disciplinarians - they had to be when classes might number as many as sixty - and the cane, seldom used but always near, and known as " the doctor" in Mrs. flames’s day, was an essential part of school equipment. Although always known as the girls’ school, in actual fact little boys up to the age of seven were allowed to attend though the kindly founder left no funds for them. Strangely, it is a little boy who provides a vivid memory for one old girl. She remembers Mrs. Haines actually washing out his mouth with strong soapy water because he persisted in using dirty words!

Although so near London and with a railway running through the parish, North Mymms during the later decades of the nineteenth century was an isolated rural area and its little school was largely governed by the local gentry, who looked upon it as a training ground for their maids and seamstresses. By the terms of her will the founder had laid down exactly what proportion of her endowment was to be spent on "tapes, needles and threads" and had stated that the girls were to be taught " marking," that is cross-stitch lettering. It is significant that until 1900 the most important post after that of the headmistress was that of the sewing mistress, and the accounts for the year 1885 show the salaries to have been £73 for the headmistress, £50 for the sewing mistress and £9/6/-for a monitress.

Beautiful samplers and "specimens of needlework processes" testifying to the thoroughness with which this subject was taught are to be found in the homes of some of the older village families. An entry in the log book tells us that "Goult, Kate, sewed neatly for Mrs. Cotton-Curtis" and that" one and a half dozen linen towels were made and marked" for the same lady, while "Chuck, Agnes, has darned some table cloths very neatly, others have patched sheets." Sewing those linen towels would have earned Kate Goult just ninepence according to a price list in an old parish magazine, with an extra farthing for every letter marked on in line red cotton.

It is difficult in these days of sewing machines and a bewildering array of ready-made garments to remember that at the turn of the century "piece goods" had to be laboriously hand sewn by the women and girls of the household. Even as late as 1914 an old farm labourer in Welham Green was still wearing a hand-sewn smock, and many a schoolgirl spent her playtime turning the heel of a long black woollen stocking.

North Mymms Women’s Institute - now, alas, disbanded - was justifiably proud of the beautiful plain sewing of one of its members, Miss Eleanor Vyse. Her work has won a national award and has been exhibited in London. She learnt her craft at Water End and she has lively memories of her schooldays.

That Mrs. flames was held in high esteem is clear, for at the time of her retirement a terrace of cottages was being built for the baker, Mr. Chuck, and he gave instructions that one was to be offered to Mrs. Haines for her use as long as she needed it. A former pupil who was then at Cambridge University wrote to the vicar: "I shall always gratefully remember the skilful and loving care bestowed upon me, and I am quite sure that any success I have since gained is due in no small measure to the thorough and devoted attention 1 received there at Water End."

School meals and milk

Trained at St. Hild’s, Durham, young and energetic, a wind from her native Cumberland fells seemed to sweep through the little school when Mrs. Cooke became its headmistress in 1902. Ahead of her time, she introduced school meals in 1903, and a mid-morning drink of milk - brought in a large chum straight from the farm - or of hot cocoa was available for a penny a week. "Modern subjects" were introduced into the curriculum and, with the help of the Misses Seymour, of Potterells, country dancing became and remained a favourite one. School visits to exhibitions in London were made as early as 1907. As these visits entailed walking to and from Potters Bar station, after what must have been a tiring day for girls and staff alike that weary walk home must have taken some of the gilt off the gingerbread.

By May 1916 girls of the upper classes were walking to Hatfield to attend cookery classes and for the second year four girls were entered for the National Society’s examination in religious knowledge. These girls travelled to St. Albans in comfort, for Mr. Nash, the builder, lent them his pony-trap, but they walked home from Colney Heath. Billy, the pony, would not come beyond the blacksmith’s shop! One of Nash’s men had to walk to Colney Heath to bring home the pony and trap.

Though it continued to be well taught, needlework did not now have the amount of time spent on it as in former days, being practised on only two afternoons a week.

But Mrs. Cooke was not content with the four walls of her school. Her energy seemed boundless. She became one of the small band of pioneer motor-cyclists and, dressed in a long dust-coat and with a veil over her hat, soon became a familiar figure all over the country wherever enthusiasts met. In 1907 she had the honour of being elected a member of the then exclusive Motor Cycling Club. In a letter dated May 1953 Mr. Harold Karslake, then librarian of the Association of Pioneer Motor Cyclists, wrote: "I knew Mr. and Mrs. Cooke very well from 1908 to 1914 and was on visiting terms at their house at North Mymms. Mrs. Cooke was an exceptionally skilled rider and competed in a number of road trials, but not in hill climbs or racing. She also contributed a number of articles to the motor-cycle press." Her nom-de-plume was Atalanta.

Two such different ladies, Mrs. Haines and Mrs. Cooke, but true sisters to the lovable clerk of whom Chaucer wrote "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly wolde he teche."

Workhouse to School

Still known as the boys’ school to the older residents of the parish, the Church school stands on land left for "the use of the poor of the parish" as long ago as 1604. On that land a workhouse was built and there the poor lived and worked until the early Poor Law Acts of Queen Victoria’s reign abolished all village workhouses. The building then became the school for boys. That it was not satisfactory is clear from entries in the Rev. Horace Meyer’s life story and in early numbers of the parish magazine, but nearly half a century was to go by before a new building was provided in 1887. It cost £1,312/5/4 and was "entirely free from debt" when opened.

The vicar was so proud of this new building that all his visitors were taken to see it and the parish magazine carried the statement "Our new school premises are already claiming to be reckoned among the principal buildings of our country village and may in some distant century - should the world last so long - be pointed out as a specimen of honest English nineteenth-century work" - a graceful compliment to the village craftsmen. In its turn the 1887 building has been enlarged and modernised until today the Church school is one of which the parish can be proud.

Its log books date back only to 1868, and almost the first entry made by the headmaster, Mr. George Foster, is "Small attendance as the boys are having to fetch soup" - a reference to the village soup-kitchen, which was always established during any hard winter when the "labourers were necessarily out of work." By June it was the bad weather, the hay-making, the flower show or the choir outing to the Crystal Palace that was causing small attendances. A race on the London road or a cricket match in the village proved to be greater attractions than school lessons, and in February 1871 truants John Nash and Fred Dickens "followed the hounds." The various village ponds were never-failing attractions. Every winter the Rev. G. S. Batty warned against" sliding on Pancake Hail pond, which is dangerous because it is so very deep." Parish pond just over the school fence produced the best "efts," with high crests and orange chests, while damming the moat round Mr. Parsons’s farm was a favourite pastime.

Bird-minding of pheasants and bird-scaring of rooks, setting of potatoes as well as picking them, gleaning, acorning and gathering blackberries were all reasons for absence. "The rich man in his castle" expected the services of the boys when he had a shooting party, lasting perhaps three or four days, and on occasions school was closed for a week to enable the boys to go beating. School holidays were arranged for the convenience of the local farmers, and on June 25, 1886, the headmaster wrote "School closed for a fortnight’s holiday. This will form part of the usual harvest holiday. As the hay harvest is more important than the corn in this parish the managers think a fortnight now that the hay-making is in full swing will be as beneficial to the boys as the holiday coming in the corn harvest." The small amounts earned by the boys were valuable additions to the miserably meagre wages of their fathers.

Bad behaviour and backsliders

The Education Act of 1870 evidently brought in a few backsliders, for in 1873 Jacob Webb, aged eleven, and Joseph Day and William Adams, both aged nine, were admitted and "all knowing nothing." If William, always known as Billy, knew nothing when admitted to school he soon learnt about "Captain" Webb and his exploits, and Billy longed to sail in a tub on the floods at Water End! Mimmshall Brook fascinated him and he knew it in all its moods, especially when in flood, and much concern was felt for his safety.

That the masters of those early days of education for all were able to maintain the high standards they set themselves was due in no small measure to the work of the monitors, who would listen to the " tables," spelling or reading of the younger pupils, thus leaving the master free to work with the older boys. The names of the monitors appear fleetingly from the pages of the log books. George Bligh was an admirable one and in 1877 was given leave of absence so that he could go to St. Albans to witness the historic enthroning of the first bishop of St. A]bans, but Ernest Goult belied his Christian name and was not serious enough. Besides, he had a tame jackdaw, which he would bring to school, thereby creating unnecessary disturbances!

George Knott, a former pupil and a keen pioneer photographer, left a most interesting pictorial record of the parish covering a period of nearly forty years ending with the opening of Brookmans Park station in 1926, but it is those photographs taken at the end of the last century that are eagerly scanned by today’s parishioners, for they show a village which is fast disappearing.

Links between schools and church

The early schoolmasters of this little school, like the majority of teachers, were expected to take a full share in the religious and cultural life of the district, and indeed were appointed on that understanding. Here in Mymms they were organist and choirmaster, unpaid trainer of the drum and fife band run in connection with the Band of Hope, master of the night school and collector for the various benefit clubs, while royal weddings and local flower shows all gave extra work to one who must have already been overworked.

Mr. George Foster died in harness in December 1880 and the parish placed a memorial stone to him in the churchyard, but the one who is remembered today, although half a century has gone since he retired from active service, is Mr. Benjamin Mallett, the master appointed in June 1889. He filled all the posts his predecessors had filled and found time to indulge his hobbies. He was unmarried when appointed, but brought his bride with him in September to the school house, which was to be their home for more than thirty years.

He was a competent organist and choirmaster and had had musical compositions, mainly chants and anthems, accepted by leading publishers, and within a comparatively short time the Rev. G.S. Batty was recording "Our choir led us successfully in Jackson’s Te Deum on Whitsunday." He was successful, too, in arranging attractive annual outings for the choir. There was always the element of surprise in these, such as when in 1893 the choir saw the wedding presents of the Prince and Princess of Wales displayed in the Imperial Institute and went by steamer to Kew, where "in the orchid houses the Victoria Regia had that very day bloomed for the first time this season." This was the magnificent lily, which had captured the imagination of all Victorian horticulturists.

In 1894 the Prince of Wales opened Tower Bridge and during the weeks that followed the choir went to St. Leonards, but at some time during the journey they had time to pause and "had seen the arms of the lower bridge open to allow a vessel to pass through." The following year, unfortunately, the vicar was not able to accompany the choir to Dover. He had been ill for several weeks, so" a message of hearty greeting was wired to him, who though absent was not forgotten. The telegram, consisting of eighty-one words, was the longest ever received at the North Mymms post office."

Mr. Benjamin Mallett was a strict master – "I punished severely" he used to say - but he won the love and respect of his pupils. Manly sports were encouraged, and singing, naturally, found a place in the rather dull curriculum of the three Rs of those days. His pride in his "old boys" who joined the armed forces on that August Sunday in 1914 when the recruiting sergeant visited North Mymms found expression in a telegram sent to Lord Kitchener. The telegram was as follows: "Over sixty men of the parish of North Mymms, Hatfield, having a male population of between three and four hundred, have answered your call to rural England, by enlisting and volunteering to serve in His Majesty’s Forces. All other men awaiting your further call." The following reply was received: "I congratulate North Mymms on their response to their country’s call and their example to others - Kitchener."

Mr. Mallett would have been the last to call himself a poet, but his "Reminiscences of August ‘14," dedicated to Major Bryan Laing, of Abdale, Who was at the time serving with the Sherwood Rangers, was an immediate success in the parish. Every household bought at least one copy, for in it Mr. Mallett bad used the names and nicknames as well as the characteristics of many who had enlisted. From its sale the nucleus of a "welcome home" fund was formed. The thought that it would all be over by Christmas receded from everyone’s mind, but the fund gradually increased. Every man who returned from the war and the relations of those who died received a copy of the" North Mymms Roll of Honour 1914-1918" compiled. by Mr. Mallett. Bound in red leather and beautifully produced, it contained biographies of all those who had served. A copy is preserved in the vicar’s vestry in the parish church.

Mr. Mallett resigned his teaching post in 1922, but continued to live in Welham Green for some years. When he died in 1950 he had lived to the advanced age of eighty-six. He was buried in North Mymms churchyard.

The roll of honour compiled by Mr. Mallett included the names of some who were not former pupils of the boys’ school in Welham Green. There were postmen and railwaymen, gardeners and others in private service living in the parish. There were, too, the sons of estate owners, whose schools were likely to have been Haileybury, Merchant Taylors or Eton.

Forming the Scout Troop

One whose name was included was Oliver Leese. Living with his parents at Welham Lodge, he had been educated at Eton. With his father he had helped to form the first Scout troop in the parish. He was a natural leader. August 1914 saw him a very young lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards. During the 1914-18 war he was wounded three times, was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the D.S.O. When the war ended he had attained the rank of captain.

The Army was his career, and he saw active service during the second world war, being successively C.O. Guards Armoured Division, commander of the 8th Army and Commander-in-Chief Allied Land Forces in S.E. Asia. When he retired in 1946 he was G.O.C.-in-C. Eastern Command.

He is now a famous cactus grower, living in Shropshire, and any Mymnsian who visits him at his stand at Chelsea is warmly welcomed.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 12 - Aerial Travellers
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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