North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville
Chapter 14 - North Mymms Park
This lovely red-brick Jacobean manor house is not the one known to the de Swanland and Knolles families, nor is it the one that provided a lodging for Elizabeth Tudor one dreary February evening when she was on her way from Ashridge to face possible imprisonment in the Tower. At that time, 1554, the manor was nearer the church and was the home of Elizabeth Coningsby and her second husband, William Dodde.
Sir Ralph Coningsby, Elizabeth's grandson, inherited the property on the death of his father in 1590. He was high sheriff of the county, and whether it was because of his position or because of the prosperity that was sweeping the country he decided to build a new manor house farther west from the church. The Rev. F. C. Cass, in his history of South Mimms, says of North Mymms manor: "The former manor house is said to have stood somewhat farther towards the north-east and nearer to the church, probably filling the space now occupied by a deep pond shaded by trees." Sir Ralph died in 1615, therefore it is safe to assume that the present house was probably built in 1600.
In 1658 the Coningsby family sold the property to Sir Thomas Hyde, of Aldbury, whose heiress, his daughter Bridget, by marrying Peregrine Osborne, son of the Duke of Leeds, took the estate to that family in 1685. The house remained unaltered throughout the next two centuries until 1846, when the new owner, Baron Greville, added the corridors and the copper-covered turrets to the east and west wings. Coningsby C. Sibthorp bought North Mymms in 1871, and as he already owned Skimpans, Potterells and Hawks-head he became the largest landowner in the parish. The beautiful manor house remained unaltered. There was a grandiose scheme for diverting the course of the Mimmshall Brook to provide a " canal " and boating lake, but the planners had reckoned without the temperamental Mimmshall Brook and the scheme was abandoned.
In 1893 the property was sold to Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Burns, and they made extensive alterations and added several wings to the west side of the house, but these latter were practically all removed in 1947, leaving a house more suitable to present-day needs. The cool marble loggia with its vaulted mosaic ceiling and ornate bronze door remains from the 1893 additions. Professor Pevsner says of the house: " It is one of the best examples of the late Elizabethan style in the county, inferior perhaps to none but Hatfield."
The gardens, especially the rose garden of North Mymms Park, are known and admired by many, some of whom come from a distance on days when the gardens are open for the British Red Cross Society. The late Queen Mary was a regular visitor during the summer months when the roses, in a garden specially designed by Sir Ernest George, were at their most colourful. The garden itself was the work of William Robinson, "the reformer of the English garden at the end of the nineteenth century " (Pevsner).
During the early years of their ownership of North Mymms Park Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Burns made extensive alterations and additions to the pleasure grounds. The planting of choice shrubs belongs to this period, and it is to " old Mrs. Burns," as she is still remembered, that we owe the trees on the war memorial triangle—trees that are such a joy in the autumn.
Two extracts from parish magazines tell us something of the wealthy American lady who made North Mymms her home. During the summer of 1899 her daughter was married to Mr. L. Vernon Harcourt, and " in honour of her daughter's marriage Mrs. Burns gave a treat to the children, tea to the mothers in the afternoon and supper to the men employed on the estate in the evening . . . calculated that no less than 663 persons were thus entertained. . . . The men felt grateful not only for the day's pleasure but for the continuous employment provided for them through the winter as well as the summer months " (September 1899).
Twenty years later the parish magazine for August 1919 tells us: "It was with deep regret that the parish learned early on Sunday, 20th July, that Mrs. Burns had passed away quite suddenly at her residence in London in the early hours of the morning. . . . She had been able to view the procession during the day. Two days previously the vicar had received from her personally a most kind note in which she expressed the wish that the local peace celebrations would be a great success and enclosed a handsome cheque to help defray the expenses. That the happiness of the parishioners should thus be in her mind during the last days of her life will be remembered with appreciation ... The benefactions of Mrs. Burns in the parish were numerous. She maintained the parish nurse as her sole expense; she presented the Men’s Institute; and was always ready to respond to any appeal for help. She subscribed largely to the restoration of the church in 1913 and the churchyard was kept in order at her expense."
Dorothy Colville, 1971
Chapter 15 - Potterells
Index - North Mymms Parish and People