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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 19 - Bell Bar

Bell Bar, the little hamlet that clustered about the gates of the manor of Brookmans, was a self-contained community at the beginning of this century. It had its own smithy and bakehouse, two farms, an inn, a mission room, a post office, nine or ten cottages and one larger house built beside the original Great North Road. Beyond this larger house, The Firs, was the little cottage from which the postwoman set out every morning on her lonely walk delivering letters. From the crossroads, Russells Bottom, a gentle climb led to Woodside Place, set next to the entrance to Lord Salisbury’s vast park. The people of Bell Bar had the privilege of walking through the park if going shopping in Hatfield, but Victorian versions of the modern mobile shops made weekly deliveries. Jaunts to Hatfield were therefore few and far between.

Where did the children of Bell Bar go to school in those early days of education for all? To Westfield, walking the mile or so either by the "bottom fields" from the gate diagonally across the road from the Swan or by the "top fields" from opposite the north lodge. This school had been built by Miss Franks in 1850 and had been eulogised in Parliament by John Mundella, M.P., a leading light in the struggle for education for all.

In the North Mymms parish magazine for September 1888 we read: "It should not be forgotten that we are indebted to the excellent school founded by Miss Franks of Westfield for the education of many of the children residing at Bell Bar … indeed one-fifth of the children educated at it come from our own parish. Mr. Mundella, speaking in the House of Commons some time since, said ‘I have recently been in Hertfordshire during the holidays and I found just on the border of Lord Salisbury’s Park one of the best schools in England.’"

At the beginning of this century the villagers of Bell Bar could stand at their cottage doors and look across a narrow field to see the rare motor-car travel along the Great North Road, but it was more usual to see the droves of cyclists on their high machines riding along in orderly fashion to spend a day in the country. Fifty years earlier their grandparents had stood at the same doorways and had watched great coaches lumber by, sometimes so close that it had been possible to touch the sides of the vehicles as they went by on what was the North Road. Glimpses of the famous and of the not so famous had rewarded those who stood and stared. Mail coaches had raced down through the village, scattering the geese that gathered at the pond at the bottom of the street. Who knew who it was who cantered through in the middle of the night when all good people were in their beds? Their grandparents had told them that Dick Turpin, who had had a liking for a village girl, had sometimes passed through on his way to meet the girl at the Greyhound, the old name for Woodside Place. This inn had once been the home of Ben Caunt, a famous pugilist, and followers of the "Fancy" had been seen in Bell Bar.

The coming of the railway had changed all this and had left Bell Bar in a quiet backwater. Prior to 1840 five roads had met near the sixteenth milestone north of Swanley Bar Farm. One had climbed in a north-westerly direction to pass in front of the front door of Brookmans to emerge into the rick-yard and out into the village that had taken its name from the Bell. The road had been diverted and a new piece of turnpike constructed from the junction of the five roads at the sixteenth milestone to the Eight Bells at Hatfield, thus avoiding Brookmans and the Greyhound as well.

Although out of the main stream of traffic when the new stretch of road was opened in 1851, Bell Bar was not always quiet. Six years later the churchwardens paid Isaac Tadgell, the constable, to "convey a woman and child from the roadside at Bell Bar to Hatfield Union" and in 1869 they had to foot the bill for "three visits by Constable W. Cozens to the Swan Inn, Bell Bar, in cases of disturbance," each visit costing 5/-.

In June 1878 no doubt all the villagers turned out to watch a little cavalcade of men who were taking part in a walking match. Hugh Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale, had challenged Edward Payson Weston, a famous American walker, to a walking match from Knightsbridge to the Ram Jain Inn, approximately 100 miles along the Great North Road. The challenge was accepted, the referees (Sir John Astley and the Duke of Beaufort) were chosen and a wager of £5 was agreed. Weston was a picturesque figure, five feet eight inches in height, with white hair and white moustache, wearing a velvet tunic and high gaiters and carrying a small "swagger" cane. With their referees mounted, the two walkers came past the Swan at the rate of a little less than six miles per hour and all through the night they walked, Hugh Lowther, the winner, reaching the Ram Jam inn in seventeen hours twenty-one minutes.

The Bell became the Lord Melbourne and is today known as Elm Tree Farm, though for years it was called Upper Bell Bar Farm. The Swan became the home of Mr. Gaussen’s coachman and a rendezvous for wagonettes, but is now an attractive dwelling house with a mysterious twenty-first milestone beside its front door. The smithy, the bakehouse, the post office and the mission room have all gone, but in their place is a delightful hamlet, cared for and loved.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 20 - Three Famous Writers
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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