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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 7 - The Churchyard

A Churchyard is part of the history of a parish, and its memorials to former parishioners are the products of local craftsmen. Large, carefully tended and particularly beautiful in the spring when its drifts of snowdrops and daffodils delight the eye, our churchyard is typical of country parishes. The Churchyards Handbook 1962 suggests that a record should be made of memorial inscriptions, especially any that are of local interest. One who would have agreed with this suggestion was Frederick T. Cansick, who left a list of those he found in our churchyard in 1888.

Time and weather have done their worst, and many of the inscriptions are now illegible, while some have disappeared altogether, but of those that are still legible the oldest is on the slate ledger stone of Thomas Huxley, who lived at Skimpans and died in the eighty-ninth year of his age in March 1695/6.

Cansick noted the following:

Censure not rashly, Natureís apt to halt, That manís not born That dies without a fault."

This unusual epitaph, often quoted in books of reference, is not unique to our churchyard. There is, or was some years ago, a memorial stone bearing these words to be found in Essendon churchyard and no doubt there were and are others.

The North Mymms example is on the memorial stone to "Mr. Joseph Hawkes, Wheeler, of this Parish," who died in August 1798, aged seventy-three. It shelters beneath the fine giant redwood which is to be seen on the left of the path as one approaches the church.

We know very little about this wheelwright who lived in our parish, but that he was a good one we may be sure. He may have lived in Welham Green, for it is recorded that at Michaelmas 1775 he was paying £5 rent "for the closes by the workhouse." He served his church as a churchwarden. In 1771 be travelled to London with Thomas Mawe, his fellow warden, and their total expenses on "Church business amounted to 12/6. He served his fellow men, and as parish overseer in 1777 be dealt sympathetically with his poorer neighbours.

One who served his fellow men in a different capacity lies but a short distance from the wheelwright. "Mr. John Cobourne, sergeant in the North Mims Company of Volunteers" died on January 2, 1806, aged twenty-three. His memorial stone is a reminder of the threat of invasion by Napoleon.

At least four of the vicars who served the parish "lie amid their flocks," and the beautiful Renaissance altar tomb of the Rev. John Alkin, who died in 1749, can be found in the south-east corner of the churchyard. He had "for forty years conscientiously discharged the duty of vicar" and was "universally lamented by his parishioners who knew and felt his worth."

Memorials to "valued servants" were noted by Cansick, among them one to Elizabeth Bunning, who died in 1859, aged sixty-one, and who for thirty-eight of those years had "lived a valued and attached servant in the families of 0. J. Bosanquet, C. Franks and H.. W. Gaussen, Esquires," local wealthy families who were interrelated by marriage.

There are few crosses in the churchyard, but two that were erected by public subscription are interesting - one to a loved schoolmaster, George Foster, "fourteen years the faithful schoolmaster of this parish," who died in harness in December 1880, and the other, a little cross placed near the fence under the old elm tree, the memorial to a little boy who died from hydrophobia on New Yearís Eve, 1884.

"0 base ungrateful thought To call the grave the last long home of man, ĎTis but a lodging, held from week to week Till Christ shall come."

These words occur on the gravestone of two young girl friends who died within a week of each other and who were buried together a few paces from the west door.

Gravestones

Unusual names and forgotten names of places can be found on some memorial stones, thus Crammer and Shirtclilt surnames, and Market Street, the old name for the village of Markyate, are to be seen in our churchyard. Market Street became the home of Elizabeth, the daughter of Joseph Hawkes, the wheelwright. Elizabethís husband had the unusual Christian name of Barnset.

In the north portion of the churchyard there is a memorial stone to Charles Flint, who died in 1836. He is recorded as being of Delsome Cottage, a property that has long since disappeared but whose site is shown on old maps. A few paces away can be seen a small marble tablet built into the fabric of the exterior wall of the chantry chapel. Its inscription is simple: "Hatcher Farmer, the Son of Edward Farmer, Gent. Obit Sep. 10. 1702."

The two wives of Thomas Smith lie beside each other by the path in the south-east corner of the churchyard. Dorcas, the first wife, died on January 31, 1747, aged fifty, and Sane, the second wife, died six years later. On the memorial stone to Dorcas her husband is said to have been of Water End, but on that of Jane his home is given as North Mimes. Was the spelling a mistake made by the mason?

There is an unusual epitaph on the memorial stone of John Welch. It is a variant of one that had been popular for a century and a half before John Welch died in 1753. Instead of the more usual wording - a fine example of which can be seen on a magnificent altar tomb in the church at Arkesden, Essex - the epitaph in our churchyard reads:

"As I am, so must you be, Therefore prepare to follow me."

The unknown mason who cut the delightful cherubs on the memorials to the Wood family and he who cut the lettering on the memorials in the south-east portion of the churchyard were masters of their craft, for though more than 200 years have gone by since the stones were placed in the churchyard the cherubs are still there for us to enjoy as we wonder at the skill displayed by rural craftsmen.

The changing pattern of country life, however, meant that no longer could a master mason with an apprentice or two hope to gain a livelihood in his home parish, for by the early 1820s iron foundries were manufacturing cheap memorials with prongs to be inserted into the ground. One only remains in our churchyard and it is now fastened to the western boundary fence. Wooden "bed-rails," too, were to be seen; the last, a memorial to Sarah Giles, disappeared some fifteen years ago.

"Praises on tombs are trifles vainly spent, A manís good name is his best monument."

These words occurred on the tomb of Mr. James Goddard, who died in 1754, and were, perhaps, intended as a gentle sermon to those who passed by.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 8 - The Churchwardens' Accounts and Other Matters
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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