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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 10 - Our Parish Magazine

Our parish magazine has appeared regularly since it was first issued in January 1865. The Rev. Arthur Simon Latter introduced the magazine, saying "The opportunity being given of circulating in the parish once a month a magazine of sound religious doctrine and healthy tone, I have resolved on trying for one year to what extent such a plan will be acceptable to you."

He was a man of zeal and energy. It was said that his day started in his study at 6 a.m. and frequently did not end until midnight. Improvements to the church building and the extension at the west end of the vicarage were carried out during his incumbency, which lasted from 1864 until 1880. Despite the large and very scattered parish of which he had the care, in common with many Victorian parsons he coached "young gentlemen." They used Church Cottage as their dormitory. It is tempting to speculate upon the curriculum of the lads who were coached by Mr. Latter. Did it include local history and were the results of their researches the series of articles that appeared in the first numbers of the magazine?

The magazine was very good value for money. It cost one and a half pence, had a neat blue cover, measured six inches by eight inches and contained thirty-six to forty pages. A typical number had four to six pages of local news, and an inset of at least twenty-four pages with the regular features of a map of the parish, a list of endowed charities, rainfall and weather, timetables of the local trains and the postal arrangements. Magazines were frequently bound into handsome volumes as prizes for night-school progress, and with the wide range of subjects covered in the insets were veritable encyclopaedias.

However, it is the local news that is of absorbing interest and gives us glimpses of a way of life that has gone. The "simple annals of the poor" found their way into the magazines, and as we read we sympathise with the parents who watched their little boy die from hydrophobia, enter into the fun of the ventriloquist with the black doll, glow with pride to read of the men who marched away to the wars, and are shocked that a soup kitchen was an annual necessity when "a quart of good soup and half of a half-quartern loaf bought for a penny was for many families the principal meal of the day." All aspects of parish life are reported upon, as for many homes the parish magazine was the only printed material that found its way through the doors; besides, many of the older people found difficulty in reading 100 years ago.

But they were not ignorant, those forebears of ours, though they lacked book-learning. They were, perforce, jacks of all trades, but many of them were masters of more than one trade. The men could plough, sow, reap and mow as well as improvise simple tools in wood or iron for use in field or home. They could "doctor" their sick cattle, "lay" a hedge and thatch their barns and stacks. They made their own baskets from the osiers that grew locally, twisted their own ropes and made their own bricks.

When Lady Greville built the schoolmistress’s house at Water End a village mason carved 1850 on a slab of stone which formed the door lintel for more than 100 years, and the same mason, father-in-law of mine host of the Maypole, produced most of the Massey memorials to be found in the churchyard. The house built by Lady Greville is now known as The Pound House.

The women could bake and brew (and in farming circles home brewing of ale was the rule rather than the exception), make cheese and butter, plait intricate patterns in straw and prick equally intricate patterns for fine lace, and produce beautiful sewing and embroidery; and, like their husbands, they had an elementary knowledge of nursing which they used in the care of their families. Old Mrs. Monk, of Water End, who rebuked the Rev. Horace Meyer because six weeks had elapsed between one pastoral visit and the next, was the parish midwife for a number of years and had great knowledge of the use of herbs.

Living in the midst of a famous wheat-growing area it followed that straw-plaiting, a by-product of wheat-growing, should become a cottage industry in our parish. This industry was already well established in Stuart times and flourished for a further 200 years. The earnings of the women were considerable when compared with the wages of their menfolk, and farmers complained of it as " doing mischief, for it makes the poor saucy and no servants can be procured or any field work done where this manufacture establishes itself"; but, though he recorded the farmers’ views, Arthur Young himself approved of the industry. He said "Straw-plaiting is of very great use to the poor and has considerable effect in keeping down rates, which must be far more burthensome without it," and continued "Good earnings are a most happy circumstance which I wish to see universal."

It is known that a straw-plaiting school existed at Hatfield. It may have taken pupils from North Mymms, but the craft was kept alive by the mothers and grandmothers who passed on their techniques to the children. Lovely-sounding names such as double pearl, moss-edge and Coburg were given to the different plaits, which were exclusive to a certain area.

Fear of agriculture works joining unions

Hertfordshire was practically untouched by the industrial revolution, but by the middle of last century a straw-hat factory was established in St. Albans and the city became the centre from which bundles of prepared straw were collected and to which the finished plait was taken once a week. With their comparative affluence due to the earnings of their womenfolk the Hertfordshire labourers in husbandry were indifferent to the agricultural struggles of neighbouring counties, and the Rev. A. S. Latter was not slow to foster this apathy among the men in his parish. The parish magazine for July 1872 records "A meeting was held on Saturday, June 22, at Colney Heath at which an attempt was made to induce the agricultural labourers of this and neighbouring parishes to take part in the agitation that is being carded on in Bedfordshire to raise the rate of wages."

The vicar warned his flock of the consequences of joining such a union and reminded his readers of "the most kindly feeling which has hitherto subsisted between employers and employed," adding that "anything which would tend to introduce discord is most earnestly to be avoided." Changes in agricultural methods and the importation of foreign plait brought about the decline of straw-plaiting. Until 1939 more than half the male population of Hertfordshire were husbandmen, and not until 1951 did agriculture cease to head the list of occupations carried on in the county. Straw-plaiting disappeared from the cottage homes, but straw-plaiting implements are still to be found among the treasures of our older parish families and a fine collection was shown at "Expo Old North Mymms" in September 1970.

Defoe, who toured Great Britain in 1724, asserted that straw-plaiting spread from Hertfordshire into Bedfordshire. Could lace-making have taken the reverse route? In 1957, during modernisation of Steprow Cottages, Water End, two lace bobbins, one with a wisp of pale green cotton still attached, were found beneath the floorboards. These, with a "pillow" on which was a length of lace of a distinctive Bedfordshire pattern in the process of being made, were also to be seen at the local "Expo." Photographs of the 1880-90 period show the girls of Water End school wearing beautiful lace collars and arc in striking contrast with the rather drab photographs of 1910, when lace-making had disappeared from all but a few homes in the parish.

Could a little band of Huguenot refugees have settled on part of the waste land bordering the drove road which led from Hatfield past Traveller’s Farm on its way to Bell Bar? In the course of time did the place of the Huguenots become Huggens Lane (1880) and ultimately Huggins Lane as it is known today?

Until the coming of the railway the ordinary countryman did not travel far from home. Young men were sometimes dazzled by the recruiting sergeant and accepted the queen’s shilling or were press-ganged into the Navy to serve for seven years, but the majority were home-keeping youths. Ladies’ maids, butlers, coachmen and valets were the exceptions, for they accompanied their masters and mistresses on the annual trek to spend the season in London or to take the waters at Bath or some other fashionable spa or to make a round of visits to relations and friends. Much later came the sportsman’s holiday, when the family would take a lodge in some remote part of Scotland where shooting or fishing was plentiful. In this way those who stayed at home learnt something of the outside world from their luckier friends.

In the days before the 1914-18 war Banffshire and Ross and Cromarty were favourite holiday places for the local gentry, and although so far away from North Mymms the fortunate holiday-makers did not forget those at home. Sir William Leese, of Welham Lodge, it is remembered, would send home a haunch of venison "to be shared among his neighbours in St. Paul’s Cottages," Mr. Seymour would send a salmon for his outdoor staff, and, what is perhaps best remembered, Lady Clauson would send a big box of Edinburgh rock to the girls at Water End school.

One hundred years ago there were no Girl Guides, Scouts or youth clubs, no Women’s Institutes or organisations for adults except those sponsored by the church. The Band of Hope catered for the young people and the early numbers of the parish magazine abound with accounts of their treats and activities. The Mothers’ Meeting, with its emphasis on sewing while listening to a "good book" being read to them, served the women’s needs. Night school for the young man, working on his garden allotment for the older man, with bellringing and cricket in season, filled the little leisure time of the menfolk. All these activities were sponsored or encouraged by the vicar, and it was due to the enterprise of the Rev. A. S. tatter that the garden allotments were introduced in 1871. The vicar himself took one plot of ground.

From time to time a quoits team would be organised by one or other of the public-houses, and it is remembered that both the Maypole and the Sibthorp had teams. Matches would be arranged between the teams. The Maypole men played on a flat piece of land in the dells behind the house, but the Sibthorp men pitched their rings over the public road on to the green where the communal well stood. The quoits clubs did not flourish, probably because they were not looked upon with favour by the vicar, whose aim it was to wean his flock from visiting the public-houses.

The cricket club was formed as long ago as 1861 and had the encouragement of the vicar and the gentry. All paid their subscriptions and most played at some time. The club’s triumphs and defeats as well as its financial affairs were duly reported in the parish magazine. Probably because it had no settled home ground the report frequently stated "The cricket club has been reorganised," but the club survived. In the early days of this century there were three cricket clubs in the parish - the North Mymms Estate Club, the Brookmans Park Estate Club and the North Mymms Club. The estate clubs recruited their members from their own staffs, and when making any new appointments preference was usually given to any young man who could play cricket. Stars of the North Mymms Estate Club included the brothers Wheeler. Both had served in the Army, both were accomplished musicians and both became members of the flourishing local Y.M.C.A. band when they returned to civilian life in 1902. Fred brought with him a reputation backed by a silver-mounted bat presented to him by his commanding officer after he had scored fifty-one for the Army against the M.C.C. at Lord’s in 1896. Another star was a very young man, F. J. Smith, who left North Mymms early in 1910. He became wicket-keeper for Warwickshire and two years later played for England in Australia. He collected a total of eleven caps. There are references to him in old parish magazines, and on one occasion when some of the North Mymms Club met him at Lord’s he gave them a bat for competition among themselves.

The captain of the Club at that time was the vicar, the Rev. C. 0. Ward, who had spent his childhood at Braughing, where his father was the vicar. Mr. Ward had at one time played for Hampshire and was captain of the Hertfordshire county team when he lived in our parish.

The Brookmans Park Estate Club also recruited its members from its staff, and among its " professionals" were some of the first coloured players to be seen in this part of the country.

The 1914-18 war saw the end of the estate clubs. The North Mymms Club welcomed members from the disbanded clubs and through the generosity of the late Mrs. Burns was able to use the ground at Water End - the ground that gained for the club "the good reputation among other clubs for providing the best cricket pitch to be found in village cricket in this part of the country" wrote the vicar in 1920. After a successful run for a number of seasons the September 1923 magazine reported "We have lost several matches, which is as it should be. Constant success is bad for cricket clubs, as it is for individuals." The following June the vicar and choir of Christ church, Somerstown, were invited to spend an afternoon in North Mymms and the account of this pleasant occasion is as follows: "It was a glorious day. The party arrived in a bus at about 2.30, and were soon busy with sandwiches. By kind permission of Mr. and Mrs. Seymour, who were waiting to receive us, the company visited Potterells in the afternoon and a stroll through the lovely gardens was immensely appreciated by our visitors. Meantime the boys of our church were inflicting a crushing in the cricket field upon the boys from Somerstown, the North Mymms demon bowlers dismissing the other side for the not very large totals of seven and nine, and running up a large score themselves. They showed excellent form, some of them, but let them remember that their opponents usually play in a back street with a lamp-post as wicket, and the size of their heads will remain normal. Many ascended the church tower and were charmed with the view. The musical service at 7.30 was a fitting conclusion to a very delightful afternoon - and a large congregation joined in the corporate act of worship. The happy party returned to their London home we hope and believe cheered and uplifted by this friendly mingling with their choral brethren who live in the beautiful country."

From the parish magazine, October 1929

"We can no longer refrain from, alluding to Bracelet. Bracelet is not, as might easily be imagined, a piece of jewellery. Bracelet is a cow. Look at her and you would think she was just an ordinary nice-looking Jersey cow. You would never dream of the worlds of ingenuity lurking beneath that placid exterior. But Bracelet is unique, there could never be another Bracelet. The trouble began last November. At that time a much-harassed vicar was approached by a very old friend, who complained that the wallflowers on the best-kept grave in the churchyard had been ruthlessly destroyed and he (the friend) was much hurt because he thought ‘an enemy has done this.’ When the damage was brought home to Bracelet he was mollified; no one could be really angry with Bracelet. Bracelet is supposed to graze in Church Field, but there is something wrong about the grass there to her sensitive palate; she much prefers a more mixed diet. In those early days the gate was carelessly left open as often as not and it was very easy to walk through it. Then the owner of that field fixed half a cwt of iron on a chain which acted as a spring to pull the gate to. Bracelet quietly inserted the point of her horn and used it as a lever and through she went. A strong steel spring was then fixed and we thought surely that would stop her. Not a bit of it. A horn that can unlatch any gate can easily manipulate any spring, and the asters and dahlias in the vicarage garden were very succulent and the herbage in the churchyard was greener than any to be found elsewhere. And now every morning when the writer is shaving he watches Bracelet helping herself to his apples, and he is wondering whether when she has finished all those within reach she will be able to get a ladder so that she can dispose of the remainder."

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 11 - Schools
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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