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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 13 - Manors and Houses

Jeremy Sambrooke had antiquarian tastes, and he retained an austere little room which contained a small stone altar said to have been used by the famous Sir Thomas More for his private devotions. The mantelpiece that Holbein had used as the background for his picture of Sir Thomas was also preserved. The extensive grounds were laid out by Bridgeman, a famous gardener of the day, and on July 19, 1732, Jeremy Sambrooke was honoured with a visit from Queen Caroline. With the three eldest princesses she came "to view his fine gardens, waterworks and collection of curiosities."

In 1740, when his nephew died, Jeremy succeeded to the baronetcy. What is popularly called Folly Arch was built in the same year and it is generally believed that it was designed by James Gibbs. Practical Husbandry, published in 1763, states: "Gubbins, in Hertfordshire, the seat of Sir Jeremy Sambrooke, is another charming example of elegance, though less extensive than the former." Gubbins was being compared with Boughton in Northamptonshire.

Hadley Highstone, another extravagance of Jeremy Sambrooke, was built at about the same time as Folly Arch.

Although it has been frequently stated that Sir Jeremy Sambrooke was a Lord Mayor of London recent research makes it clear that in fact he had no connection with the city of London. During his later life he suffered from blindness, which would have been a serious handicap in public life. Presumably he lived the quiet life of a country gentleman. He never married. His two sisters lived with him at Gubbins and when he died in 1754 his estate passed to them. From his sister Judith it passed to a nephew. Sir Jeremy and his sisters were buried in North Mymms churchyard, the slate ledger stones marking their graves being a short distance from the west door. The lettering on the slate is bold and beautifully cut. Only name and date are shown. Had he been a Lord Mayor such an honour would have been recorded.

In 1777 Gubbins was bought by a wealthy East India merchant, John Hunter. He had amassed a great fortune and on returning to England became interested in farming and fattening oxen for the London markets. His wife left a charity of bread to the poor of the parish and his name appears in the churchwardens’ accounts as being a subscriber to the organ fund. Mistress Hunter died in 1786 and her husband died in 1802. The marble memorial to the Hunter family is now on the south wail of the church, but was originally on the east wall of the south aisle. It was moved to its present position in order that the space could be used for the oak war memorial erected after the 1914-18 war.

Meanwhile Lord John Somers had died at Brookmans in 1716 and, as he was a bachelor, his estates had passed to his sisters and their descendants. After various changes of ownership Brookmans was acquired by Samuel Robert Gaussen in 1786. He was a descendant of a wealthy Huguenot family which bad settled in England in 1739.

In 1838 Gubbins came on to the market and was described by the agents, Shuttleworth and Son, as "being upon the scale of a nobleman’s establishment." It was bought by Robert William Gaussen, of Brookmans, and the fortunes or misfortunes of the two manors were united. The new owner of Gubbins proceeded systematically to demolish it. Many of its treasures, including the famous mantelpiece, were used to enlarge and beautify Brookmans. A very fine staircase became part of a new house, The Hook, then being built at Northaw. Lead pipes with ornate heads, carrying the Fountaine arms and the date 1682, were transferred to Brookmans.

Beatrix Potter, in her journal, records visiting Mrs. Cotton Curtis at Potterells in 1881 and says "Potterells, an ugly house outside but good in … has two very handsome chimney-pieces which were brought from another old house which was pulled down." The chimney-pieces may well have come from Gubbins, for at the time Gubbins was demolished the Casamajor family was living at Potterells and a daughter, Elizabeth Christian, became the wife of Robert William Gaussen. The fate of the little stone altar is not known. The gardens which had been famed throughout the eighteenth century were allowed to return to nature, although plantings of shrubs and trees were retained in outlying parts of the estate. As late as 1930 it was said to be possible to find seedlings of choice azaleas in Oubbins woods, where snowdrops and primroses abounded. The magnificent avenue of elms that stretched from Folly Arch to Gubbins was felled during the early days of the 193945 war and the drive has been allowed to fall into disuse.

For more than a century the Gaussen family exercised great influence not only in the parish but beyond~Samue1 Robert Gaussen, who bought Brookmans in 1786, was M.P. for Warwick. He left a family of seven children of whom four were sons. Armytage, the youngest son, married Sarah, the daughter of Rear-Admiral Thomas Sotheby, and became the vicar of Meesden, Hertfordshire. Sarah had a young stepbrother, Thomas Hans Sotheby, who in the course of time became vicar of North Mymms. He was here from 1834 until 1844.

Robert William Gaussen, a grandson of Samuel Robert Gaussen, who demolished Gubbins and opposed the coming of the railway, was a little boy of four when his father died. His mother, née Cecilia Franks, of the neighbouring hamlet of Wood Hill, was clever, very musical, exceedingly pretty and so attractive that the Lady Salisbury of the day said of her " She is a regular witch." The rose gardens at Brookmans were planned by this lady and were the admiration of the county according to Cecilia Faithful!, who left a most interesting account of local life during the late Victorian era.

Robert William Gaussen married Elizabeth Christian Casamajor, sister of Caroline Lydia Casamajor, who built and endowed the school for girls at Water End. The east window in our church replaces one destroyed during the 1939-45 war which was a memorial to Elizabeth Christian, who died in 1864. There were two sons of this marriage - Robert George, who was born in 1843, and Casamajor William,. who was born two years later. Robert George Gaussen married Selina Cole-Hamilton, of Beltrim, County Tyrone. There were two daughters of this marriage - Emilia Christian and Cecily Anne.

The parish magazine for March 1884 tells us: " So interesting an event as the marriage of Casamajor William Gaussen, Esq., with Mabel Constance, third daughter of Sir William Miles, Bart., M.P., must not pass unnoticed in the pages of our parochial record. The long list of presents headed by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales," etc.

Fire at Brookmans

We now come to the year 1891 in the story of the two manors. During the summer of that year the Gaussen family planned a cruise in their yacht, Myrtle, and while they were away the exterior of the house of Brookmans was to be completely redecorated. The family set off and the painters took over. They had the advantage of a comparatively new tool—a blowlamp—and all was going as planned.

July 11 was a lovely summer day. In nearby Hatfield the school children had had a week’s holiday. The German emperor was on a visit to Lord and Lady Salisbury and he had graciously said he would review the Hertfordshire Militia on that afternoon. Children and parents and all who could possibly get there flocked to the park to see the show.

At Brookmans at midday it was found that a small fire had started below the eaves and the alarm was raised. When it became clear that their own staff could not cope with the blaze a stable lad was sent off to Hatfield to get the fire brigade. By the time he had scoured the park and rounded up the firemen much time had been lost. Water was low in the lakes and the fire had got such a hold that by the time the brigade arrived it was plain that the house could not be saved. Effort was concentrated on saving furniture, and among the things saved was the oak mantelpiece which had originally belonged to Gubbins. Of this mantelpiece Maberly Phillips, writing in the Home Counties Magazine in 1902, said "It is still in existence, as it was fortunately saved at the time of the fire." The parish magazine for August 1891 states that "a fine specimen of the rare Huguenot Bible was saved the valuable deeds, jewels, etc., deposited in the strong room were also found intact."

After the fire which destroyed Brookmans House in 1891, the stables were remodelled as a dwelling house. The house is now the clubhouse of Brookmans Park Golf Club.

The mansion was never rebuilt, but the stables were converted into a dwelling house, and it is this conversion which today is the Brookmans Park golf clubhouse. Unfortunately the oak mantelpiece was too large to be used in any one of the remodelled rooms and for some years was stored in a barn. In 1923 the estate was sold and among its attractions were listed "a rare old cork tree and a large tulip tree" and" a pretty Dutch garden with lily pond occupying part of the site of the old house," but no mention was made of the oak mantelpiece, so presumably it was disposed of as "contents of a barn."

Robert George Gaussen died in 1906 and his elder daughter, who had married Hubert Ponsonby Loftus Tottenbam, then assumed by royal licence the names and arms of Gaussen. His younger daughter, Cecilia, did not marry. She had a house, which she called The Myrtle, built in Holloways Lane, and lived in the parish she loved until she was an old lady. The Gaussen family had made many gifts to the parish church, and in the summer of 1914 the widow of George Robert Gaussen gave the fine oak doors at the west end of the church. As she was then living in the Isle of Wight and had had no opportunity of seeing her gift, her daughter employed a noted artist to paint a picture showing the doors in their setting. He strolled around wearing a big floppy felt hat and wrapped in a black-and-red-striped blanket, and caused much wonderment to the villagers at a time when their thoughts were preoccupied with the war that had taken many of their men away from home.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 14 - North Mymms Park
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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