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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 24 - The Pretty American

Born in Messina in January 1826, Frances Ruth Payson was the third child of a young American couple who had gone to live in Sicily after their marriage in December 1821. Her father, John Larkin Payson, six feet tall, dignified and courteous, traced his descent from Edward Payson, a young Puritan, of Nazeing, Essex, who had gone to the New World probably in the company of the famous Rev. John Eliot, "aposte to the Indians," not later than 1631. Her mother, Frances Lithgow, of Augusta, Maine, was of Scottish descent, a charming, cultured woman of attractive appearance and stately carriage, who when presented at the Neapolitan court was hailed as "La bella Americana."

At the time of Fanny Ruthís birth her father was engaged in shipping Sicilian products - lemons, sulphur and sponges - to Boston, and the following year he was appointed American consul to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a position he held for eighteen years.

The Paysons had a large family of thirteen children, which included three pairs of twins, but only Arthur, Fanny Ruth, Frank and Charles grew up.

Early in 1844 as the family went to church there was some speculation as to who would be taking the service - they relied so much on visiting preachers. Seated demurely between her two young brothers waiting for the service to begin, pretty Fanny Ruth let her thoughts wander to the trip she and her mother would soon be taking. The service started. She glanced up and saw the preacher, a young man, English she guessed.

Lord Cranborne, son of Lord Salisbury, of Hatfield, England, and his companion, the young preacher, were making the "grand tour." They had travelled in leisurely fashion through France and Italy and planned to return to England by way of the Danube. Naturally the young men paid their respects to the American consul and his lady, and as they had visited both North and South America a year or two earlier there was no lack of conversation. When, some few days later, Mrs. Payson and Fanny Ruth boarded the steamer for Athens the two young Englishmen were among the passengers.

Fanny Ruth, after a whirlwind courtship among the beautiful Greek islands, came as a bride to North Mymms in the late summer of 1844. They were a handsome pair were James and Fanny Ruth Faithfull. She, so her husband declared, was one of the prettiest women he had ever seen; he had inherited the good looks of both his parents. His father, when a toddler, had been carried by George III to Queen Charlotte for her to admire. His mother, Mary Grantham, was one of the lovely girls from Scawby rectory in Lincolnshire, and the Grantham family was noted for its good looks.

James and Fanny Ruth entered into the social life of the parish, visited Lady Greville at North Mymms Place, enjoyed musical evenings at Potterells, when Mr. Casamajor would play his Ďcello, and were always welcome at Brookmans, the home of Robert Gaussen, for James and he had been at school together. Hatfield was near enough for frequent visits, and Fanny Ruth soon grew to love her husbandís family, especially Cecilia, Jamesís favourite sister, but she was always a litte in awe of her serious father-in-law, Dr. Faithfull, the rector of Hatfield.

The School at Water End

James, like his father, was interested in education for the poor and was often in consultation with Miss Caroline Casamajor, who proposed building a school for girls in their nearest hamlet, Water End. Fanny Ruth sometimes walked across the field with James to see how the work was progressing. and when at last the little building was complete she was delighted with it. She took her drawing pad and sketched the school and Teakettle bridge against their background of trees. "How did the bridge get that quaint name?" asked Fanny Ruth, but no one could tell her. "Itís always been called that" they said.

The little drawing took its place with the others she had already made. There were some of the church, one of that fine spreading tree in Potterells park (James said it was an oak tree), one or two of North Mymms Place and one of Muffets Farm. This farm was near Gubbins, the mansion that Robert Gaussen intended to dismantle to use the materials to enlarge his own beloved Brookmans. Fanny Ruth wished she could have seen Gubbins when it had been a home, not as it was now, an empty shell.

Sketching and the social round, however, played but a small part in Fanny Ruthís life. She had the care of her husband and their three children - Fanny, born in the year following their marriage; Emily, born in 1846; and their son, James, born eighteen months later - as well as the ordering of her small establishment and all the varied duties - school, Bible class and sick visiting - of a parsonís wife. Cecilia wrote of her: "Young, pretty and attractive as she was, it would have been impossible for anyone to have made a better wife, mother and clergymanís assistant."

Ten years went by. Changes were in the air. Early in 1854 Ceciliaís husband died. In the chill November of the same year Jamesís father died and Fanny Ruth thought she would never forget the long, long funeral procession that slowly wound its way up from the parsonage to the church on the hill. The school that Dr. Faithfull had run so successfully was disbanded, Mrs. Faithfull and some of its .pupils were transferred to the school that her son-in-law, Charles Chittenden, had established at Hoddesdon, and it seemed that the long Faithfull connection with Hatfield had come to an end. That winter was the coldest of the century. The price of coal rose to 2/9 per hundredweight and sickness and distress were widespread. James was unhappy and his asthma was very troublesome.

Little more than a year later James and Fanny Ruth were preparing to leave North Mymms. Lord Salisbury had offered the Clothall living to James and it had been accepted. During this domestic upheaval they had an unexpected visit from an interesting young man who had ridden over from Hoddesdon, where he was spending a short holiday. "I think," said James as they said farewell to their visitor and watched him canter away, "he will be the next vicar of this parish." James was right, and when at the end of what had been the hottest summer for forty years they left for Clothall, Horace Meyer came to North Mymms.

Clothall, near Baldock, had an old church with a most beautiful east window and had brass memorials which, though not as elaborate, were just as old as those in the church they had just left. To Fanny Ruthís delight the rectory was new and modern, but Clothall was a very quiet parish, too quiet for one of Jamesís restless, energetic nature. Babies were born and old folk died but no wedding was celebrated during the short time they spent at Clothall.

In 1858 the Rev. Matthew Morris Preston died after having been vicar of Cheshunt for more than thirty years. Lord Salisbury, whose gift it was, offered the living to James. Here too were an old church and a spacious new vicarage. There were many advantages with the change, not the least being that it was near Haileybury, where their son James became a pupil, and it was also near the dear people at Hoddesdon. So to Cheshunt went James and Fanny Ruth. If only Jamesís health would improve! For long periods he had to confine himself to the actual preaching, leaving other parochial work to his wife and his curate. He was, however, as restlessly energetic as ever. A new church was built in the hamlet of Goffs Oak and was dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester in July 1862.

Jamesís sister Cecilia had married again, her second husband being Francis Storr, vicar of Brenchley, Kent. Francis Storr, a son of Paul Storr, silversmith to George Ill, had been left with a family of young children, among whom was a son, Edward. In May 1868 James and Fanny Ruth travelled to Brenchley for the wedding of their younger daughter, Emily, to Edward, her aunt Ceciliaís stepson. How easy travel was in those days, thought Fanny Ruth as she and James travelled back to Cheshunt. Jamesís interest in education had not waned and plans were in hand for a school for girls. A subscription list was started and money was coming in so satisfactorily that it was decided to lay the foundation stone in 1871. Like a bolt from the blue came Jamesís announcement that he intended to exchange livings with the Rev. William Walter Kirby.

With this move Fanny Ruth ceased to be a country parsonís wife. The lovely Wren spire of St. Dunstanís-in-the-East rose gracefully from the smells and dirt of Billingsgate. Here was her new home. Did she at times long for the sweet fresh air of the Hertfordshire countryside? It was the fish market, nevertheless, that provided Fanny Ruth with the most colourful memory of this period of her life. To the church came the market porters for their harvest festival, bringing with them thirty-nine different sorts of fish, some big, some small, arranged in box or basket, creel or net, and all to be given to the hospital nearby.

In less than two years James, only fifty-six years old,- had died and Fanny Ruth was a widow. Although her parents were now living in Leamington, having left New York because of Mr. Paysonís ill health, Fanny Ruth chose to live in Eastbourne rather than with them. The year following the death of his father, her son, who on leaving Haileybury had joined his Payson uncles in their East India trade, came home and joined her at Eastbourne. He went to Oxford, where in 1876 he took his degree, being the only first-class man in theology in his year. Handsome like his father, and with his fatherís restless energy, he held livings in Brighton, Leicester and Scarborough, finally settling in London in 1895. He became the first vicar of the newly formed parish of St. Mary Magdalene, Islington. A number of alterations to the interior of the church - originally the "chapel of ease " to nearby St. Maryís - were carried out during his time and a series of enjoyable garden meetings was a feature of his work. After three years he left for Whitechapel, where he died during the summer of 1902. Rumour has it that he was at one time offered the living here in North Mymms.

"La bella Americana" died suddenly in 1877 and Mr. Payson moved to the south coast to be near Fanny Ruth. Edward Storr died the following year, leaving a young family of three daughters and a son, Vernon. Emily Storr and her children went to live in Bournemouth and, with memories of her happy childhood, named her residence North Mimms. Vernon Storr became a distinguished churchman, being archdeacon of Westminster Abbey and rector of St. Margaretís, Westminster, at the time of his death in 1941. Offers of bishoprics could not tempt him from the abbey he loved.

Fanny Ruthís elder daughter, Fanny, married Reginald Fanshawe, professor of Greek and Latin at Bristol University. Mr. Payson died in 1884 and some time later Fanny Ruth gave tip her house in Eastbourne. She enjoyed being visited as well as being able to make visits and, accompanied by a devoted ladyís companion, she would take lodgings conveniently near members of the family or her friends, where she would spend a few weeks or months before moving on to another pleasant centre.

James had been buried at Broxbourne and in the first days of January 1912 Fanny Ruth was taken to lie beside him, and there, with ancient yews nearby, the song of birds and the sound of the New River gently lapping against its banks, we leave the pretty American who is remembered today as a "wonderful old lady" who charmed all who had the privilege of meeting her.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 25 - Getting About His Parish
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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