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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 26 - The Story of the Local Railway

The spring of 1844 found the men on the twenty-two small farms in the parish busy with ploughing, sowing and planting. Times had not been good and a bountiful harvest was their hope, so they had little time to spare to pay attention to the rumours brought home by their girls and boys who were employed in kitchen or garden or stable of one or other of the local big houses. Such rumours! Vicar Sotheby was leaving and Master "Jem" Faithfull was coming in his place after he had married a pretty American lady, and one of those new-fangled "railroads" was to be made between Barnet and Hatfield.

"Never repeat what you hear in the servants’ hall" was the advice of the elders during the summer, but with the harvest time the rumours had become definite news. The Rev. Hans Sotheby had left. The Rev. James G. Faithfull, son of the rector of Hatfield, had married his pretty American lady and everyone knew that the London and York Railway Company intended asking parliamentary approval for its plans, which showed clearly that the proposed railway would pass right through the parish for a stretch of three miles. What was far worse, it would traverse the estate of Brookmans for a considerable distance.

Landowners generally were determined that the railways should not "disfigure" their property and opposition was widespread. Although his neighbour Lord Salisbury, in the adjoining parish of Hatfield, appeared to be taking things calmly, Mr. Robert W. Gaussen, of Brookmans, was certainly not going to do so. In 1838 he had added Gubbins with its 328 acres to the south side of his estate. The turnpike from Potters Bar to Hatfield cut in a northwesterly direction across this property and he had been busily occupied with plans for its diversion in order to make his estate a self-contained one. With other members of the Toll Bar Trust he had had satisfactory interviews with both Telford and McAdam, and now came this threat of the railway to the western boundary of his land.

However, he was a power in his parish, being patron of the living and a churchwarden as well as chairman of the vestry, so this forceful young man, only thirty years of age, called a vestry meeting to secure support for his opposition to the railway’s plans. It is not surprising to learn that he obtained its agreement. True, Baron Greville, of North Mymms Place, was not an active opponent and Gervaise Sibthorp, who owned Potterells, the other estate most likely to be "disfigured," was not living in the parish, but as he had the support of the vestry Mr. Gaussen went ahead with his plan.

‘The services of a well-known firm of solicitors, Longmore and Sworder, of Hertford, were engaged and their final statement of the proceedings makes a sorry tale of frustrations and disappointments: letters left unanswered and appointments not kept; journeys to London to inspect the plans - " very voluminous" comments the clerk - and to arrange interviews between the opposing parties; and all for nothing. The engineer, Joseph Cubitt, built the railroad to York exactly where and how he had planned!

In March 1845 the solicitors attended on Mr. Gaussen at Brookmans to find out on what grounds the inhabitants of North Mymms objected to the engineer’s plan. They objected to the plan for the line "to be carried on a level across the highways (these were the two roads leading from Welham Green to Woodside and to Bradmore Pond respectively) and in consequence of the great traffic that existed in the parish and the inconvenience and damage which would be caused the inhabitants wished the line to be carried over or under the said roads." Great traffic was probably an exaggeration, but the road from Welham Green to Woodside formed a link between the St. Albans to Barnet turnpike and the Hatfield to Barnet turnpike, just as the modern Dixons Hill Road links the Al with the Al000.

"A long letter apprising him that the progress of the Bill through Parliament would be opposed if the objection was not obviated" was written to the secretary of the railway. Ten days went by, and as no reply had been received a journey was made to London - "expenses for the clerk 18s. 6d." - to confer with the company’s solicitors and to obtain a copy of the Railway Bill lodged at the House of Commons. A non-committal letter from the company’s solicitors informing the inhabitants of North Mymms that though every consideration would be paid to their wishes the engineer would not pledge himself to make any alterations which he could not perform really roused the vestry, and instructions were given for the Bill to be opposed in Parliament.

The petition was prepared, fair copies were made for both Houses, for Mr. Gaussen and for Lord Grimston, M.P., and the clerk journeyed to Brookmans to get the signatures of the ratepayers. His expenses this time were £1/1/-, with an extra 7/6 "horse hire."

"Writing long and explanatory letter to Lord Grimston, M.P., with the petition accordingly" cost 5/-, with an extra 7/- for the parchment on which it was written. The petition had many supporters, none more ardent than Colonel Sibthorp, M.P. for Lincoln. This eccentric colonel was an implacable opponent of railways. He was a cartoonist’s delight and an early copy of Punch shows him as Don Quixote mounted on Rosinante, flourishing a broken lance and charging at a railway engine.

The Easter recess, Mr. Cubitt’s visit to Ireland and other delays filled the weeks until the middle of May. The company’s solicitors then suggested that a clause should be inserted in the petition to the effect that any dispute that might arise between the railway company and the road trustees should be referred to the Board of Trade for arbitration. A similar clause, so it was stated, had been inserted on behalf of Welwyn road trustees. June came and went and July was nearly at an end when the parliamentary agents stated that they had succeeded in getting a clause inserted in order to carry out the understanding come to between Mr. Gaussen and Mr. Cubitt, but with the qualifying words "to be compulsory on the company solely on getting possession of the land." This priviso is puzzling for the "understanding" is not explained and the land in question actually belonged to Mr. Gaussen, so it should have been possible for the company to buy it unless its price was extorbitant. The final blow came in August 1845. The petition went to both Houses. Ms. Gaussen maintained that his arrangement with the engineer was for the railway to be made by means of a tunnel or archway but not to cross the road on a level. The petition was not allowed and the ratepayers of the parish were left to pay what was in those days the large sum of £69/3/4 for having opposed the railway company. The account was paid by "the parish surveyor of the highways of North Mimms" on April 14, 1846, two months before the Railway Bill received the royal assent.

Actual construction started the following year, and by September 1848 the railway company had a small brickworks at Bell Bar for making bricks for the nearby bridges. Some of the village lads found employment at Bell Bar and it would seem that the making of little money-boxes shaped like the round haystacks familiar to their makers and of household "crocks" was a sideline. The little money-boxes, though still remembered, disappeared long ago. Occasionally an earthenware crock finds its way to a jumble sale, but as the wares carried no distinguishing marks it is impossible to establish the truth of the statement that it was made at the Bell Bar pot works.

In August 1850 the first train chugged its way over the level crossings at Bradmore and Marshmoor. The parishioners derived no great benefit from the railway, for the nearest stations were outside the parish boundary and entailed an hour’s walk to either of them. Lives were lost and much inconvenience was caused by the level crossings. It was not until 1880 that the railway company, in order to avoid the delays to its ever-increasing traffic, abolished the level crossings and built bridges. Mr. Gaussen lived to see the one at Bradmore, but that at Marshmoor was not completed until some months after his death, and nearly another fifty years were to elapse before North Mymms had the benefit of a station, to be named, ironically, Brookmans Park.

The keepers of the level-crossing gates were not greatly liked by the general public, and one can imagine the feelings of the vicar when he recorded in his diary in 1857 "I arrived home and found that my Irish locum tenens had given nothing to anyone from the offertory, excepting to a brother Irishman who was well paid by the Great Northern for keeping the gates at a level crossing. To him he had given ten shillings to buy pig food."

Dorothy Colville, 1971

Chapter 27 - From Pilot to Sky Pilot
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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