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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 22 - The Sibthorp Story

In 1777 a newly married couple travelled from Lincoln into Hertfordshire to take up residence in a property which the family had inherited years earlier. The man was Humfrey Sibthorp, his bride - young, pretty and with charming manners - was Susannah Ellison, of Thorne in Yorkshire, and the property was Skimpans.

The Skimpans of those days must have been a much bigger place than the rather sad-looking farmhouse, which bears that name today, and the Dury and Andrews map of 1766 gives the impression of a property of some importance. Skimpans had been left to the Sibthorp family by Gilbert Browne, brother of Humfrey’s grandmother Mary. Gilbert and Mary were descendants of the cavalier Sir Thomas Coningsby, whose loyalty to his king had led to imprisonment in the Tower.

Humfrey and Susannah settled down among their neighbours - Charles de Laet at Potterells, the Duke of Leeds at North Mymms Place and Mr. and Mrs. John Hunter, comparative strangers like themselves, at Gubbins.

On St. Valentine’s Day 1783 their third child, a son, was born and in April was taken to the parish church to be baptised. When William Hawtayne, the curate, took the child into his arms he did not guess that he was holding one who would grow up to incur the deep displeasure of his sovereign but would earn the gratitude of many a clergyman’s widow. As he looked down at the little face, long and narrow and with slightly protuberant eyes, the curate probably thought that Charles de Laet was an unwieldy name for such a small bundle. He glanced at the infant’s brother Coningsby, an unsteady toddler clinging to the hand of his four-year-old sister Mary, and he recalled the little he knew of the history of the parish and its people. He knew that Mary Browne, great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas Coningsby, had married John Sibthorp, M.P., of Lincoln, in 1702 and that ever since there had been a Coningsby in every generation. Roger Coningsby, a bachelor, last male member of that illustrious family, had lived and died at Potterells. He had left all his wealth to Charles de Laet, said to be his natural son. It was said that Charles de Laet, also a bachelor, intended leaving all his wealth to the Sibthorp family. If so, what more natural then than the compliment of giving this small child the name of his "gossip"? The curate shrugged off any uncharitable thoughts and in his flowing copper-plate handwriting entered the name - Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp - in the register, shook hands with the parents and with Charles de Laet and then watched the party drive off to Skimpans.

Four more sons were born to Humfrey and Susannah, three of whom were baptised in the parish church. One was named Henry, the next was named after his grandfather, Humfrey, and had the Archdeacon of Bedford as his godfather, then came Jarvis, whose name could have been a compliment to the family into which Gilbert Browne had married or could have been the curate’s way of spelling Gervaise, a traditional family name occurring regularly for more than 200 years. The youngest son was Richard.

When the little Charles was nine years old his godfather died and his will was not quite as had been expected. There had been another godson, Justinian Casamajor, of Shenley, and it was to that godson’s male heirs first and then to the Sibthorp family that Charles de Laet’s fortune was left. Strangely, all Sustinian Casamajor’s seven sons died leaving no male heirs, and after more than half a century the remote possibility of 1792 became the certainty of 1849 when George James Casamajor died, unmarried, in India.

When the Sibthorp family returned to Lincoln they lived in Canwick Hall. Set on a steep hill overlooking the city, Canwick Hall had been bought by Mary Browne and the Sibthorps were beginning to think of it as their ancestral home, though they still had that stake, Skimpans, in Hertfordshire.

Little is known of the childhood of Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp, but like most of the family he went to Oxford, his college being Brasenose. He entered the Army when quite young, serving in the Royal Scots Greys. During the Peninsular War he served with the Dragoon Guards.

In February 1812 he married Maria Ponsonby Tottenham, who was of remarkable beauty, and by her he had four sons. Until the death of his brother Coningsby his life seems to have been typical of that of the second son of any wealthy family. The Sibthorps followed the convention of the period, which decreed politics for the eldest son, then the Army, the Navy and the Church in that order. Henry entered the Navy and served in H.M.S. Ajax, which was blown up in the Dardanelles in 1807. Humfrey and Richard both went into the Church, Humfrey becoming the incumbent of Washing-borough, where he remained for forty-eight years. Jarvis had died in infancy and had been buried at North Mymms.

By 1826 Charles had been elected Member of Parliament for Lincoln, thus following his father, his brother and his great-uncle, and like them he became colonel of the South Lincolnshire Militia. The Gentleman’s Magazine for January 1856 remarks: "Colonel Sibthorp ever retained a strong affection for his original profession - shown in the ardour and profuse liberality with which he endeavoured to advance to perfection the militia regiment of his county after his appointment as colonel." He was a deputy-lieutenant of the county and a magistrate. He possessed great personal as well as family influence and was popular due to his habit of "calling a spade a spade."

Elected to Parliament

His election to Parliament came at the time of the debates on the Reform Bill. He opposed it in all its stages, though the clause regarding better provision for the residence of clergy and enabling their widows to retain possession for two months after the death of their husbands is said to have originated with him. Despite his personal influence, and although according to a letter-writer of the time " no one could kiss the girls better than Sibthorp at the last election," he lost his seat at the next election, being defeated by Sir Edward Bulwer, who later became the famous author Lord Lytton. His popularity among the ladies of Lincoln led them to present him with a costly diamond ring, hallmarked 1832 and inscribed "The ornament and reward of integrity presented to Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp by the grateful people of Lincoln, Christmas 1832." The ring and other Sibthorp relics can be seen in the Usher gallery, Lincoln, which also contains many paintings by Peter de Wint collected by former Sibthorps and given to the city by later members of this well-known local family.

Two years later Colonel Sibthorp was re-elected and continued to represent Lincoln until his death in 1855. Those were the days of rotten boroughs and absentee members, but almost every day when Parliament was sitting he could be seen in his place listening attentively to its business, ready to spring to his feet in defence of the "old order" of rural life which was rapidly disappearing as machinery became popular and industrialism spread. He was punctual and indefatigable and his bitterest opponents paid tribute to his honesty of purpose. Completely sincere, no prospect of place, honour or pension could induce the colonel to vote contrary to his opinion. Sir Robert Peel once said of him "There goes a man who is always fearlessly and solitarily wrong," but it was with Peel’s support that he was able to carry his amendment to Melbourne’s proposal to grant £50,000 to the Prince Consort as a yearly allowance. Rising to his feet, standing rigidly erect and emphasising his remarks with violent jerks of his huge square gold-mounted quizzing glass, he denounced the proposal as a "Whig job" and succeeded in getting the allowance reduced to £30,000 a year. This served to increase Queen Victoria’s dislike of the colonel, who a few months earlier had asked why England should pay the expenses of the visit of the prince of Saxe-Coburg to this country. She had been most annoyed and had said "We have been most distressed by the ill-natured remarks of the member for Lincoln, and as long as Colonel Sibthorp is the representative of Lincoln We shall decline to visit that loyal and ancient city." And she never did!

At the time of the debates on the emancipation of the slaves there was a group in the House known as the Saints. Colonel Sibthorp was of this group, whose leader was Wilberforce. In his diary Charles Greville tells a story that throws a light on the character of this unusual man: "I sat next to Stanley, who told me a story which amused me. Macintosh in the course of the recent debates went to the House of Commons at eleven in the morning to take a place. They were all taken on the benches below the gangway, and on asking the doorkeeper how they happened to be all taken so early he said ‘Oh sir, there is no chance of getting a place, for Colonel Sibthorp sleeps at a tavern close by and comes here every morning by eight o’clock and takes places for all the Saints.’"

Arrival of the Railway

The years from 1830 to 1850 were years of acute agricultural depression. The corn laws of 1815, which had aimed at preserving the farmers’ monopoly of wheat, had brought untold misery to the farm labourers. Tenant farmers and those with small acreages also felt the pinch, and Cobbett had reported from Lincoln that the greater number of farmers in that area would be found to be insolvent if they were to be sold up. Many Tories, including Lord Aberdeen, who had turned Free Trader, supported the move to repeal the corn laws, but Colonel Sibthorp made a furious attack on Peel’s turncoat policy.

The repeal came in 1846, the year when the railway mania was at its height. Among the many petitions to Parliament during that year was one presented by Lord Grimston, M.P., on behalf of the parishioners of North Mymms, who objected to the plans for a railroad to run through their parish. This petition had the utmost support from Colonel Sibthorp, especially when the engineer’s plan showed the exact direction that would be taken by the proposed London to York railroad. But the petition was not allowed and the engineer, Cubitt, built the railroad exactly where and how he had planned. It cut through the orchard at Skimpans and it spanned with a hideous bridge the pleasant grassy track that led to Foxes Pit and Bell Bar and on to the turnpike along which, as a child, the colonel had travelled to Lincoln to visit his grandparents. "I hate the very name of railroad" shouted the colonel, and in his loathing opposed its coming at all times both in and out of Parliament. Punch produced two cartoons at this time, one showing the colonel as a mourner at the funeral of the corn laws and the other showing him as a "bobby" arresting a railway engine.

In 1851 Paxton built the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park to house the great exhibition planned by the Prince Consort. Queen Victoria was delighted with it all and Disraeli fulsomely called it "that enchanted pile which the sagacious taste and prescient philanthropy of an accomplished and enlightened Prince have raised for the glory of England and the delight of two hemispheres," but the colonel declared furiously " I have never set foot ... and nothing would induce me to go within a mile of that obscene and insanitary structure."

When approaching his seventieth birthday, and although suffering from the effects of a mysterious accident, his attendance in the House was as regular and his outbursts were as frequent as ever. He was one of a minority of fifty-three who censured the Free Trade Bill introduced by Earl Grey in 1852. Punch depicted him as being one of Peel’s "dancing dogs," but he was a man of strong, often misguided, convictions, a Tory champion of all that was gracious and peaceful in rural England. an individualist unlikely to" dance" to any man’s tune. The autumn of 1855 saw the immaculate blue frock-coat and neat light cravat, the huge quizzing glass and the almost feminine display of flashing rings for the last time. A character passed from the House.

Although Colonel Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorp did not live to enjoy his Hertfordshire inheritance his grandson, Coningsby Charles Sibthorp, was for many years the principal landowner in our parish. In addition to Skimpans and Potterells he owned the smaller estate of Hawkshead, and in 1870 he was able to purchase North Mymms Place from Baron Greville. For a time, therefore, the two portions of the original manor were reunited and Coningsby Charles Sibthorp returned to the ancestral home of the Coningsby family.

Help for local schools

Born in 1846, Coningsby Charles Sibthorp was vastly different from the flamboyant colonel. He would appear to have been of a retiring nature, but he had his grandfather’s sense of public service. He was generous in his subscriptions to any local good cause. His name appears in many old parish magazines, and in March 1880, after heading the subscription list with a donation of £125, we read under "Boys’ school" that " Mr. Sibthorp with his usual kindness at once entered into the plan of endeavouring to erect a room adequate to the purpose," and seven years later "the gravel which has been given by Mr. Sibthorp for the ample playground which thanks to him now surrounds the school."

The girls’ school underwent extensive improvements and repairs in 1887 and "to Coningsby Sibthorp, Esq., we are indebted for some of the materials in carrying them out."

On February 8, 1876, at Scawby church in Lincolnshire, Coningsby Charles Sibthorp was married to Mary Georgiana, eldest daughter of the Rev. R. Sutton, and a month later "friends and tenantry" met to present a silver inkstand to him. The presentation was made by the vicar, the Rev. A. S. Latter, who referred to " Mr. Sibthorp’s kindness and consideration" and to "the improvements which he had made, at great cost to himself, in the cottages on his estate."

Sibthorp Arms

Gradually he cleared the old black wooden cottages that had caught the eye of Buckler, the artist, in 1838, and his plan for a model village began to take shape. Welham Cottages and The Watersplash, with their little plaques bearing the initials C.C.S. and the dates 1872 and 1884, indicate that they were built by Coningsby Charles Sibthorp. He replaced the farmhouse in the middle of Welham Green. Here lived farmer Smith and his wife. She is remembered as being a dainty Dresden china figure of a little old lady who still wore pattens on her feet as she went about her work in the house or dairy and still wore the bonnet and ringlets of her youth. The farmhouse was replaced by the substantial building which has lately been converted into two houses. He bought and modernised the Black Lion and in typical Victorian manner he gave it a new name and sign - the Sibthorp Arms. Typically Victorian too are the boundary stones in the churchyard indicating the amount of land he gave to enlarge it in 1875.

In 1889 he returned to Lincoln and the North Mymms estates passed into other hands. After more than three centuries the Coningsby-Sibthorp connections with our parish came to an end. There were no children of the marriage of Coningsby Charles Sibthorp and Mary Sutton, and when he died in 1932, aged eightysix, his property was inherited by his nieces, daughters of his brother Montague.

It would seem that the Sibthorps had an affection for North Mymms, for on the memorial tablet that his grandson erected in Canwick church the colonel is stated to have been of "Canwick Hall, Lincolnshire, and of Potterells, Hertfordshire" and as having been born in North Mymms.

Of the black-boarded cottages one remains, but it has undergone a transformation. It is the attractive white cottage opposite the Hope and Anchor public-house. One hundred years ago it was the home of John Chuck, woodman to Coningsby Charles Sibthorp. There John brought up his family and there Mrs. Chuck baked the "bonny loaf" which caught the eye of the vicar at the cottage garden show in 1872 - the loaf that earned a "first." The card awarded on that occasion is now in the Women’s Institute scrapbook.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 23 - The Sabine Family of Hertfordshire
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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