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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 2 - Names and Numbers

"Numbering the people", has always exercised a fascination over conqueror and conquered alike, but for more than 700 years after the great accounting which formed William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book no numbering on a national scale was undertaken until 1801. Since that date in every first year of every decade, except 1941, a census has been taken, the returns for which are stored in the Public Record Office, London.

After 1086, when twenty-nine adults made up North Mymms parish, the population grew slowly but steadily. From time to time the bishop of a diocese would require his parish priests to furnish him with figures concerning communicants and dissenters, and since hearth tax and window tax returns were probably estimated by a local personage the ecclesiastical returns, where they exist, are the most reliable for studying population changes.

In 1563 the Bishop of Lincoln, of whose huge diocese North Mymms formed part until 1845, set forth an inquiry, and from it we learn that seventy families lived in the parish. Forty years later there were 306 communicants over the age of sixteen.

Nonconformity was not strong in our parish, and it should be remembered that all dissenters who practised their faith were subject to legal penalties, but in 1640 "Isabel Moore, spinster, James Butler, Richard Wherrie and Kathleen his wife had not attended Divine Service for three months" and in 1664 John How and Francis Brock were indicted for failing to attend church.

A century passed and the number of families had risen to 100, among whom were six dissenters and two Methodists, and by 1801, 150 families, 838 persons, were living in 150 houses, with four empty houses in the parish.

Population Increases

When the Rev. Horace Meyer became vicar in 1856 he reported that the population was 1,300, but in 1870, when the Rev. A. S. Latter conducted a private census in order to estimate the number of school places that would be needed when the 1870 Education Act became law, the population had dropped to 1,183. His numbers as published in the parish magazine are interesting and were as follows: Welham Green and Marshmoor, 357; Bell Bar and Mymwood, 157; Bradmore, Reeves and Moffats, 107; Water End and Pancake Hall, 211; Roestock and Blue-houses, 245; Little Heath, 106; making a total of 1,183 souls living in 229 houses. There were seventeen empty houses in the parish. What had caused the drop in the population? Was the Rev. Horace Meyer estimating the numbers of his congregation when he came in 1856? It is interesting to read that the official census of 1871 produced exactly the same figures as the Rev. A. S. Latter had produced the previous year.

Kelly’s Directory for 1929 gives the census figures for 1921 as being 2,013 for the civil parish of North Mymms and 1,180 for the ecclesiastical parish, showing that the numbers for Little Heath had risen to 833 in half a century. Hertfordshire, Survey Report and Analysis of County Development Plan, published in 1951, gave the following numbers for the parish: Bell Bar, 100; Bullens Green, 70; Brookmans Park, 900; Little Heath, 850; North Mymms, Water End and Hawkshead, 300; Welham Green, 700; making a total of 3,620 souls. The strange thing about this set of numbers is that Little Heath had increased its population by only seventeen in the space of thirty years compared with an increase of 727 in the years between 1871 and 1921.

According to a survey carried out by the Women’s Institutes in 1965 there were 1,996 adults living in 922 houses in Welham Green alone. Of the members of the Welham Green institute only two had been born in the parish, but the majority of the members of the older branch claimed North Mymms as their birthplace. No longer could it be said that everyone in the parish knew everyone; nor, as it could have been said with some truth seventy years earlier, was everyone related to everyone else.

Old Names

As the population has increased so has the number of surnames, but it is interesting to note how the older names persist. Some of our parish families can be traced back for at least 300 years. Leonard Pratchett was appointed petty constable of North Mymms in April 1676 and for a further 250 years this name appeared regularly in parish records. Some of our older citizens remember Pratchett the pupil teacher, who was the last of his family to live in the neighbourhood. Mr. John Tyler ended his term of office as chief constable for the Dacorum division in 1702. In 1763 Dan Martin was engaged on the restoration of the church and the Marlborough family played its part in the life of the parish.

Of the parishioners who gave their names to certain parts of the district the Travellers were still farming in the parish in the early nineteenth century. Susannah Traveller celebrated her ninetieth birthday in 1817 and three years later was in receipt of Sabine’s charity. The last of the Holloway family died towards the end of the last century, but a descendant of the Vyse or Wise family, who gave their name to a lane at Water End, is still among us. The name Vyse Lane occurs as long ago as 1697, when Burgess Common also occurs. Currell, Chuck, Hickson, Bean, Pollard, Day, Bodger and Franklin are still welt-known names in the parish. Probably the oldest name is that of Nash, for the family is said to have settled here at the time of the plague, 1665. They too have given their name to a crossroad in Welham Green and the original name for Moffatts House was Nash’s.

A name that has changed with the passing years is Beresford. The land this family left for the use of the poor of the parish as long ago as 1604 was known as Barefords in 1770. One hundred years later it had become Barfords. Today the area is known as Barfolds.

Hockey Lane at Water End has no associations with the game bearing the same name. Until the mid-1940s it was known as Occupation Lane, usually abbreviated to "Ockie." The lane was used by the employees on North Mymms estate. When the American general hospital was closed its buildings became a temporary housing estate for Hatfield Rural District Council, and it was then that the name Hockey Lane came into use.

Occupation Lane is the site of a much older thoroughfare, Mimms Street, which ran from Water End past Grange Farm - now known as Home Farm - and into the woods to join the road to South Mimms.

One day in August 1876 the Rev. F. C. Cass, rector of Monken Hadley and learned historian of South Mimms, brought a party of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society along the road from South Mimms. They were coming to visit our church. The Rev. F. C. Cass "read a paper on the various monuments and brasses for which our church is remarkable and an interesting address was also given by Mr. W. Walter on the brasses, comparing their present number and condition with the notes and drawings of them which he had made thirty-eight years before" reported the Rev. A. S. Latter in the parish magazine. The visitors were shown the amber tankard and the silver-gilt chalice, which were much admired.

The Rev. F. C. Cass evidently enjoyed the drive along the narrow road, which in no place exceeded twelve feet in width. He wrote: "The scenery traversed in passing from one parish to the other is pleasingly diversified at the present day whatever may have been its aspect in the olden time. From elevated ground reached shortly after entering the park the red-brick outline of Potterells with Brookmans on a higher site beyond. are conspicuous objects to the right. Alternate woodland and park-like undulations bring one to the brow of a slope, beneath which are visible the roofs and dormers and tall chimneys of the more modern mansion of North Mymms Place."

At that slope the road from South Mimms split into two, one arm bearing right and following along Occupation Lane to Water End. The left arm led to the church and vicarage, which, said the Rev. F. C. Cass, "approached from the house by a fine avenue of limes, are picturesquely situated in a valley within the precincts of the park and are a short distance to the east of the mansion."

Towards the end of last century the road from the church as far as the foot of the slope was diverted and the western half of the lime avenue became part of North Mymms estate. In its place the well-kept, holly-bordered road is the approach to what is now termed "the bridleway," which has altered little since the Rev. F. C. Cass drove along it nearly 100 years ago.

Upkeep of Roads

From medieval times the upkeep of the roads was the responsibility of the parish, and householders were compelled to work on them for six days every year. Anyone who caused damage to a road or neglected his length of road was not popular. In 1635 a complaint was lodged against "John Price, husbandman of North Mymes (who) has stopped up and obstructed with a hedge and a ditch a common footpath there in a meadow called Childes Meade leading from Coney to Hatfield." In October 1672 "Edward Roberts of North Myms, yeoman, dug up a cartway from a place called ‘Gubbens’ towards Hatfield."

During the seventeenth century our parish was under an obligation to contribute towards the upkeep of the Wadesmill bridge. It would seem that the representatives of some parishes had agreed together not to pay, for at the January 1648 sessions held at Hertford…and Robert Grigg of Northmymes, now or late Constables of the said several parishes aforesaid, shall be bound over to the next Quarter Sessions to answer for not paying to the Chief Constable such money as they ought to have paid towards the repairing of Wadesmill Bridge and Ford Bridge in this county."

In 1730 the Galley Corner Turnpike Trust was formed. It took over the responsibility for the maintenance of the main road, which ran from Galley Corner, Barnet, to Lemsford mill just beyond Hatfield. By collecting tolls from all users the turnpike system eased the burden thrown upon small parishes. At a general meeting in 1770 of the "Trustees appointed for putting into execution an Act for repairing the road from Galley Corner to Lemsford Mill the following order was made: ‘That it being impracticable for any wagon or any other four-wheeled carriage with the weight allowed for the same to be drawn up certain hills without great hazard, it is ordered that any number of horses not exceeding ten to be used for drawing up wagons with nine inch wheels, and not exceeding six for wagons with wheels of less than nine inches for drawing up the following hills; viz., a certain hill from the lane leading from North Mimms, in the parish of North Mimms, to Bell Barr containing in length 80 poles.’

The liability to provide" statute labour" on the roads was superseded in 1835, when it became legal to impose a parish rate. The vestry having made and collected the rate, the parish surveyor became responsible for paying out the money, and thereafter the accounts contain frequent references to materials and labour for road and bridge repairs. In 1843 gravel, costing 6d. per yard, was caned from Fox’s pit to repair the road at "Baloone Corner." Balloon Corner was an important junction where three roads - Dellsome Lane (known as Workhouse Lane in 1817), Huggens Lane and Parsonage Lane - met to become one road which led to Potterells and Muffets. One engaged in this heavy work was Sullen Stone, who must have been well over seventy in 1843, for in the parish magazine for April 1865 his death is recorded at the age of ninety-four. For his day’s work, with his two horses and his own cart, he received a meagre 10/-, the standard rate of 4/- for a man and 6/- for two horses.

According to the charity records, three widows, namely Mrs. Whittimore, Mrs. Starkey and Mrs. Wells, who were in receipt of parish relief were living at Balloon Corner at this time. These are some of the earliest references to Balloon Corner. The 1874 voters’ list shows W. Groom as entitled to a vote by virtue of owning a cottage at Balloon Corner.

During the early days of this century the parish council was anxious that the county council should prohibit motorcars from using Dellsome Lane because of its narrowness and sharp bends. A public inquiry was held at Colney Heath, when it was agreed that the sharp S bend should be straightened and other improvements carried out. The matter dragged on from year to year. The boys, bird-nesting or nutting at the proper seasons, continued to wander along the lane from Bullens Green and Blue Houses to school at Balloon Corner. The rare motorcar chugged along, startling the horse drawing the cart used by James the baker from the mill. The S bend was not straightened and its steep bank, a mass of dainty yellow toadflax during the late days of summer, was not flattened. The lane remains a pleasant, even if somewhat hazardous, walk at all seasons.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 3 - The Parish Church
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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