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North Mymms people in Victorian times
by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 11
The primrose path

On 29 February 1896 a little meeting at Hawkshead House, the residence of T B Forwood, gentleman, resolved unanimously that "A sufficient number of Knights & Dames having consented to join the Primrose League in the Parish of North Mymms a Warrant from Grand Council shall be applied for and an Habitation formed to be called the North Mymms Habitation". Those present were Admiral Sir John Fellowes, Mrs and Miss Cotton Curtis of Potterells, Mr and Mrs Downing Wallace of Heronfield, Mr Archibald Thompson of Mymwood and Mr and Mrs Forwood.

After the death of the Conservative leader, Benjamin Disraeli, admirers had set up a society to promote his ideals, called the Primrose League after his favourite flower. One such ideal was to bridge the gap between "the two nations", the rich and the poor and to form one great Conservative nation. To this end the Conservative Party set out to win the adherence of the newly enfranchised working men and succeeded in doing this until the Liberal landslide of 1906. The Primrose league played a considerable part in that success. It provided social activities and entertainment for working people. In the towns the menís clubs, the public houses and the music halls (We donít want to fight but by Jingo if we do) were a suitable environment. In the villages the local branch or Habitation of the League was called on to supply it. So it was to be in North Mymms.

The encouraging situation for the local Habitation was the big Conservative victory in the general election of 1895 and the formation of his third Cabinet by Lord Salisbury of nearby Hatfield House. There was a growing mood of expansive imperialism, the Jameson Raid in South Africa had recently occurred and the conflict with Kruger, and the Kaiser, had begun.

The small group of gentry at Hawkshead House were all prominent in local affairs. Forwood had been unsuccessful in the election for the parish council in 1894, though he had been active in the parish vestry for many years earlier; he was a Guardian of the Poor and, at different times, vicarís and peopleís church-warden. Sir John Fellowes, a future chairman of the parish council, took the lead in the Habitation, becoming its first Ruling Councillor. Wallace was a district councillor, and Thompson, who became the Habitationís secretary, was also chairman of the parish council for a long period. Another luminary to join was Lt Col Colquhoun, with his wife and daughter on parade, while the treasurer was the schoolmaster at Welham Green, Benjamin Mallett.

Wardens were appointed for each area - Daniel Crawford of Potterells Farm, Charles Titmuss of Bell Bar Farm, John Appleyard, the schoolmaster at Little Heath and others. Before long Mrs Forwood received the 2nd Grade of the Order of the Grand Star for her valuable services. Other ladies came in. Mrs Wilson Fox of Moffats became warden for her district, Miss Kate Parsons for Water End, while Miss Colquhoun covered the whole of Welham Green. Her father, the colonel, now replaced the admiral as Ruling Councillor and held committee meetings at Frowick. Mrs Cooke, the reforming teacher at the Water End girlsí school does not appear to have joined the cause.

The Habitation planned an Entertainment in the Little Heath school but it was frustrated by the managersí objection to the use of the school for a political purpose. The first of many participations in the Demonstration in Hatfield Park took place, however, the wardens distributing handbills in their districts, and the members being taken in horse brakes from Water End, Hawkshead Bridge, Reevesí and Welham Green. The membership grew. Extra tickets were required for the annual Grand Demonstration in the Albert Hall in 1897. Four members of the executive committee received Clasps and Bars for meritorious service.

The Boer War was a clear opportunity for the Habitation to rally patriotic opinion. Hostilities where only a few weeks old when a general meeting in Welham Green school affirmed "with acclamation" its "approval of the action of Her Majestyís Government both as regards the present condition of the war with the Boers, as well as in the negotiations which ended in the declaration of war by the Transvaal Government and the invasion of our Colonies at Natal and at the Cape... and of the patient endeavours of Her Majestyís Government to avoid the war which has been forced upon the country."

A proposal for measures to be taken to encourage patriotism amongst adults and school children by means of drilling" was, however, deferred for further consideration. Later, when Lord Roberts had taken Cronje prisoner and entered Bloemfontein in 1900, the schoolmaster treasurer suggested "That should any prospect appear of peace in South Africa, arrangements should be made for a thorough Parochial Demonstration, as though it may seem premature it would be well to make early preparation for what will be a great event and one which may come unexpectedly."

It was indeed premature, for the war dragged on into 1902. In the meantime activities continued. The Habitation joined with those at Potters Bar and Northaw in a crowded meeting to listen to a lecturer from the Imperial South

African Association. They heard his opinion of the Boer as "a lazy, dirty fellow". Joining in the jubilation at the relief of Mafeking it arranged a "Patriotic Entertainment", admission 3d to members, 6d to non-members, 24 reserved seats for 1/-; collection during a selection of music by the North Mymms Brass Band to be made by "four little girls in white frocks with red, white and blue rosettes, tambourines to have same colours on them." The collection of was sent to the Daily Mail War Fund.

The accession of Edward VII was the occasion for a general meeting of a large number of members and others to express their "loyal homage". There was another entertainment consisting of conjuring and music, at which the Provincial Secretary of the Grand Council spoke. The last year of Queen Victoriaís reign had been a good one for the Habitation. Over fifty new members received their badges, and the hard working wardens were awarded a grand star, a clasp and bars. The Ruling Councillor was now Herbert Bosanquet of Parsonage Farm.

The next great event was the contentious Education Bill of 1902 for which the Vice Chancellor of the League requested the Habitationís support. There could be little doubt of that being given since the Bill provided for increased funds for voluntary schools such as those at Welham Green and Water End, A meeting was called. An explanation of the Bill was given to the villagers, sandwiched between a violin solo by one of the lady wardens and "Mr Groomís merry minstrels whose black faces and funny sayings caused much amusement."

As wardens came and went, among the new ones was Miss Kate Honour of Moffats Farm where Charles Honour, the farmer, had recently been interviewed by the writer Rider Haggard for his book on rural England. She played an active part in the historic general election of 1906. Against the tide of overwhelming Liberal victory, the local Conservative candidate was returned, and Miss Honour received a Special Election Bar for her canvassing. The Liberals were firmly in power. The secretary, still Archibald Thompson, had no time to organise an Entertainment. The next activity, apart from joining the Demonstrations in Hatfield Park, did not occur until two years later in the form of a visit to the White City.

A notable event in 1909 was the election of Mrs Gaussen, the lady of Brookmans, as Dame President. That was the same year as the naval scare, the building of Dreadnoughts to match the Germany navy, and the music hall refrain, "We Want Eight, And We Wonít Wait". The Habitation fell into line with a call on the Government to secure the supremacy of the Royal Navy. Although in abeyance during the 1914-18 way when "the two nations" were more united, the Habitation was resuscitated soon after, in 1921. "Homes for Heroes" had not come off, Lloyd George was on his way out and the Conservative Party scented victory. Lord Clarendon, chancellor of the League, had called on all habitations to "counteract the persistent propaganda of extremists".

Accordingly in North Mymms, at a meeting in the Welham Green schoolroom, H F Seymour of Potterells, then Ruling Counsellor, called for a revival of the principles of religion, patriotism and loyalty these "being now most important". The entertainment was a musical programme including Miss Seymour with her violin.

The committee now broadened its social base somewhat. The Dame President was still the lady of one of the big houses, Potterells, but the secretary was a village builder, and the committee included the two parish overseers who were a farmer and a local builder, a second farmer and a school teacher. The Habitation had occupied a large place in the social life of the parish and had been a source of Conservative inspiration. The admiral, the lady of the manor and the cottagers had come together in it. Something had been attempted to close the gap between Disraeliís "two nations.

Peter Kingsford, 1986

Chapter 12 - Little Heath to the fore
Index - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Preface - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Photographs - from the book

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