North Mymms people in Victorian times
by Peter Kingsford
Before the 1880s the history of the parish was the history mainly of Welham Green, Bell Bar, Roestock and Water End. After that time Little Heath has to be added as an influence for change. Consequently the population of the parish altered considerably. In a generation from 1851 to 1881 it increased only 12%. In a second generation from 1881 to 1911 the increase was many times greater at 60%. By far the greater part of this was due to the growth of Little Heath. By 1911 its population to about one third of the whole parish.
The expansion of Little Heath had a number of consequences. The people who came to live there were different from the traditional community of North Mymms. The desires of the new population for religious worship and education had to be met by the parish. In addition, the drainage and sewerage problems which arose affected the finances and attitudes of the parish.
House building developed steadily in the 1880s, with at least sixteen houses in Thornton Road, others in Frampton Road and a dozen or so elsewhere. In the next decade more cottages in Frampton Road, Coopers Road and houses and a shop in Thomton Road were added. The persons entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections increased quite rapidly during the 1881-1911 period from about a dozen to about 200, and they soon came to equal the number in the old part of the parish. More significant is the fact that already by 1887 the number of "ownership voters" in Little Heath was double the number in the old North Mymms. They were those who were entitled to vote as house owners rather than occupiers. This indicates a change in the social composition of the parish. More middle class people, professional and businessmen, clerks, retired and independent persons had come with their attendant servants, gardeners and laundresses.
The ensuring requirement of drainage, sewerage and roads caused severe problems for the council. The vestry rejected a drainage proposal from the Hatfield Sanitary Board, which would have involved "increased expenditure on the whole parish for the benefit of a particular part of it". Its view was that proper drainage could be made if cesspools were constructed and emptied by the owners and occupiers in Little Heath, thus passing the expense to them. This issue and the equally contentious one of the direction in which the should go continued for many years. Cleanliness came next to godliness. In 1883, the Little Heath mission room opened. The drink trade had already been established at the Builders’ Arms from about 1870. During the interval Samuel Gurney Sheppard, the owner of Leggatts, had developed evangelical mission work at his mansion and then built the mission room in Thornton Road. It soon became a centre of social activity and later numerous church organisations were thriving, the Sunday school, the YMCA, YWCA, the Band of Hope and the Bible and Prayer Union, under Sheppard’s lead. With the next step, the building of Little Heath’s own church, Christ Church, to seat two hundred and fifty people, at a cost of about £3000, completed and consecrated in 1893, came the appointment of the first vicar, James Consterdine.
The formal separation from North Mymms occurred when, in 1894, Little Heath was hived off into its own ecclestical parish, though remaining in the civil parish of North Mymms. One effect was probably a diminution of the mother church, A number of the gentry and others transferred their allegiance and financial support from St Mary’s to the new parish, including S G Sheppard, T S D Wallace of Heronfield, A R Dagg, the solicitor at Boltons, Sydney Ponsonby of Osborne House and Archibald Thompson MA JP of Mymwood, not to mention William Axton, licensee of the Builder’s Arms. This change may, perhaps, have affected the value of the North Mymms living. While the living of Little Heath was, from the start, £240, that of North Mymms fell thereafter from £300 to £270.
Organised education, linked as it was with religious worship, began in the mission room in 1884. Three years later there were no less than one hundred and fifteen day pupils of all ages on the books of this parochial mixed school, taught by John Appleyard at a salary of £100 per annum and by Laura Luck. Average attendance was, however, low at only 57%. The fees (until 1892) were is. 6d. per quarter for labourers, 3s. 0d. for servants and mechanics, and 6s 0d for farmers, shopkeepers and employers of labour, slightly less than those for the North Mymms parents.
The mission room remained as the schoolroom for thirteen years but as the pupils increased problems arose. Her Majesty’s inspector was severely critical of the accommodation but there was a long delay before any improvement. Money was the difficulty. The school was dependent on voluntary subscriptions and the generosity of its founder. At the same time the new church and new vicarage had called for large sums from the residents. Something had to be done or else the church school would become a state school. Equally important a school board would levy a heavier rate than the existing voluntary one. Compromise result in the construction of an "iron room" which the children occupied in 1897. Religious instruction was preserved. By that time fees had been abolished while, at the same time, attendance, rising to 90%, had greatly improved. Education was "free", but was not less highly regarded.
As the school roll continued to rise, the future became uncertain since the cost of a new building would fall on the civil parish. The parish council debated how to raise the additional funds required. It decided to levy a voluntary rate, with the repeated warning of a Government school board, which would impose a higher rate, if the response was inadequate. It did prove inadequate. The question remained whether the school would remain as a voluntary one or be taken over by the county council under the Education Act of 1902. The parish council was in no doubt when it resolved "That this meeting is in favour of the proposed new School at Little Heath being built by voluntary subscription", and followed this up with a "deputation to wait upon Ratepayers to ascertain if they would subscribe". But this move also was unsuccessful. Thus in September 1905 the school became a public elementary school of the county council which, two years later provided a new building. Public funds had replaced voluntary effort.
In general, the late comer Little Heath had mixed effects on the old North Mymms. The parish welcomed the increase in rate revenue but objected to the rise in expenditure. Opinions were divided. At one parish meeting it was agreed that the parish be divided into two wards - North Mymms and Little Heath; at the next meeting the division was rejected. There was a feeling that the interests of Little Heath were not always looked after by the parish council. Not surprisingly, Little Heath came to regard itself as a separate community. At the coronation of Edward VII it held its own celebrations and soon began to refer to itself as a village quite distinct from its parent.
Peter Kingsford, 1986
Chapter 13 - The impact of the World War
Index - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Preface - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Photographs - from the book