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North Mymms Schools & their Children
1700 - 1964

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 4
Two steps forward, one step back 1890-1918

The poems which the children learned reflected the past forty years of peace and security enjoyed by Britain - Longfellow’s 'Village Blacksmith' and 'The Slave’s Dream', Tennyson’s 'Ring Out Wild Beds' and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', Mrs Hemans’s 'The Bee' and 'The Voice of Spring'. They had little bearing on the period of this chapter, its imperialist sentiment, the South African War and the Great War of 1914-1918. The obverse side of imperialism was increased expenditure on education. The beginning of free education in 1891 and the Education Act of 1902 had their due effect in the North Mymms schools.

The 1890s had a good start when examination in the three Rs as the basis for Government grants was abolished. Then, in 1895 liberalisation was carried a step further; inspection began to replace examination in all subjects. At about the same time, in 1891, by a political decision of the Salisbury Government, meant to help the voluntary schools which thought that they were suffering in competition with the Board schools, all school fees were abolished. In lieu, schools received a fee grant of ten shillings per head. No longer, in North Mymms, did labourers have to pay twopence per week, gardeners, gamekeepers and artisans threepence and others sixpence. Instead, the parish magazine announced, "Parents who are able to do so are invited to become subscribers in support of their own Parochial Schools." There was, however, no increase in the subscribers who continued to come from the gentry and a few of the farmers.

Little Heath SchoolAnother change in the finances came from a different direction - the growth of Little Heath and its school. By 1890 the population of that hamlet reached about five hundred, a third of the whole parish, and it was growing fast. The attendance at the school held in the mission room was double that at Welham Green. Although the school was, for the time being, heavily subsidised by Samuel Gurney Sheppard, its founder and treasurer, it had a money problem.

The parish vestry, faced with a choice between an appeal to parishioners and the levy of a voluntary school rate based on assessment for the poor, chose the latter, with the old, familiar warning that if it was not sufficient, there would be a higher rate imposed by a school board. It did turn out to bring in enough money. While the gentry continued their subscriptions, those people who volunteered to be rated, fifty-three of them, were the humbler, if substantial, folk, such as the Chucks, William Groom, Chas Honour, John Massey, the licensee of the Maypole. Thus the voluntary status of all the parish schools was preserved for the time being.

While Little Heath expanded, Welham Green and Water End schools continued much as before, with much the same handicaps of illegal employment and illnesses. George Wren was working when he should have been at school; Benjamin Mallen "expostulated with his mother" and wrote to his employer, Archibald Gorrie. As Gorrie was the land agent at Brookmans it would not have been wise to prosecute. George Wren was not the only boy; Arthur Nash, George Harrow and Arthur Currell were also breaking the law. Once more an appeal was made to the parents: -

"The Managers trust that the parents will co-operate with them in the effort to increase the efficiency of our Parochial Schools by encouraging the regular attendance of their children. It is obvious that however zealous the Managers and Teachers may be to promote the education of the children, the scholars must be at school in order to be taught, and a little further reflection will show how trying it must be to all concerned to instil into the mind of a scholar is frequently absent, the instruction which has been communicated with comparative ease to the regular attendant"

Meanwhile, although the Little Heath school had a more prosperous patronage, it had its problems under the master, John Appleyard, and Miss Louisa Luck, the infants’ mistress. The inspectors’ first reports were critical. The report of 1890 pointed to the chief handicap: "In spite of the many difficulties arising from the crowded state of the room, there has been a very great improvement in the discipline and attainments of the infants."

Four years later, and ten years after the school had opened, the inspector condemned outright the infants’ room and requested.proper lobbies for the boys and girls. The managers met to consider this but two years further on nothing had been done and the inspector again commented: "The infants’ room is very unsuitable in shape and is only 9’ 3" high; at 80 cubic feet the accommodation is barely 30." Nor was his general report a good one: -

Mixed School "Singing is very sweet and tuneful, sewing is very fair, the children are well drilled and the discipline of the lower classes is improved; there is still some talking and unsteadiness; and a want of effort in the oral answering. Recitation is carefully taught, and there hits been some improvement in arithmetic, but this subject should be more intelligent. Spelling is unsatisfactory, especially in the second and fourth standards, and the general level of attainment both in the elementary and class subjects is no more than fair.

Infants’ Class "In spite of very cramped accommodation, the Infants are bright and happy, and orderly, and have been taught with much care and success, especially in the first class. The work is as varied as the limited space permits. The forms used by the youngest children are much too high."

The long delay may be explained by the demand for money from another direction. Little Heath needed its own church for which £3,000 was collected. Christ Church, to seat 250 people, was completed and consecrated in 1893 and the first vicar, the Rev James Consterdine, was inducted in April of the following year. The new, separate ecclesiastical parish required also a vicarage but by 1896, £500 more had still to be raised. The school took second place to that. Alterations to the mission room would cost £1 ,000 and the cost of a permanent building could not be faced. Accordingly a "suitable iron room" to take 150 pupils was erected, by permission of the Education Department and through the liberality of the local gentry. It was opened in March 1897. The managers, led by the vicar of Christ Church and the vicar of St Mary’s, North Mymms, ensured that the religious instruction was of "the thoroughly evangelical kind, highly valued by the parishioners."

Poor Report

No doubt the upheaval contributed to the inspector’s unfavourable report that year. Spelling, arithmetic and agriculture were poor, "and there is a want of intelligence in all the work". However, when John Appleyard left in the following year for another school he was so highly regarded as to receive a testimonial of £46, nearly half of his own salary of £110. At the end of his regime the average attendance had risen to 120, equal to the combined attendances of Welham Green and Water End and the record of 90% was better than either of them. Such was the difference between the new community of Little Heath and the older, agricultural part of the civil parish.

The new master, Henry Cockerill, a young man of twenty-six from Hove, had a fair field. He was well staffed with an assistant master, infants’ mistress, sewing mistress, pupil teacher and monitress. In a few years the inspector was able to commend the whole school and when Henry Cockerill left in 1910 the attendance had risen to 180. This was more than could be accommodated and therefore, before he left, a major reorganisation took place.

Under Balfour’s Education Act of 1902, which gave the authority for both elementary and secondary education to the county councils, building costs at a voluntary school had to be borne by the religious body to which the school belonged. The problem of enlarging or re-building again at Little Heath therefore took on a new aspect. Should the school be taken over by the county council or remain on a voluntary basis? In the second case the cost would be high.

There was no doubt about the view of the North Mymms parish council, then only six years old. It resolved unanimously "That this meeting is in favour of the proposed new Schools at Little Heath being built by voluntary subscription", and it appointed a "Deputation of seven members to wait upon ratepayers to ascertain if they would subscribe." But it seems that the council was out of touch, for the move was unsuccessful. In September 1905 the school became a public elementary school (mixed) of the county council. It was that body which paid for a new building in 1907.

The Welham Green and Water End schools, renamed "non-provided", remained voluntary under the Balfour Act, but with some differences. The Act was meant to help the voluntary schools. A J Balfour, Conservative prime minister in 1902, introduced the Bill. After referring to "the deplorable starvation of voluntary schools", he declared that "after all the great efforts on the part of the voluntary subscriber and after all the aid given from the National Exchequer, the voluntary schools are in many cases not adequately equipped and not so well fitted as they should be to carry out the great part which they are inevitably destined to play in our system of national education.

Although the two North Mymms schools still had the burden of capital expenditure they now received rate aid. The managers retained control of the teachers (subject to approval by the Local Education Authority) and of religious instruction. However, a third of them had to be appointed by the authority.

As though to express the new outlook, the girls’ school had a new headmistress. Mrs Letitia Haines retired after twenty-two years at Water End, receiving the gift of an umbrella from the children and a purse of £10 from the parishioners. Under her regime there was much emphasis on piety and needlework and the school was commended for its reverent tone and its skill with the needle. The girls were kept busy making handkerchiefs for church bazaars, .nightdresses, pillow cases, pinafores, and towels for Miss Cotton Curtis, daughter of the banker at Potterells; and at knitting gloves, scarves, stockings, socks and necklets. As before, lengths of serge and dress material were given annually as prizes for good attendance. The post of needlework mistress was an important one.

Such an emphasis in the curriculum left less time for the three Rs and some history and geography. The inspectors’ reports were lukewarm: "The girls very praiseworthy. Infants good on the whole but continuance of the Grant depends on improvement in reading, arithmetic, drawing and object lesson"; "In spite of special difficulties the school as a whole is praiseworthy". But at the end of Mrs Haines’s reign the judgement was: "School most creditable to Head after many years of conscientious and creditable work."

School Milk

The new headmistress, Mrs C Cooke, young and energetic, must have made a considerable impact, not only as a teacher, but also, in her leisure, as a pioneer motor cyclist. She absorbed the New Code of 1904 which, sweeping away the notion of elementary education as a charity for the lower classes, stated:

"The School should enlist, as far as possible, the interest and co-operation of the parents and the home in an united effort to enable the children not merely to reach their full development as individuals, but also to become upright and useful members of the community in which they live, and worthy sons and daughters of the county to which they belong."

"At the girls’ school", wrote the vicar, "work seems to be prosecuted with vigour under our new headmistress." Her husband; who became assistant master at the boys’ school, offered an evening class for men at Water End. The year after she arrived Mrs Cooke introduced school meals, and a mid morning drink of milk or cocoa for a penny a week. She was well ahead of her time, the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill was not passed until 1906 and was merely a permissive Act Which was seldom operated.

Other changes were made although the traditions of fifty years were not to be readily discarded. Religious instruction became gradually less prominent and the diocesan inspector commented: "a little disappointing - not so good as it should have been." The reports of Her Majesty’s inspector became more favourable, however, in respect of the girls at least: "the Head deserves great credit for the praiseworthy discipline and efficiency of the upper classes", "The upper classes taught with intelligence and success", "most creditable under most difficult conditions, crowded rooms and insufficient staff’. Perhaps some of this was due to another tradition, needlework, being weakened and the time saved given to reading.

For the infants, however, it was another story; one of insufficient staff. "Infants instruction ineffective", "Infants want precise order, obedience and general interest or attention" were the inspectorial comments. It was the assistant teachers who taught the infants, and there was a continual stream of assistants arriving, and departing after a very short time, between 1902 and 1914. There were sufficient reasons for such a rapid turnover - the rural remoteness of Water End and the scarcity of proper lodgings, the inadequacy and insanitariness of school accommodation, the illness and disease and the accompanying interruptions to study. The inspectors, aware that the managers were responsible for the building, repeatedly criticised it.

An additional room was built in 1905 but it did not escape the adverse comment that "the partition should have been carded to the ceiling." As late as 1913 they could still report: "The infants’ offices are dirty and unfit for use, and the path should be paved with bricks. The girls’ offices are offensive and need immediate attention. Paper should be provided in the closets. The urinal floor is very dirty and should be paved." All the same, the school grew in numbers to an average attendance of sixty girls and fifty four infants.

About a mile away, at the boys’ school there was little change, except in Benjamin Mallett’s salary which had risen to £110 with the help of a Government aid grant. At the turn of the century the inspector commented "In spite of some efects, the general efficiency of the school is very creditable to the Master." Unlike the girls’ school, the school still depended heavily on the gentry’s generosity.

Empire Day

Early in the twentieth century a new event was added to the list of school holidays for the children. It was Empire Day, culmination of the imperial and patriotic sentiment which stretched back to its origins in the Jingoism of the 1870s. Africa, "the dark continent", and the great powers’ contest for its territories aroused the chief public interest.

In North Mymms Benjamin Mallett gave two lectures in the boys’ school, both in 1896. The first one, on France and the French, was given a few months after the Fashoda Incident. He deprecated any hostility between Britain and France; there was no danger from France. His second lecture in December was to give rise to different thoughts. The subject was Matabeleland, conquered by Jameson in 1893. In the same month Jameson launched his disastrous raid on the Transvaal. The Kaiser sent a telegram of support to Kruger; Germany was already the economic rival and potential enemy. The South African war was only three years ahead.

Church Lads and Primrose League

The patriotic spirit in the parish found expression in two new organisations in the year 1896, following the electoral victory of Lord Salisbury, architect of the division of Africa. The new curate, Henry Mercer, formed a company of The Church Lads Brigade. Military discipline and obedience, instilled by Capt. Mercer and staff sergeants Marsden and Honour, was the means of bringing lads into the church. The parish magazine reported progress: -

"At our first Church Parade, held on Sunday morning, March 15th, the company numbering thirty six boys and two Staff Sergeants under the command of the Captain, did splendidly considering the short time they had been drilled and the trying ordeal of being audibly criticised by a large crowd. Nearly all the criticism was very favourable, and the devout behaviour of the lads in the Church was much remarked upon."

But, although supported by Benjamin Mallett and inspected by the Archdeacon of St Albans, the company did not long survive its captain’s departure for Little Heath in the following year.

Far more influential in the parish and more closely connected with the schools, was the Primrose League, the social and recruiting wing of the Conservative Party. A little group of gentry, led by Admiral Sir John Fellowes, met at Hawkshead House in that same year, to form the North Mymms "habitation" or branch, which was to continue until after the 1914 - 18 war.

From the start the League established links with the schools. From the boys’ school Benjamin Mallett was branch treasurer; Miss Kate Parsons, assistant mistress at the girls’ school, acted as branch warden for Water End; and the warden for Little Heath was John Appleyard, headmaster there. Thus all the schools were covered. Entertainments and parties were organised and membership grew.

Soon, the South African war was the opportunity to rally opinion. The branch considered "measures to encourage patriotism amongst adults and school children by means of drilling". At the relief of Mafeking it arranged a "patriotic entertainment at which four little girls in white frocks with red, white and blue rosettes" took up the collection for the Daily Mail war fund.

In the schools there were appropriate events. Triumphs were celebrated. "Today being the day of the Relief of Ladysmith", noted the master of Christ Church school, Little Heath, on 1st March 1900: -

"it was fit that some notice should be taken of the event, that it might be impressed upon the minds of the children, and increase their patriotic feelings which have been very much in evidence during the War. So, at 3 P.M. the Vicar and Mrs Pollock visited the school, and the former addressed the children, the National Anthem was sung, and prayers of Thanksgiving offered up by the Vicar, and afterwards extra recreation time was allowed to children. Tomorrow afternoon is to be devoted to recreation, the school being closed to further celebrate the Relief."

Not to be outdone, the next day the boys at Welham Green had an hour’s play instead of the usual ten minutes, in honour of Ladysmith. Later, the Relief of Mafeking gave the children another day’s holiday, and the peace of 1902 yet another during which the children went in procession, singing the national anthem and the doxology.

Empire Day followed three years later. At Welham Green "we sang patriotic songs which were followed by a short lesson on the British Empire." The girls at Water End had special lessons on the Union Jack and the Empire. Little Heath school celebrated in more style: -

EMPIRE DAY was begun by the singing of the National Anthem and the Hymn ‘0 King of King’s During Scripture Lesson reference was made to the great Empires mentioned in the Bible and of our own. Lessons were afterwards given on the History and Geography of the Empire and the Great Men: A piece of poetry on Sir Henry Havelock was read: There’s a Land followed: Miss Hodgson sang the solo and the children joined in the chorus of "Rule Britannia’ The top boy held the Union Jack while the school sang the song: ‘The Flag of Britain ‘and saluted the flag; the morning terminated with the singing of the National Anthem and cheers for the Empire. A holiday in the afternoon by Council’s order.

Welham Green then had its turn. Benjamin Mallett noted:

"Re-opened after the Summer Holidays. Many of the older boys are working in the harvest fields. A large Union Jack, 6 yards long, with flag staff 38 ft high, had been presented to the school by SB Pope Esq. I propose flying the flag every day when school is in progress. The Attendance Officer called and brought a large diagram of the Union Jack from the County Council"

By 1911 there was a touch of routine: "Empire Day. Address to school by Master, flag saluted and all morning lessons on Imperial subjects. The afternoon a holiday." A few months before the outbreak of the Great War a different note appeared in the celebration, as though to warn of what would be required in the years to come: -

"Empire Day was celebrated in accordance with the regulations of the HCC. After hymns and prayers, an address on the privileges and duties of British boys and girls was given by the Head teacher, followed by the reading of selected passages bearing on the subject. Rudyard Kipling’s Children’s Song and The Flag were also read."

When war broke out in 1914 the school children, as well as their parents became wholly committed. The children lost their fathers, some for a period of years, some for ever. By the end of August 1914 over sixty men of the parish had volunteered. When peace came 268 men had joined the forces; of them forty six had been killed and some seventy wounded. The meagre allowances for soldiers’ dependants made the wages paid for children’s work, as well as for women’s, more necessary.

The children’s contributions to the war effort were various. They picked enormous quantities of blackberries for the Ministry of Food. In one year the Welham Green and Little Heath schools gathered 616 pounds. The boys brought in half a ton of horse chestnuts in 1917 for making explosives. More significant, for the whole country as well as for North Mymms, was the relaxation of the laws preventing child labour.

The farmers, under pressure to produce more food, were acutely short of labourers. From the beginning of the war Benjamin Mallett continually reported illegal employment of his pupils, only to be told that the Attendance Committee would not prosecute. In 1915 the Hatfield Agricultural War Sub Committee wanted the school attendance bye-laws suspended so that not only boys, but also girls, of twelve years could work on the land. The boys’ school was closed periodically for haymaking, harvesting, potato picking and setting. At Little Heath the problem was less acute though at one point seven boys left for land work, "three of good educational promise".

The first device, in 1916, to meet the situation was the official issue of certificates to older boys granting exemption from school for from one to three months. In May that year eleven boys at Welham Green had three months’ certificates. All the same, illegal employment of boys without certificates still continued, unchecked. The next device to regularise the position, the Extended Holiday Scheme in 1917, released older boys for work while keeping the younger ones in "vacation classes" in the older ones’ absence. This meant that boys of twelve were away from school for eighteen weeks in the year instead of the normal ten weeks’ holidays, and those weeks were "taken earlier or later according to local agricultural requirements."

The vicar, reporting the new order for boys of twelve, wrote: "While we are all war weary we must realise that the time has come to redouble our efforts." Shooting parties had to continue; boys for beating at North Mymms Park were still absent from school as if there were not enough other causes of absence.

The girls at Water End also made their contribution. The school staff was reduced by the appointment of a monitress in place of a teacher. Gardening and domestic economy, taken at Hatfield, entered the curriculum; slates, instead of paper, came back into use. Work for the Red Cross, at the request of the director of education, produced vests, mufflers, shirts, socks. The older girls had to be kept at home to bring coal from the sidings to theft homes, "as it cannot now be carted." Epidemics closed the school for five weeks in 1918. Examinations had to be postponed on this account or because of the shortage of teachers.

Both the boy’ and the girls’ schools were fortunate in keeping their long serving head teachers; Little Heath school, with nearly two hundred pupils, had to make do with a temporary war supply man in the absence of its master in the forces. Benjamin Mallett at Welham Green devoted himself to his pupils and the welfare of his old boys in the forces, amid all his parish activities. Overworked, for long periods teaching about fifty boys of all ages singled handed, he suffered a breakdown after the loss of a son. When the war ended at last, he entered in the log book: -

"At noon today I received intimation that the Armistice had been signed. The school flags were at once hoisted. This afternoon, instead of usual singing in school, I marched the boys round the village singing National Anthem and patriotic songs. This was much appreciated by local residents and thoroughly enjoyed by the boys."

At the peace celebrations, held in the school, the old boys presented him with "a handsome gold watch as a token of their respect, honour and affection for him." In the autumn of 1919 he offered an evening school where boys who had missed schooling could learn some history, geography, arithmetic, reading and composition for two shillings a head.

The damage to education had, however, been done. For the first time since the war began, every boy was present in January 1919, and the task was to restore pre-war standards. "Considerable improvement will be looked for under normal conditions", His Majesty’s Inspector reported. His comment at Water End told the same story: -

"The school had been handicapped by long closure and much sickness, which no doubt accounted to some extent for the low standard of efficiency reached in certain subjects. The teachers were kindly in their treatment of the children and most earnest in their desire to improve the teaching. The teachers should visit other schools to observe their methods. A school library would improve the general intelligence and response."

During the war there was, however, the hope of progress in one respect, the unfortunate location of the girls’ school at Water End. A parish councillor put the point strongly: -

"The Schools being established on such a distinctive basis as the Girls and Infants School at Water End and the Boys School at Welham Green, necessitated the great Majority of the Children having to walk long distances in all weathers to attend School. I have been in communication with a great number of the parents and without exception they were all agreed that the present system of having to pass one School to attend another only because of the distinction was more of a fad" than a necessity, and the parents attributed a great deal of the illness among the Children to the fact of having to sit in School in their wet clothing, whereas by a rearrangement of the Schools, a very great many of the children would have a much shorter distance to walk and would not run the risk of being continuously wet through in the bad weather."

The parish council resolved to ask the school managers to make mixed schools at both Welham Green and Water End, but it was persuaded to let the seventy year old problem stand over until after the war, in the belief that the county council would act. The result was to come later.

Wars produce Education Acts: from the Great War came the Fisher Act of 1918. The effects of that, if any, on the parish schools were also in the future.

Peter Kingsford, 1987

Chapter 5 - Towards the promised land 1918-1939
Index - North Mymms Schools & their Children 1700 - 1964
Preface - Why Peter Kingsford wrote the book
Time Chart - Key dates in the educational history of North Mymms
Sources - Where Peter Kingsford researched his material for the book

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