Victorian lives in North Mymms
by Peter Kingsford
Albert Thom, greatly missed in the parish, recorded some memories of five old residents. The following is an attempt to piece them together. It seemed a pity if the memories were lost. All five spent hard working lives but their fortunes varied. There were two boys, one was a farmer’s son, the other a farm bailiffs. Of the three girls one grew up as a farmer’s daughter, the other two were not so advantaged.
One of the boys, son of the bailiff at Brookmans, belonged to a family of ten who lived in a small cottage near to where the Post Office was at one time in Bell Bar. So crowded was it that his brother got away to join the army. Soon after the family moved to Foxes Lane. The boy went to school in Little Heath but only until he was eleven. He received some edification in the Bell Bar mission room opposite the old bakery. He rang the bell and, along with all the other children, had two hours instruction on Sunday afternoons and games of dominoes and draughts on week days.
His father was in charge of the milking, rising every morning at half past five; there was hardly any ploughing. For that he was paid twenty-one shillings a week in 1910 and the four men under him eighteen shillings. The family was never short of meat for he used to market calves and pigs and a load of rabbits occasionally. When the family moved to Foxes Lane where the two cottages housed twenty two persons, they kept sheep and pigs and the bailiff brought his calves down there to fatten. The boy set traps for the moles arid sold the skins at sixpence a dozen.
His first work was gardening at North Mymms Park and for Lady Church at Woodside. A keen footballer, he turned out for the Bell Bar eleven, playing in his trousers and hobnail boots. Then he had a turn in the militia "to see what it was like", and the thirty shillings a week was useful. The family had military connections; an uncle was a long serving sergeant major.
Marriage came in 1914, shortly before the war. He was not one of those who rushed to enlist in the first patriotic fervour of l9l4 but joined up in 1915, was sent to India and returned home four years later. On being demobbed he did not go back to North Mymms Park but, seeking more money, he worked at the girls’ school at Water End and then took to excavating for the new gas mains coming to North Mymms.
The father of the second boy took the farm at Moffats with three hundred and fifty acres, tenanted from Capt. R G Gaussen of Brookmans. When the boy was at school before 1914 he would get tune off for potato picking at Moffats, Burn’s and Crawford’s farms and to help drive the cattle to Barnet market. At that time the farm had fourteen horses to be looked after. He could see the hay carts going up to London. One of the men engaged in this work was George Dickens who bought the hay from the farmers and carried it to London while his wife Harriett ran the Woodman. For some men haycarting was their only job, putting a load on one day, carting it on the next, returning with a load of manure and then loading up again. The carters from all around had their horses shod at the Maypole smithy.
He watched the big engines working for the pumping station at Water End in 1911 before flooding stopped the operation in 1914. Grandfather had a contract to cart coal there from Marshmoor sidings. The boy helped his grandfather to deliver the clean linen from his grandmother’s laundry. Grandma’s laundry in Water End, for which she had had a well sunk
in addition to the village well at the Woodman, catered widely for, amongst other customers , Abdale House, Admiral Fellowes at Roestock, Sir William Church and Hatfield Rectory. Water End, centred round the boy’s neighbours Thomas Eaglestone the blacksmith, Gray and Neal, had its share of poor families, widows who had to go out to work. There was little gleaning to be done there.
The boy started work odd jobbing on the Burns farm. This was followed by five years in the woods, clearing and planting, along with four or five others. After the 1914-18 war his working life was at Moffats farm. His father did a milk round with horse and cart for fifty years. The young man’s working day at the farm in the 1920s began at 5.15 am with a cup of tea and a slice of bread and butter and, until he could buy a bicycle, a walk of one and a half miles to Moffats. Then the routine: feed the cows and milk, breakfast of bread and cheese, then clean out and feed the outside stock. It took half the morning to clean the sheds and boxes and get the food ready for the day, mixing it all up to last out the day. The surplus milk was separated for butter and the separated milk went to the pigs. He took his dinner of bread and meat, beef, bacon or ham, with him. At half past two it was time to feed the outside cattle and at three o’clock time to start feeding the cows and cleaning out ready for milking until milking at half past three to five. There were eighteen to twenty four milking cows, about eighty all told. Next he had to separate the afternoon milk and then feed round again, the last feed round being at half past five, or six in later years because there was more work and fewer men. The end of the long day came with home at half past six for tea of meat, vegetables, apple pie or whatever there was, and then digging in the garden to grow potatoes and all kinds of green stuff.
For the three girls work meant domestic service. One girl loved school; she used to take seeds for the little garden and she received two medals for good attendance. She hoped to become a teacher but family means prevented it. Instead she helped her mother when she cleaned the school to leave at fourteen and begin work as scullery maid at Mymwood for £10 a year. The cook thought she could make her into a kitchen maid but the girl grew tirerd of the hours of work. Sundays were off until nine but every weekday she was required to be back at the house by six p.m. to prepare dinner, and so she left. After three years she moved to work for a lady at Redbourne, related to the vicar of North Mymms.
Another girl started one step up as kitchen maid at Lochinver, after some part-time work, for the somewhat higher wage of £1 13s. 4d. a month. At the end of three years she went to Liverpool as cook and she began courting there. After a year she returned and nursed her mother for two years. Then it was, during the 1914-18 war that she saw the Zeppelin in the sky. Because her husband was shell shocked she was the breadwinner. She worked at anything that was available, laundry, cooking, gardening, mending and stitching, baby sitting.
The last girl used to spend a lot of time before and after going to school with her grandma at the Swan. Her grandpa Charlie Chatman, kept the Swan from 1886 to 1910, a six days licensed house. When he first came down in the morning he always started the day with his rum and milk. The house was open from eight o’clock in the morning until ten at night. Grandpa would not allow any smoking before nine in the morning. The hay carters going up to London used to stop there for a break and go in for a drink. Her grandpa had two broughams, a wagonette, a brake and a Victoria for hire and a dog cart and a trap for grandma when he went to Barnet market. A maid lived in. One or two of the girls from the village went to work there after they left school. T he water at the Swan could not be used for drinking. It had to be fetched from across the main road, past Cumbcrland Place, to the well, sometimes with a yoke or with a barrel on a frame. When her grandpa gave up the Swan because Gaussen raised the rent he went to live with his family at Puttocks farm, which was rented from Burns, where they had moved from Kentish Lane.
After the maid had given the little girl a bath and got her ready for bed the child used to go down and sit on a small chair beside the fire in the bar and be given lots of sixpences and pennies. Before she went to bed she had a glass of lemonade or ginger beer and a sweet Brighton biscuit or an arrowroot biscuit as big as a saucer or cracknel biscuits and sweets.
Her mother’s people were the bakers at Bell Bar. Her parents were married from there when they were twenty-five. Her mother’s brother took on the bakery when her grandparents died; he did all the baking. She and the other three children were born at Kentish Lane. Her father was in Woodhill choir and she was christened in Woodhall church.
When the family moved to Puttocks farm, the girl often acted as cock boy, leading the old horse up and down in the Buckmore fields and brought many a load of corn down Parsonage Lane to the stackyaid at the farm, brought the empties back and then took another load down. Father would be in the stable, with grandpa cleaning the harness so that the horses all came out spick and span. She used to take the horses down to the Maypole to be shod.
They walked for miles. When they were at Puttocks she had to go to Sunday school in the morning at Water End, march from there to church, home to dinner, and back to Water End for Sunday school. At the age of twelve or fourteen it was down to the vicarage for Bible class in the afternoon, home to tea and back to church at half past six with her parents. Grandma went m the pony and trap. They were all in the choir.
At sixteen the girl went into service. Grandma thought it was terrible to work in a shop. In service a girl served only one class of people but in a shop she had to serve everybody, even if it was a tramp. She started in service with Col Daniels at Frowick during the 1914-18 war.
Peter Kingsford, 1989
Chapter 11 - Pillars of Society
Index - Victorian lives in North Mymms
Preface - Why Peter Kingsford wrote the book
Sources - Where Peter Kingsford researched the material for this book.
Photographs - The photographs reproduced by Peter Kingsford in his book