Victorian lives in North Mymms
by Peter Kingsford
In their time Edward VII and George V aroused strong feelings of loyalty and affection among the people of England. The parish of North Mymms was not backward in this respect. In 1902 and in 1911 it organised fetes to celebrate the coronations of the two monarchs. There was, however, a difference between the two which may say something about their times.
The celebration in 1902 started with a parish meeting on 20 May called to consider what steps should be taken and how the money was to be raised. It was well attended by thirty to forty men, a few from the gentry and the secretary, schoolmaster Benjamin Mallett. The rapidly growing village of Little Heath had decided to combine with Potters Bar on this occasion.
Decisions were taken. The fete on 28 June would be in the field opposite the post office at Welham Green, kindly lent by Daniel Crawford, beginning with children’s sports at 12 o’clock, children’s tea at 3 and adults’ ‘luncheon at 5 to be followed by adults’ sports. The adults would have ham, beef (roast), rolls (bread), tea (for those desiring it), cheese and rice pudding. For the children the tea would be bread and butter, jam (2 kinds), cake (3 kinds) and tea. Mr Hieber, "refreshment contractor" of Bamet would supply this for 1s 6d. per adult and 7d. per child. Salad and roast mutton would also be available. A thousand tickets would be printed, though there would be seating for only five hundred. KK ale would come from McMullen and fifty gallons of ginger beer and fifty gallons of lemonade from R White. Music was to come from the North Mymms Brass Band which, though at first requiring payment, agreed to play without charge.
Everything was well in hand when the king had to undergo a serious operation. The event was postponed to 9 August and Mr Hieber had to receive compensation, which was, fortunately, paid by Mrs Burns of North Mymms Park. Mr Slater of St Albans was happy to take his place, though his price for the "meat tea’ rose to 2s 0d. He was guaranteed 600 adults and 300 children. The weather was favourable, the catering gave entire satisfaction, the sports proceeded according to programme, and altogether, the festivities went off very well. The finances were satisfactory. Payments exceeded receipts by only £2 12s. 7d. which was due to the treasurer, S B Pope, Mrs Bum’s agent, who had accepted the post on condition that he would not have to meet any deficiency.
Success was no doubt due to the widespread support. No less than 291 persons subscribed a total of £104 6s 8d. Of this sum rather less than a half came from a handful of the gentry. All the rest came in small sums from the villagers: 29 at threepence each, 76 at sixpence, 96 at one shilling and so up the scale.
The festivities in 1911 were a more hurried affair. The first meeting in the Welham Green school was only five days before the fete on 24 June. The subscriptions amounted to only £65 6s 10d, from 273 persons which was a smaller proportion of a larger population. This time more than half came from the gentry. There were more small subscriptions: 44 at threepence, 91 at sixpence, 71 at one shilling etc.
Consequently expenditure was more modest. The tea consisted only of bread and butter, cake (2 or three kinds), lettuce etc, cakes and buns" for 556 adults and sixpence for each of the 240 children. But there were fireworks costing £5 and 11s 0d. was paid to the Hertfordshire Constabulary. Beer was not on the menu this time, on]y lemonade. Nor was it exclusively a men’s affairs for among the collectors was Mrs Gardiner Wilson, wife of the railway official at Tollgate Farm, who gathered in £2 16s 6d.. Naturally, the "Ladies willingly assisted at the tables".
The schoolmaster, Benjamin Mallet was again the presiding genius, as chairman, secretary and treasurer rolled into one. It followed that the sports were well organised in eleven events for children and eleven for adults. The events included a Slow Bicycle race and a tug of war between Welham Green, Bell Bar, Water End and Roestock. Consequently too, the committee was able to "state their gratification that the Celebration passed off without disorder or ill feeling of any kind", though perhaps the absence of beer and the police presence on this occasion helped. "The whole of the arrangements were carried out in a manner entirely worthy of the auspicious occasion’ the committee considered.
Auspicious? Perhaps, though not with hindsight. Events in Europe were already moving towards the slaughter of war, only three years ahead. At home a bitter struggle was in progress between Commons and Lords over the Parliament Bill to reduce the power of the House of Lords, which did not end until August 1911. The country had already had two general elections in 1910 on the issue. In the midst of this turmoil the death of the popular Edward VII had dismayed the man in the street and in the village. Little was know of the navel officer who became George V. The feeling was, according to one historian, that "he should be given a fair start".
Some of this may explain the differences between the two celebrations. At the time of the earlier one, while Queen Victoria was deeply mourned, the change from an aged queen living in frugal retirement to a king who was a man of the world was not unwelcome. Add to this the fact that the dubious South African war of her reign had ended in peace at last in the month just before the fete of 1902. It was a different climate of public opinion and sentiment from 1911.
A third great celebration took place in the parish of North Mymms eight years later, on 19 July 1919. The Peace, so ardently longed for, was the occasion. In London general revelry had continued for three days after the Armistice. The rejoicing in the parish was more sober but as universal. No less than 393 parishioners contributed to a total fund of £154. That was over a hundred more, and from a smaller population, than in 1911. Forty-six men from the parish had been killed. The sum raised was also more than before, even allowing for wartime inflation. It was, however, made up differently. The large contributions of £10 and £5 from the gentry and middle class incomers formed a greater part of the total. Some people1 notably the farmers had done well during the war. The rank and file had not done so. The cost of living had more than doubled while wages had lagged behind. This showed in the greater number of small subscriptions of sixpence. a shilling, two shillings and half a crown.
The useful sum of £154 gave plenty of scope. The committee, with the evergreen schoolmaster, Benjamin Mallett again as secretary, planned activities and refreshments in the by now traditional way, but this time with the addition of dancing to a band in Crawford’s field. This innovation may have arisen from another one, the inclusion of four women on the committee and three more as collectors. Celebration was no longer a male affair; women over thirty had just received the vote.
Fireworks were again let off but the main attractions were the sports and the dancing. In the high jump, the vicar, Rev C G Ward, won by clearing 4’ 9" but declined the prize of eight shillings. The tug of war included a pull between married and single women which, predictably, the married won, while Bell Bar won the men’s event. As for the dancing, performance was perhaps all the better when, as the rain came down, it was transferred from the field to the schoolroom.
Everyone was well pleased and there was a balance in hand of £39 15s 6d. which helped to fund the subsequent Welcome Home to Returned Service Men. Sir William Leese, Bart., presiding over the fete, recorded its deep sense of gratitude to Mr Mallett for his untiring efforts with out which they feel that no entertainment at North Mimms can possibly succeed." He read out the King’s message ending, "I rejoice with you today at the restoration of Peace which I trust will bring us all unity, contentment and prosperity. George RI". Down at Water End a big bonfire lit up the night sky and the Kaiser was burnt in effigy.
Peter Kingsford, 1989
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