Victorian lives in North Mymms
by Peter Kingsford
An enormous number of women were in domestic service, it was by far their biggest occupation. They were housekeepers, cook housekeepers, cooks, kitchenmaids, scullery maids, lady’s maids, upper and lower housemaids, ‘tween maids, nursery maids, laundry maids. In 1851 there where over one million of them. But that was not enough to keep pace with the increasing wealth of the upper and middle classes. Thirty years later the number had grown to one and a half million and by 1900 it had leaped to two million. The men were not so numerous but as butlers, footmen, pages. coachmen, grooms and gardeners they rose from some two hundred thousand to double that number in the years before 1914.
North Mymms was not behind in this onrush. The servants in the parish rose from 111 in 1851 to 167 in 1881, almost exactly in proportion to the nation. It was a much bigger increase than the parish population, which grew only nine per cent. Everyone who had the money was demanding personal service, and for poor women there was little choice but to provide it.
The servants resident in the parish were of several kinds. The chief difference was between those in the big houses with many servants and those who, often employed by a farmer or a person living on dividends, were maids of all work. North Mymms had half a dozen such big houses and they had about half of the total servants and nearly all the butlers and footmen. Another division was that between the indoor domestics and the outdoor men and women - gardeners, coachmen and grooms. It was among these that the most marked increase occurred in the parish. Gardeners and a coachman indicated their masters’ standing in society. Whereas in the 1850s there were coachmen only at North Mymms Park (as it was called), Lcggatts, Little Heath House and at Brookmans (with two), thirty years later there were ten of them, with Hawkshead House, Moffats, Mimwood, Heronfield and Heath House added. Coachmen had their grooms, or rather the most prestigious one did, since the grooms increased by only one. The lesser coachmen had to care for their horses themselves. Nearly all these men were "furriners", from all parts of the country. Only one groom John Perry, a lad of sixteen, was parish born.
Furriners are here defined as those who were not born in North Mymms. Of course, there were many other servants whose parents had moved into the parish and who would not then have been considered as furriners if they or their parents had resided in the parish for some years. The servants brought many furriners" into the parish. The retinues in the big houses were nearly all gathered from all parts of the country and even from abroad. In the 1 850s of the fifteen servants at North Mymms Park only one was native or locally born Emma Phipps in the lowly situation of scullery maid; none among the eight at Leggatcs and of the six at Brookmans only the groom Joseph Reddington. The curate Henry Crawford employed two girls one of whom, fifteen years old Anne Day, daughter of an agricultural labourer as many of them were, was a native. The natives among those serving the gentry were still very few thirty years larer: Job Burr footman at Brookmans, Ellen Sibley housemaid keeping Potterells clean, Annie Burgess doing the housework at the vicarage in the company of the Rev Batty’s cook and footman from foreign parts. In the expanding hamlet of Little Heath James Hocombe, the solicitor of Osborne House employed the village girls Emily Childs as housemaid and Kate Pollard the fourteen year old kitchen maid along with two male servants from Kent.
The other, lesser servants, those in smaller houses where there were no men servants and often only one girl, had also usually moved into the parish. They or their parents had come mostly from neighbouring parishes or from farther off in Hertfordshire. Few girls or boys born in the parish found service in it, a mere dozen in 1851. They were Mary Fowler at Bell Bar; Emma Giddrng who served the grocer and baker in Welham Green, widow Hannah Parsons, daughter in law of the licensee at The Old Maypole, Charles Pollard aged 14 son of a widowed straw plaiter, James Scrivenor groom at Mimwood, Emma Constable at Travellers, Ann Smith who cared for two old fund holders in Welham Green. Two others, Mary Smith and Sarah Bryant are mentioned elsewhere in chapter four on women workers. In addition there were a few servants who were living at farms. They were the wives and children of that disappearing breed the male farm servant. Jane Littlechild was at Skimpans, Elizabeth Draper at Hawkshead and Betsy Constable and her servant son James age 14 at Travellers.
A generation later, even fewer of these servants were Nonth Mymms by birth, only three of them in a bigger total number. They were Emily Childs who lived at Reeves, Sarah Childs at Boltons Farm and John Perry mentioned above. Domestic service was an itinerant occupation. Few boys or girls born in the parish seem to have started their service in it. Perhaps some of them returned to it if there were vacancies.
In spite of the demand for servants there was a shortage of vacancies by the I880s. Earlier on there is no record of unemployment but the census for 188 shows no less than nine unemployed indoor servants. Three of them were middle aged - Selina Hart the butcher’s sister, Ann Valentine unemployed housekeeper and a lady’s maid Sarah Turner. The others were young enough to be waiting for their first situation. Elisabeth Chapman, Emily Harrow and Caroline Hill were the daughters of agricultural labourers and Mary Marlborough of an equally humble railway platelayer. Born in the parish they very probably attended the girls’ and infants school at Water End. The preparation for domestic service, which they received there, had had a doubtful outcome. Only a few years earlier the gentry had encouraged the connection between school and domestic service. At the Cottage Garden Show of 1872 it was announced that:
"Prizes will be also given to Female Servants, who have been brought up at our National School, and who have been longest in one situation since 1865, and who can bring a thoroughly good character from their present Mistress - Three prizes, 20/, 15/, 10/."
The prizes were duly awarded. The first went to Emily Childs with five years four months in one place, second to Anna Morris with five years in her present place, and third to Sarah Childs with three years four months also in her present place. Others were commended for their faithfulness: Selina Busby. Emma Edmunds, Sarah Hipgrave, Susan Bailey and Charlotre Gray. Eight girls had done what was expected of them. There was no shortage of contestants and perhaps this encouraged a surplus of servants later on.
The indoor servants were an example of the mobility of the parish people. The outdoor servants such as gardeners were equally so. In the 1850s there were fourteen gardeners, eight garden labourers and two garden women. Two of the gardeners had to double up, Charles Sheppard as groom at the vicarage and John Elliott as bailiff at Brookmans. The garden women were two widows, Elizabeth Pursell and Elizabeth Redington. The latter also gained a pittance by cleaning the church for 2s. 6d. a week. She had eight children aged nineteen, fifteen, eleven, nine, seven and seven, five and two and she had rent of £1. 5s. 0d. to pay to the squire of Brookmans. Her nine-year-old boy George was already a farm labourer along with his elder brother. Of the total of twenty-two, eighteen had migrated into the parish, some from nearby e.g. Essendon, a few from farther off, Kent and Surrey; John Elliott had come from Northumberland.
By the 1880s gardening had gone up in the world and there were thirty-nine head and under gardeners; but no such person as garden labourer. The increase was in Little Heath. That place now had nursery a of its own of three acres run by John Butterfield from Lilley, and there were thirteen gardeners in the hamlet where there had been only one before.
Very few of that considerable number were local men, most had come from all over the country, Wiltshire, Scotland, London, Devon whence Clement Serle at Moffats and John Gold at Moffats Lodge had migrated. The few born and bred in the parish who had turned to gardening bore old North Mymms names - William Longstaff and under gardener William Littlechild of Bell Bar, George Shadbolt of Welham Green, George Pollard of Pooleys Lane, Albert Nash at North Mymms Park.
Servants and Status
The servants status depended a great deal on their situation. There was a large difference between the staff of the establishment at North Mymms Park or Potterells and the single-handed drudge in a modest household. The children of William Goulburn schoolmaster of Welham Green school were of the first kind. His two sons were livery footmen and his seventeen year old daughter served as housemaid at North Mymms Park. The two occupations were not far apart. By 1861 she had graduated to cook at Abdale.
Status also depended on the master’s position in the parish, this is exemplified by the characteristic incident of the pews in St Marys Church. The archdeacon of St Albans who was called in to settle that dispute wrote to the churchwardens on 14 January 1860:
I beg to communicate to you in writing the decision I expressed by word of mouth on my visit to North Mimms Church respecting the Pew occupied by Mrs Kemble and respecting the complaint made on behalf of Mr Lyseley’s tenant at Mimwood Farm, which had been brought to my notice.
1. In regard to Mrs Kembie’s Pew - although it is larger than her family now requires, yet, considering that she occupied one of equal accommodation on the same spot in the Church before it was re-pewed; considering too her position in the Parish; and especially that it did not appear than anyone was aggrieved or deprived of sittings in the Church through want of room. I saw no reason to disturb her, but confirmed her occupancy of that Pew.
2. In respect of Mr Lyseley’s tenant, Mr Milward, the complaint appears to me to be so far well founded viz., that he was not seated according to his rank and position in the Parish his Pew being behind those occupied by Mrs Kemble’s and Mr Lyseleys servants respectively, and I decided that he ought to be moved forward, the servants occupying Pews behind him in the order assigned to them by the Churchwardens; so that Mr Milward should occupy No.11 in the Plan of the Church submitted to me; Mrs Kemble’s servants No.12; - and Mr Lyseley’s servants 13.
I wish to notify you, at the same time that Churchwarder is in the assignment of Pews or sittings, should be careful to give precedence to resident occupiers and Ratepayers in the Parish, over the servants of private families. Under any circumstances, my opinion is, that, servants can have Pews assigned to them only upon sufferance - certainly not to the exclusion or prejudice of the Parishioners having claim to be seated. If after these have been provided for, further more remains, that more may fairly be assigned to the domestics of the resident Gentry, at the discretion of the Churchwardens. Even so, however, they would be liable to removal, should any fresh claim for seats on the part of Parishioners arise."
The churchwardens duly altered the allotment of pews.
Mrs Virginia Kemble and her son William of Leggatts lived on dividends from Government stock and were strong supporters of the Church. Their butler, footman, lady’s maid, cook, housemaid and kitchen maid had to move back behind the farmer. They were all "furriners". Presumably the outdoor staff had to do likewise though that would have been unfair since the two gardeners, George Wilshire and Alfred Samuel and the boy servant Henry Samuel were natives of North Mymms arid therefore had ‘a claim to be seated’ which the others had not. Did the old coachman William Samuel also have a claim since he had been at Lcggatts for many years? Even so, although they had to move back "on sufferance" they were still in front of the Lyseley servants from Mimwood, all furriners. Mrs Kemble’s servants had precedence over W I Lysely’s although he was a member of Parliament because of her long and high standing and benevolence in the parish.
The archdeacon made a clear distinction between gentry’s servants and parishioners a number of whom were also servants of a humbler sort. There was probably little relationship between the two. One exception proving the rule was James Cheescman, the coachman at Brookmans and a native of Buckinghamshire. Two of his daughters were born in North Mymms and an elder daughter had become a teacher at Woodhill School. From the 1860s until the 1 890s he was a pillar of the local branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, of which he was treasurer. Perhaps he received encouragement in this work from his paternalistic employer R W Gaussen who was, in fact one of the churchwardens to whom the archdeacon addressed his instructions. At any rate, there seem to have been few, if any, like him.
Peter Kingsford, 1989
Chapter 9 - Change in Bell Bar
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