Victorian lives in North Mymms
by Peter Kingsford
Bell Bar is an old place with a history going back far beyond the years of this chapter. The "Bar" was probably the gate which controlled pasture on the common and it may have been named after the ancient Bell Inn which stood nearby.
In the ‘North Mymms Parish and People’, Dorothy Colville wrote:
"Bell Bar, the little hamlet that clustered about the gates of the manor of Brookmans, was a self contained community at the beginning of this century" (the 20th). "It had its own smithy and bakehouse, two farms, an inn, a mission room, a post office, nine or ten cottages. That community of about a hundred persons had even then lived for hundred years in the domain of the Gaussens of Brookmans who owned all the land and most of the property in Bell Bar. That had no doubt preserved the place, though it had undergone changes, and its people, many more."
The most dramatic change was twofold, the construction of the Great Northern Railway through the parish in 1850 and the diversion of the Great North Road from its route along the street of Bell Bar to its present position as the Al 000 in the following year. These two events must have had a great effect on the inhabitants. For whereas the stir and bustle of the coaches from London to the North had been a daily event of their lives, the traffic was soon to vanish and some of the prosperity it brought with it. Kershaw’s Coach which ran from the Greyhound Smithfield to Hitchin every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, returning on Wednesdays and Fridays was taken off the road soon after the railway came.
The pecuniary loss was clearly seen by R W Gaussen the squire, if by no one else. In making his case for payment of £300 per acre for his land required by the railway company he gave details of what he expected to lose:
"In his village of Bell Bar there were formerly three public houses all doing a good business and paying high rents. One of these Mr Gaussen pulled down three years ago finding that the railroads had done so much injury to the North Road that there was only support left for 2 - The Bell and the Swan. Those two must of course follow the fate of the other, The White Hart, if the London and York Scheme should succeed and the rents be lost to Mr Gaussen. Another source of loss will arise from the cattle which now pass on their way to Smithfield, and which by paying considerably for their nights keep, enhance the value of the farms by the road side, not to mention the value of the manure; they will of course henceforth go by railway, and a fall of the rent of those farms ensues of course."
While Gaussen had, he wrote, "offered no vexatious impediment" to the railway, he got his price and the cost of diverting the North Road which passed his mansion was borne by the railway company. The effect of those two events on the villagers was, most likely, somewhat different. A comparison of the people of Bell Bar between 1851 and 1881 may tell what that difference was.
If, in the Spring of 1851, one had taken a walk along the half mile stretch of road which was Bell Bar, one could have started at Brookmans at the south end. This 17th century mansion was the home of R W Gaussen, the biggest landowner in the parish of North Mymms. He himself was not in residence but the butler, housekeeper, two housemaids, page and groom were awaiting his return. Of these, only the groom, Joseph Rcdington, was a native of the parish.
In the stable block there were the coachman’s wife and her four young children. Close by lived the young gamekeeper, Joseph Tuley, his strawplaiter wife and two little children. A hundred yards away the lodge was the home of an elderly garden labourer, his wife and two daughters, one of whom worked as a seamstress. Next, a few yards further on, was the responsible figure of the farm bailiff (also a gardener), John Elliott, a young man of thirty three from Northumberland with his wife and little daughter, substantial enough to have a servant girl. In contrast, close by was the dairywoman, a widow of sixty living by herself.
Next was one of the two tenant farmers in the hamlet, Edward Fan who employed seven labourers on about 115 acres. The farmhouse, a tall shallow building with 18th century front, still stands today. Adjoining it, facing the road, were three cottages. The first must have been over full with an elderly farm worker, his wife, two sans of twenty two and thirteen, both in the same work as their father, a daughter of fourteen still at school and a pauper woman. But there was the undoubted advantage that R W Gaussen, his employer, charged no rent. The second cottage was even fuller. The elderly James Hawkins, who had lived in the parish for many years, was a coachman, his wife worked as a laundress, one of his two daughters did dressmaking and there was a son still at school. The Hawkins had four visitors that day - a son with his wife and baby, and a friend. The third cottage sheltered only an elderly widow, the charwoman Martha Shepherd and her road labourer son.
A few yards separated them from the wheelwright, young Joseph Holton, with his wife and baby son and his apprentice. Earning good money, he could afford his rent of £3. 10s. 3d. per quarter to Gaussen. The observer, proceeding northward, would then see on the same left hand side of the road five cottages all about the same size but with widely different numbers of inhabitants. In the first, Sarah Peddar, seventy five year old widow of a farm worker, was on parish relief along with her ‘afflicted" daughter; her son in law with her was employed as a labourer. The next two cottages were crowded with farm workers families each with five children. Only one child was a farm worker, so that Sarah, Rose, Henry and George Chalkley and Martha, Mary Ann, John, Eliza and William Burgess had plenty of playmates. Whereas the Burgesses lived rent free, the Chalkleys had to pay 15s. 9d. per quarter; a nicely calculated discrimination. In the household next door Thomas Stan, though only thirty-seven, was another pauper. His wife went out charring and there were four small children to support. Next to them James Billow, elderly widower and farm worker, had his cottage to himself. Only a few yards further on lived that important person, the baker of Bell Bar. The substantial foursquare house, rented from Gaussen at £2 a quarter, stood, and still stands, on the corner where Bull Lane leads off to Welham Green. Elizabeth Messer, had recently been left a widow with two small children at school but she had living with her the journeyman baker, an older man, who no doubt did the hard work, and a neice working as a dressmaker.
Bell Bar Farm
Across Bull Lane was Bell Bar Farm; the half timbered medieval farmhouse, still there today, was perhaps the oldest building in the hamlet. Once an inn, the White Swan, it was the resort of the drovers on their way to London with their cattle. At a sale in about 1815 it was described as ‘most eligibly situated by the side of the Great North Road, two Miles and a half short of Hatfield, and only seventeen from the Metropolis. The farm which consists of a Dwelling House (formerly the Swan lnn). Lath and Plaster and Tiled, near to the Seventeen-Mile Stone, containing:
"Three Parlours, Hall, Kitchen, Brewhouse, Cellar, and Pantry, Seven Bedchambers, and One Garret. A Barn, of Two Bays, and a Threshing-place, with lean-to Chaff-house adjoining, Brick and Tiled. A Range of Stabling, Weather-boarded and Tiled, containing one for Six Horses, one for a single Horse, and another for Five Horses: another Range of Stabling for Twenty Horses, divided into six Apartments, with Hay Lofts over, Brick and Tiled. A Cowhouse for Nine Cows, with Calf-penns at each end, and Shed and Piggery adjoining. Weather-boarded and Thatched. A Cattle Shed, Posts and Thatched; Wood House, Boarded and Thatched; Cart Shed of Three Bays, Posts and Thatched; and a Chaise House adjoining, Boarded and Thatched; a high Shed for a loaded Cart to be placed under; and a Granary, claimed by the Tenant."
The land was 138 acres made up of meadow, pasture and amble. The current tenant in 1851, William Bolton from Warwickshire, farmed about 180 acres, mostly grass, worked by thirteen labourers. They were conveniently close to the last building, the White Swan. This public house had also been up for sale in the same year. William Anderson had been the licensed victualler since he came from Bedfordshire in 1832. He and his wife with two young children had the help of his ostler nephew and a servant, Mary Valentine.
Tradesmen and Women
Now we cross the street and turn back on the other side, southwards, to where a cluster of cottages houses the blacksmith, the shoemaker, two farm labourers and the but1er’s family. One of the labourers old Henry English and his wife had a domestic servant living with them, probably a free lance. The other, young James Plummer, was fortunate in having his wife and daughter earning as straw plaiters. Emma Guttridge, the butler’s wife, had two little children and, as befitted her status, a house servant, Harriet Simmons. That essential figure the journeyman Smith, John Jackson had come all the way from Devon, bringing three children with him and begetting two more in North Mymms. The equally necessary journeyman shoemaker James Peek, a Hertfordshire man from Essendon, also had a full house with wife, three grown up children and a young man from Hatfield who, it may be thought, was visiting one of the daughters. There were five earners in that cottage; the wife at charring, a son who was a farm worker, one daughter a hat weaver, the other a straw plaiter.
On that side there was no more to be seen until the Bell Inn at the junction with Bell Lane. The licensee of this ancient hostelry young George Archer was a newcomer. An ostler and a servant helped to deal with the coach traffic but that was disappearing and the Bell with it. This little community was, from below three paupers, a dozen farm workers, two labourers, four charwomen, a laundress, four strawplaiters and weavers, two dressmakers and a seamstress, two ostlers, two gardeners, two bakers, a shoemaker, two wheelwrights, a blacksmith, two fanners and last but not least a dozen domestic servants of varying status, most of whom were to the mansion.
About seventeen were directly employed by Gaussen and many others were dependent on him. By today’s standards it was a young community with thirty-nine children under fourteen and only nine persons over sixty, three over sixty five. The hamlet had benefited from both the coach traffic from London to the North passing along its length, and a wealthy and not ungenerous lord of the manor, and was probably better off than others in the same parish. No doubt these influences had effected a good deal of mobility; only fifteen adults had been born in the parish while many more had come in from neighbouring villages and others departed.
Genearation of Change
If, a generation later in 1881, the same observer took the same walk but the other way round, he would easily recognise the place; it was still owned by the Gaussen family. He starts at the White Swan, now licensed to Edward Woolley from Harpenden, still very much in business with an ostler for the horses. And, going south up the road, the ancient Lower Bell Bar farmhouse still stood. The young tenant farmer, Charles Robarts had about thirty more acres than his predecessor and required two extra boy workers. His wife Selina with two little children also had a lodger, an undergraduate of London University, of the somewhat advanced age of twenty-seven perhaps due to his distant birthplace in Brazil. No doubt the servant girl of sixteen was kept busy.
In the next little group across the road, the shoemaker had cone and the hamlet was without one. In his place was Emma Peck (of the same name) widowed "garden woman" with three sons. The smithy had survived. It was now in the hands of the widow of the former blacksmith, Elizabeth Jackson and her two blacksmith sons. This was a full house with two other grown up children, a granddaughter, and a daughter with her two children who were visiting from Lambeth. The next cottage was just as full, the home of the young farm worker William Harding and Martha with a brood of seven young children.
At the bakery opposite, William Cozens employed his son who had been born in Bell Bar, and had diversified into grocery. A new building would now catch the observer’s eye on the opposite side of the road. This was the mission room built by R W Gaussen of corrugated iron, but handsomely wainscoted inside. Many meetings were held there, Temperance Society, Band of Hope, Bible classes and readings, Sunday School gatherings; an outpost of evangelicalism in the hamlet. Capt. Toop of the Church Army operated with lanternslides.
The five cottages in line with the bakery now had completely different occupants. They were a widowed needlewoman with four children, two under gardeners each with six children (a prolific lot those gardeners), a farm worker with only five children, and an elderly herdsman, a widower with two older children earning. A hundred-yards further south, there was now no wheelwright. His place had been taken by the substantial figure of Edward J Howling, from Wivenhoe, builder who employed three men and an apprentice, symbol of change and progress. More than that, he had fathered six children. His carpenter, living with him, had followed him from Essex.
The three cottages next to him had also changed hands. Farm workers occupied two, one with five young children, and an elderly couple with two grandsons and a lodger, the gamekeeper William Pales who could perhaps help out with rabbits. In the third cottage lived the widow of the thirty seven year old pauper of thirty years earlier. Her four children had departed; previously a charwoman, she now earned her keep as laundress, alone in her rent free cottage. Next at the farm Mark Tarry had moved in only a few years earlier from a smaller farm at Roestock. While there he had been a Sunday school teacher and every year had given the value of a lamb to the Church Missionary Society. Now as a farmer of some standing and a considerable ratepayer he had been appointed overseer of the poor of the parish for the year. Although he had slightly fewer acres and fewer labourers than his predecessor of 1851, he had many more children, no fewer than ten between two and seventeen. He and his wife Jane were model parishioners in the eyes of the vicar. Three middle-aged, single farm workers lived together in a nearby cottage.
As the observer looks across the road he has a shock. The old Bell Inn is no more; George Archer and his ostler have gone long since. Finally he comes to the Brookmans Park domain. Before reaching the mansion there are the head gardener, a man of some importance, from Tiverton, and the elderly land agent Archibald Gorrie, a man of greater importance, from Scotland, widower with his daughter and, as befits his status, a servant girl. Two young gardeners, single men, are in The Bothy. In Brookmans Lodge there lives alone Rebecca, widow of the gamekeeper George Tuley who has gone to prevent heavenly poaching. The coachman James Cheeseman and his family occupy the stable block. The eldest of his three daughters Ellen Mary, at nineteen years old, was already schoolmistress at Woodhill School, which was attended by the Bell Bar children. Cheeseman had come from his previous job in Kensington a good many years before. As a teetotaller, a useful qualification for a coachman, he was a well known figure in the parish temperance society, frequently addressing its meetings on the evils of drink. Under him were the grooms, two young single men.
At the mansion the Gaussen family was not at home, as before, but the domestic staff were more of them than in 1851. That may have been because the squire had recently been succeeded by his son, a captain in the Grenadier Guards. Those present were the butler, who now had a footman, two housemaids, an upper and a lower as before, and three additional servants - two laundrymaids and a scullery maid, but no housekeeper or cook this time. Only the footman, Job Burr, a lad of eighteen, was a local.
Thus compared with a generation earlier, the difference was as follows: - no paupers, the same number of farm workers, no other labourers, no charwomen, one laundress as before, no straw plaiters, only two instead of four dressmakers, one less ostler, four more gardeners, one more baker, no shoemaker, no wheelwright, two more blacksmiths, two farmers as before and one more domestic servant. The total had risen slightly from 113 to 124, including Brookmans. The community was now a younger one. Only six persons were over sixty and the children had increased by 80%, probably because of the Education Act of 1870. There had also been much coming and going. Of all the residents in 1851 there were only nine survivors thirty years later.
Such was the effect of the big events of 1850 and 1851. Some occupations had gone, others had remained. As well as change there had been the continuity to be expected of a community dominated by a squire who controlled the rents, wages and housing of the farmers, labourers and artisans. The extension of the franchise to farm workers was still three years ahead and it was another thirty years before the first break up of the Gaussens’ Brookrnans estate occurred.
Peter Kingsford, 1989
Chapter 10 - Brief Lives
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