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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 6 - Silver Treasure

In addition to the amber tankard the church possesses some beautiful silver. This has been displayed at the flower festivals organized by the church council and has excited much interest and admiration. No doubt the commissioners appointed by Henry VIII removed much of great value from the church, and to judge from the vestments depicted upon the brass of William de Kestevene rich embroidery and gorgeous materials must also have been removed. A quarter of a century later, during the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI, the commissioners reported that they had found a chalice of silver gilt and another of silver, a cope of crimson velvet embroidered with gold, another of damask embroidered with flowers and "an old one of green silk" together with six other vestments, a cross of copper and gilt, some candlesticks and two censers. William Dodde, second husband of Elizabeth Frowyke, signed this inventory, but gives no clue as to the fate of the goods. None of the silver now belonging to the church is of pro-Reformation date.

The oldest piece of silver is the chalice made in London about 1570, having two bands of strapwork round the bowl but no other marks. A copy was made from it during last century. A flagon of 1707 and a paten of 1717 bear the device of six ostrich feathers enclosed in a lozenge. This is part of the Jarvis arms as shown below the memorial to George Jarvis and poses the question "Who gave them to the church?" They were in secular use, it would seem, before they became the property of the church, and one wonders if they, like the tankard, were a gift from Dame Lydia Mews, daughter of the said George Jarvis.

A dainty covered cup of silver gilt made in Nuremberg in 1610 was left to the church by Charles de Laet, who lived at Potterells from 1753 until his death in 1792. It is strange that, although there are memorials of the 1750-1800 period to be found in the churchyard, there is no memorial, either inside or outside the building, to any member of the Coningsby family. It therefore seems safe to assume that Charles de Laet and the other members of the Coningsby family were buried in the vault below the floor of the Lady chapel. When the Coningsby family sold their North Mymms estate to Sir Thomas Hyde in 1658 they reserved to themselves the right of burial within the chapel and Cussans, the most learned of our county’s historians, gives the names of some of the Coningsby family who were buried below the floor of the Lady chapel.

Of the modern silver the most interesting is the altar cross often thought to be contemporary with the seventeenth-century candlesticks and, like them, to have been made in Germany. The cross was, to quote from the parish magazine for November 1926, "designed by Mr. Blacking to harmonize with the ancient silver candlesticks presented by Mrs. Burns a few years ago. The work is now in hand and is being effected by Mr. Knight, of Wellingborough, a master of his craft. The council expressed their gratitude to Miss Gaussen for this magnificent gift, which will complete a set of silver ornaments such as is seldom seen in any church."

The beautifully modelled figure superimposed on the cross is of even later date, having been made in 1949. The figure is iridium plated (iridium is an element of the platinum group) and it too was a gift from Miss Gaussen.

The magnificent candlesticks referred to by the Rev. Charles Gordon Ward were made by Johann Wolfgang, of Augsburg. A pair of lovely lidded cups each bearing the inscription "This Kup is my gift to thee, when ye raise it to thy lips, pray ye, think of me" and dated 1614 were gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Walter Burns in 1919.

Bell Ringing for Beer

When the commissioners of Edward VI came to North Mymms in 1553 they reported that they also found "a Saunce bell in the Steple" (sic). Presumably they left it as being of little value. This is the sanctus or saint’s bell and was originally rung at the act of consecration at mass to call all who heard it to join in the act of worship. This little bell, measuring fourteen inches in diameter, is probably a century and a half older than the other bells in the tower and may be as old as the tower itself, which was built about 1450. The saintly Sir Thomas More may have heard this little bell when he worshipped in his parish church in the country.

Sir Henry Chauncy, a famous Hertfordshire historian, visited our church towards the end of the seventeenth century, and he found "a square tower wherein is a ring of five bells with a fair spire of lead erected upon it." Bellringing as we know it was not practised until long after the Reformation, although "ringing days" occurred throughout the year. The number of days varied from year to year, but always included the sovereign’s birthday, coronation day, oakapple day and Guy Fawkes day. From the churchwardens’ accounts we learn that the ringers were paid in beer, five shillingsworth for every ringing day; thus this entry confirms Chauncy’s statement that there were five bells in the tower.

By 1806 the bells were in need of repair and the famous bell-founder John Briant, of Hertford, was entrusted with the work. It is assumed that in the process of recasting Briant made six bells from the metal at his disposal, for the beer allowance was increased to six shillings for every ringing day after 1810. Into the moulds of the bells was incorporated the inscription "John Briant, Hertford, fecit 1806." The tenor bell, which weighs l3cwt. and has a diameter of 421 inches, has an additional inscription, "Gloria Deo in excelsis," and the names of the churchwardens, Joseph Sabine and Richard Mason. The little sanctus bell was also rehung, and while work was proceeding on the bells extensive repairs were being carried out on the tower. It was at this time that the fair spire of lead recorded by Chauncy was replaced by an even fairer spire of copper. It weathered to a delightful shade of green and was a landmark for miles around, but ravages by death-watch beetle to the timbers supporting it led to its removal in 1953. Its loss is still mourned by our older parishioners.

The old custom of ringing the "harvest bell" to tell the women and girls that gleaning could be started in the fields was carried out in our parish until 1860, when the churchwardens’ accounts show that the ringer was paid in money, not in beer. The Rev. T. Hans Satheby had abolished the unsatisfactory method of paying by means of an allowance of beer and had insisted that from 1845 ringers should be paid in money.

The parish magazine for October 1867 records the formation of a "ringing class" (two names in that class, Nash and Groom, are known in the parish today), but no change ringing was attempted until 1911. With the two additional bells given by Lord and Lady Clauson at the end of World War I, the tower has a ring of eight bells. The first peal on the eight bells, Stedman triples, 5,040 changes in two hours forty-seven minutes, was rung on April 21, 1921, while the first peal by an entirely local band was of bob triples, 5,040 changes, on January 17, 1924.

Throughout the years, in addition to the major repairs which have been carried out on the bells, there have been what might be called the day-to-day expenses. In 1846 the churchwardens were presented with a bill which read:

"6 new bell ropes with best worsted Sallies .. £3 5s. 0d. Rope for the Ting-tang 2s. 0d."

By 1870 the price had risen to £3/10/- and the "sallies" had become "lollies," but there was no mention of rope for the ting-tang.

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 7 - The Churchyard
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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