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North Mymms people in Victorian times
by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 14
An ancient family

Throughout England families have risen or fallen in wealth and status, depending on whether they were able to profit from economic change, or were victims of it. There are several old established families in the parish and there is at least one which dates back to the 16th century, the Marlborough family. It may well be the oldest one, stretching back from the present day to the age of Elizabeth I. Since then the name has been spelt variously as Marlborough, Marlboro, Malbro, Marlbrow and Marbrowe. The earliest trace is of Thomas Marlbrow baptised in North Mymms church in 1567.

The family was originally a yeoman one, owners of copyhold land at Water End. In 1662 Francis Marbrowe paid tax on three hearths in his home, and next year had a son, Brian, by Elizabeth his wife. In 1699 Thomas Marlborough transferred a piece of land in the manor of Brookmans to Sarah Marlborough. Twenty years later his son John also had some land at Water End. When Thomas died in 1745 he was described as a yeoman owning a brick cottage and two and a half acres, with a garden, orchard and two meadow closes near Water End. For this, as a copyholder, he paid threepence a year rent. Although illiterate, he was a churchwarden at St Mary’s church. It was a time when money was plentiful enough to build the gallery in the church.

Some of this paragraph is conjecture. It seems that in 1714 John Malbrow, blacksmith, and his wife Sarah transferred two acres of copyhold land at Water End to another Marlborough, Thomas (the second). Both John and Thomas swore the oath of allegiance at the White Lion in 1723. Thomas (the second) had two sons, Joseph and Thomas (the third) who was a blacksmith. When Thomas (the second) died, the property seems to have been divided between his two sons. Joseph took over the cottage, the garden and a close of about one-acre but he was unable to keep all his property for he sold the close. His brother Thomas (the third) appears to have prospered as a blacksmith, probably at the forge next to the Maypole inn. He did repairs for the church and was paid by the churchwardens for his ironwork for many years . - £4 Os. 2d. in 1787. Both he and his brother Joseph paid land tax until the 1790s, though he paid three times more than his brother.

At the time of the enclosure of North Mymms Common in 1778-82 Thomas and Joseph were each allotted a small piece of land by virtue of their copyhold cottages. Thomas received 2 acres 1 rod 36 poles, Joseph had 1 acre 1 rod 29 poles. Both, however, found that the cost of fencing etc was not worth while, and sold out to the owner of Potterells, Charles De Laet. A few years later Thomas was called on to perform his duty as a militiaman. When he died in 1792 his will handed most of his property to his brother Joseph, while his widow Mary, came into possession of the cottage and 22 and three quarters poles of land. When she died her brother took over the small piece of land.

Joseph Marlborough was one of the few who had a vote in the county elections of 1796. At his death in 1817 he had lived to the ripe old age of seventy-nine. His eldest son, another Thomas (the fourth), described as a labourer, succeeded to the property which included an acre of land. This Thomas died in about 1828 to be succeeded by his son, another Joseph (the second). This Joseph was still one of the elite who had a vote in the election of 1832 by virtue of copyhold cottages at Water End which he still had six years later on.

This is the end of the Marlborough’s as independent, small property owners. There seems to have been some misfortune. For, "On 14th June 1841 Joseph Marlborough appeared before the Steward (of the manor) and sold his house etc at Water End to Joseph Massey for £100." (Massey farmed a hundred and nine acres at Reeves but subsequently he became the innkeeper and blacksmith at the Old Maypole). Joseph had made his mark to the deal, not being able to sign his name. What he sold appears to have been cottages in which he lived with his son William and wife, Hannah, and their little boy, James age three.

Now propertyless, the family seems to have fallen on hard times. William Marlborough, agricultural labourer, was receiving parish relief in 1851 and a poor law medical ticket as a "permanently sick and disabled pauper". He then lived at Balloon Corner with his wife, a straw plaiter, son James, already at thirteen a farm labourer, and a second son Samuel, an infant who had to trudge on wet winter mornings all the way to Water End school where perhaps, unlike his grandfather, he learned his letters. His grandfather, Joseph, was to die in Hatfield workhouse, in 1861. Fifteen years earlier "Marlbrow" helped to recover the bodies of a woman and two children drowned at Water End.

In the meantime James remained a farm labourer until he was twenty-two, but then advanced to become a platelayer on the Great Northern Railway at 2s l0d per day. By 1871 he and his wife Jane had seven children, William age thirteen, a juvenile agricultural labourer as his father had been, George, Emily, Mary Ann (all three at school), Susan and Samuel aged two who died six years later. The family lived at Marshmoor, next door to the police constable. Ten years later the prolific platelayer had three more children, Charlotte, Alice and John, and was still at Marshmoor. Their eldest sister, Mary Ann was now an unemployed general servant.

Two of the daughters strayed from the strait and narrow path. In 1884 Emily Marlborough, age twenty, a servant girl, gave birth to a son, Frederick, in Hatfield Workhouse, and the following year her younger sister Mary Ann had a daughter, Hannah, in the same place. Perhaps there was no room for them in their home. Their father, James, as beadle, was responsible for orderly behaviour in church and at parish meetings, somewhat less than the churchwarden his ancestor had been. He had received the vote by the 1884 Reform Act, along with all the other propertyless men. Perhaps it was the same James Marlborough who was a recipient of Miss Coningsby’s Gift of l0s 6d in 1896, awarded to "labourers in husbandry". The conditions of the Gift were that the recipient had not had any parish relief during the year, had attended church regularly and "had not been guilty of any dishonest or disreputable act". A respectable if humble citizen.

Six years later he was preparing the Welham Green schoolroom for the meetings of the parish council and being paid l0s 6d for his trouble. At that time he and a John Marlborough were living in Pooleys Lane. He applied to the council for an allotment but in the draw which was necessary he was unlucky. He and Jane, his wife died in 1915 and were buried by Thomas and John Nash, builders and undertakers.

Frederick, brought up as one of the family, duly attended Welham Green Boys’ School. When the 1914-18 war came, he was not one of those who joined in the initial rush to enlist, but he served in the Army Veterinary Corps in France from 1917. William, his uncle, was too old for that, but no doubt he was called on for extra work to increase food production. He, like his father before him, received l0s 6d from Mrs Coningsby’s Gift in 1918.

During the inter war years numerous members of the Marlborough family were going about their business in the parish as, for example, postman, carpenter or railway ganger. Today, Charlotte Marlborough can trace direct descent from Thomas of that name in the 18th century. The family, however, has been in North Mymms for over four hundred years. Its divorce from the land, as it moved from independent yeoman to wage earner, was common enough in England.

Peter Kingsford, 1986


Chapter 15 - Laying them to rest
Index - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Preface - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Photographs - from the book

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