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North Mymms people in Victorian times
by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 7
Thrift and philanthropy

These two Victorian virtues flourished against a background of the poor law. It was believed that lack of thrift led to pauperism and consequently paupers were not the proper recipients of philanthropy, or in other words, practical benevolence expressed in charitable giving. Philanthropy was for the deserving poor, just as the poor law was for the undeserving. If a man or woman had shown by hard work, thriftiness and abstemiousness in, if not abstention from, drink, that he had tried to be independent, then if he failed, he was a fit subject for charitable help.

Both virtues were encouraged and sustained in North Mymms by the Church of England and in particular by the vicar, his helpers arid the gentry under his guidance to whom he set an example in charity. Both virtues were combined in the various parochial savings clubs. Other bodies which supported thrift were the Girls’ Friendly Society, the Mothers’ Union, the Temperance Society and the Band of Hope, all associated with the church.

The savings clubs were started by the Rev A S Latter in about 1863. It was the period of Samuel Smiles’s best selling books, Self Help and Thrift, and before there were any facilities in the parish for the Post Office Savings Bank. They were quite distinct from the historic parish charities endowed by legacies. Charitable giving on a national scale, a major occupation for middle class ladies, had become so widespread and indiscriminate towards the undeserving, that the Charity Organisation Society was established to organise it on a proper basis.

The purpose of the clubs and the values of that age are best shown in the words of the vicar in 1872:

The end kept in view of all the Clubs is ‘to help those who help themselves’. And while in every parish there needs must be from time to time a certain number of those who through old age, or sickness, or unavoidable misfortune require positive gifts and alms to be bestowed upon them, reminding us that ‘We have the poor always with us’and that ‘the poor shall never cease out of the land’; yet it is undoubtedly true that the greater part of the poverty that exists in this country is self caused, and that habits of improvidence and intemperance have generally been the cause of clothing the man in rags and the household in misery. The Christian man, who wishes really to improve the temporal and eternal condition of his poorer neighbours, will therefore do all in his power to encourage among them habits of thrift and economy, habits of self-reliance and independence; not the self-reliance that makes a man presumptuous and selfish; not the independence that makes a man forget giving honours to whom honour is due; but the self-reliance which makes a man look to his own industry, prudence and forethought, under God’s blessing, for providing, not only for his present wants, but also against the rainy day, when sickness, or scarcity of work, or old age, make it impossible for him then to be a bread winner

How far the situation required encouragement of self-reliance and independence among the villagers it is impossible to say. Such qualities were needed in the hard times when a soup kitchen became necessary. The vicar pointed out that the clubs were meant to be self-supporting but that the gentry could help "without pauperising their poorer neighbours." Moreover, the money, which they would give to the clubs, would be no more than an expression of "goodwill of one class towards another". In the same issue of the parish magazine he warned his flock not to join the new Agricultural Workers’ Union which had formed a branch at Colney Heath. That, he feared, would upset the harmony of masters and men.

What needs did the clubs meet, how did they operate, and how important were they in the lives of the villagers? The three basic clubs, for clothing, for shoes and for coal, lasted, together with the penny bank, into the twentieth century. A third, the rent club, existed for only a few years in the l860s; most cottages were tied. It is clear that none of the clubs could have continued without being subsidised by substantial subscriptions from the gentry. Let us look at the changes in the clubs over a generation of thirty years.

The clothing club in 1865 had a hundred and eighty members who deposited a total of £64, about 7s each; average wages were l4s a week. Probably about three-quarters of all the families in the parish made use of the club. A generation later the members numbered nearly the same at one hundred and seventy five, but they had increased the total deposits to £90, about 10s each; the average wage had risen to about l5s 6d and real wages had risen a good deal more. However, the proportion of their families to a larger population had fallen to a half, and it was only maintained at that level by an increase in Little Heath which offset a fall in the old North Mymms community. At the same time the gentry’s subscriptions to the club fell from about a half of its income to about a quarter. The state of the shoe club is seen in the following accounts for 1871:

Received £ s d
Balance in hand £0 2s 1d
From depositors £19 7s 9d
Subscriptions
Ashton, Mrs £4 0s 0d
Curtis, W. C Esq. £1 0s 0d
Gaussen, Capt £1 0s 0d
Kemble, W Esq. £1 0s 0d
Schofield J Esq. £1 0s 0d
Sibthorp, C Esq. £1 0s 0d
Vicar £4 0s 0d

Total £32 10s 10d

Paid £ s d
To Arnold £17 1s 0d
To Dowell £1 10s 0d
To Debenham £0 11s 0d
To Hankins £6 3s 0d
To Mansfield £1 7s 3d
To Wingrave £0 12s 4d
To Wright £1 8s 9d
For Day £0 5s 0d
Repaid small sums £0 5s 5d
Printing £1 0s 0d
Accountant £1 0s 0d
Balance in hand £1 7s 1d

Total £32 10s 10d

"Arnold" was Alexander Arnold, bootmaker of Welham Green, and he evidently made the shoes, so that the money was kept in the village. David Debenham was a gardener’s labourer with one grandson of six. John Mansfield was an under gardener, living in Maypole Cottages with six young children. The club was for children’s shoes according to the Rules: All Children attending Sunday and National Schools regularly, allowed to pay in for one pair of Boots or Shoes in the course of the year. When two thirds of price is paid in, the other third added. In this the deposits fell over the years, as did the number of members and, in spite of the vicar’s donations, the subsidies. That is curious in view of the Victorian bulge in children and their need for shoes to walk long distances to school.

The Rule for the Coal Club ran - Deposits of 1s per week received by Mr Gray, for 22 weeks, beginning on first Monday in July. Gray was the Parish Scripture Reader, living at Poplar Cottage, Welham Green. Again total deposits rose from the same number of families though these became a smaller proportion of the total number. They seem to have spent more on coal though in fact the price fell. Help in this case came not only from the gentry but also from the farmers who carted the coal free of expense to the depositors in the club. Also, Mrs Latter’s blanket club should be mentioned though it had only a very short life.

What conclusions, if any, may be drawn from these comparisons? Clearly there persisted a considerable number of poor people who needed the clubs, though they became a smaller part of the whole parish. The gentry’s subscriptions became less significant, either because they were not so necessary, or because attitudes changed, or perhaps both. The vicar had remarked that "the poor of North Mymms have responded to this mode of dealing with them". Their response varied according to economic conditions, in the depressed years of the late 1870s thrift fell to its lowest level, and recovered in the late ‘80s.

The penny bank was a different case. Though it, too, started well with total deposits of £35 from some ninety villagers, it had declined drastically thirty years later by which time it catered primarily for school children. The reason no doubt was the coming in Welham Green of facilities for using the Post Office Savings Bank in about 1890. Before that occurred the bank rules provided that "When 9s paid in, is added by the vicar, and account transferred to Government Savings’ Bank, Hatfield."

Yet another opportunity for thrift were several sick and medical clubs which followed one another. In the first, two hundred members benefited from the following rules: On payment to Mr Gray of 6d before 15th January, and is before the 15th July, for each member or family, any Labouring Man may receive benefit of Medical Attendance, etc., for the year ending December 31st. As the modest contributions suggest, it had to be heavily subsidised but it disappeared after a few years. Then a new club, also parochial, became very popular and was virtually self-financing. It declined in its turn but that was probably connected with the coming of national health insurance in 1911.

Early on, in 1871, there was, on a much smaller scale, the Wife’s Friendly Society. Its accounts show how limited it was:

Received £ s d
Balance in hand £0 19s 9d
From 15 women for doctor 3 15s 0d
Ditto for nurse £1 17s 6d
Subscriptions
Ashton, Mrs £1 0s 0d
Curtis, W C Esq. £1 0s 0d
Gaussen, Capt. £1 0s 0d
Kemble, W Esq. £1 6s 0d
Soames, S Esq. £1 0s 0d
Sibthorpe, C Esq. £1 0s 0d
Vicar £1 0s 0d
Total £13 8s 3d

Paid £ s d
To Messrs Drage and Winstanley for addending on membrs £7 10s 0d
To nurse for ditto £3 15s 0d
Collector £0 15s 0d
Printing £1 0s 0d
Balance £0 18s 3d
Total £13 8s 3d

Philanthropy in the parish was not limited to the savings and sick clubs. It flowed into numerous other channels in greater volume, notably to the schools. In a typical year of the 1880s the boys’ school was by far the largest beneficiary. It was followed, in descending order, by the Cottage Garden Show, the Widows’ Fund, the Coal Club, the Clothing Club, the Temperance Society, the Young Men’s Friendly Society Band, the Girls’ Friendly Society, the Band of Hope, the Penny Bank, and the Sick Club. The grand total of charitable donations came to £361, of which the parish schools had £212.

The encouragement of thrift and philanthropy was an essential part of the social cement holding the parish community together up to the 1914-18 war. By that time, however, those virtues had taken other directions.

Peter Kingsford, 1986


Chapter 8 - Nuisances in the parish
Index - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Preface - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Photographs - from the book

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