Hertford in July 1914

By Geoffrey Cordingley

In July 1914 as the storm clouds were gathering in Europe and Parliament was concerned about the “Irish Question,” i.e. Home Rule for Ireland, what was happening in Hertford?

Hertford Millenary Pageant

The big event of the year was the Hertford Millenary Pageant.

Hertford had been founded as two burghs, one on the north and the other on the south side of the ford across the River Lea. These burghs were established in 914 by order of the Saxon King Edward the Elder. The pageant told the story of Hertford’s Foundation and its development up to the 17th Century. It was held in the grounds of Hertford Castle during the week beginning Monday 29th June. (In 1912 Hertford Castle Gatehouse was leased by Lord Salisbury, the owner, to Hertford Borough Council to be used as council offices with the grounds open to the public.)

Episode VI: The Herald Reading the Charter

Episode VI: The Herald Reading the Charter

The pageant consisted of dramatisations of eight episodes of important events in the town’s history. These included the Church Synod of 673; the defeat of the Danes in 893; the founding of the town in 914; the siege of the castle in 1216; and the suppression of Hertford Priory in 1533. Different numbers (600/700) of participants are quoted, so certainly almost half the population of the town (1464) took part in the pageant.

Before the first performance on 29th June there was a Thanksgiving Service at All Saints’ Church.

On the Saturday at the end of the pageant 700 performers paraded through the streets of the town preceded by a band and with the church bells ringing.  At 9pm that evening a dance was in the grounds of the Castle

Colonel L.R. Cheney, Deputy Mayor and Mr. Walsh represented Hartford, Connecticut at the event.

Not everybody was totally happy with the pageant. Alice Graveson complained via the Mercury that more children should have been included in the pageant and suggested that a separate children’s pageant should be organised.  All elementary children should take part along with all infants and any secondary school children who wanted to take part especially those who were turned away from the Millenary pageant.  This idea did not get very far as it was cut short by the start of the war.

For more information on the pageant see the article Hertford’s Millenary Pageant by Caroline Churton and the book, ‘Hertford’s Grand Pageant 1914’ by Philip Sheail available from Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies and Hertford Museum.

Freedom of the Borough presented to Arthur Balfour

Presentation of the Freedom of Hertford to Arthur Balfour

Presentation of the Freedom of Hertford to Arthur Balfour

In a related event, on 1st July the Freedom of the Borough was bestowed upon Arthur J. Balfour, former Prime Minister, who had been MP for Hertford from 1874 – 1885. William F. Andrews, the Mayor, presented him with a silver casket to celebrate the event which was described as an impressive and memorable spectacle. For more details click on James Balfour.

Women’s Suffrage

Hertford was not a total backwater and its citizens were interested in affairs of the moment although not in a revolutionary way! Thus on Saturday, 18th  there was a garden meeting of the East Herts Women’s Suffrage Society. It was held at St. Andrew House by ‘kind invitation’ of Miss Cholmley. The Chairman of the society, Mrs. J. Burnett Smith said she was in sympathy with the aims of the law-abiding section of suffragists. Although the militants had given a set-back to the movement, she felt it was not likely to suffer at the hands of right thinking men and women. If capable and sensible women had the vote not only would legislation benefit, but it would be forwarded, and a great many injustices would be put right. This speech was received with applause.

Mr. Chomeley, headmaster of Queen’s School, Islington gave a long address, the thesis of which would not have been very popular to-day.  He said that as a woman’s place was in the home that was the very reason why women should have the vote, because everything which affected the house affected women more than men. Five out of six Parliamentary Bills affected the home and that’s why women must make a contribution to politics if the general needs of the country were to be represented. To say that the interests of women were safe in the hands of men was to ignore human nature in the most extraordinary manner.

The Unionist Party at Panshanger

Panshanger, the south front

Panshanger, the south front

Much of what was reported was to do with the middle class or well-to-do. The “County Set” and much of the well-to-do from the south east gathered on Saturday, 18th when Mr. and Mrs. Almeric Paget gave a garden party at Panshanger to meet the leaders of the Unionist Party. Paget was MP for Cambridge from 1910 to 1917. (The following month he established the Almeric Paget Massage Corps with initially 50 trained masseuses, rising to over 100, who were placed in military hospitals all over the country. After the war clinics were established in the poorer parts of London and gave treatment to anyone who applied.)

The guests numbered over a thousand and included Mr. A.J. Balfour, PM from July 1902 to December 1905; Mr. Bonar Law, Conservative Party Leader and Mr. Walter Long, a Conservative politician. Although there were some short speeches given, none made mention of the political situation. However, the party did include the finals of the Unionist Parliamentary tennis tournament – men’s doubles and mixed doubles!

Hertford Grammar School Speech Day

Hertford Grammar School in early 20th Century

Hertford Grammar School in early 20th Century

On Thursday, 23rd Hertford Grammar School held its speech day. The detachment of the Officers’ Training Corps was inspected in the playground before the ceremony. The detachment was due to go to camp on 27th at Rugeley in Staffordshire.

Mr. Bayfield, rector of Hertingfordbury and Chairman of the school govenors, gave an address in which he advised the boys not to chafe under discipline. If they were not kept up to the mark they would grow up ignorant and lacking in knowledge which was so necessary to carry them through life. He had offered two reading prizes which he hoped would improve the qualities of speaking, reading, recitation.  Most English people spoke their language very badly; their vowels blurred and consenants indistinct.  It was well worth their while to speak well.

Trips and Treats

On Thursday, 2nd, All Saints Sunday School held its treat which consisted of a free visit to the pageant followed by tea in R.T. Andrews’s orchard in Castle Street.  Games and diversions were played after the tea.

The Hertford Baptist Sunday School celebrated its anniversary on Sunday, 12th. Two special sermons were preached by Rev. J.J. Bristow of East Finchley. He preached sermons on “Consideration” in the morning and on “the duties of parents and Sunday school teachers in the life of a child and the importance of the child not only to the nation but also to the welfare of every Christian church” in the evening.

On Tuesday, 27th the boys of St. Andrew’s Church accompanied by Rev. N.T. Gardiner, the rector paid a visit to the Anglo-American exhibition at Shepherd’s Bush.

The opening meeting of 16th Session of Hertford PSA Brotherhood was held on Sunday, 5th at the Congregational Church in Cowbridge.  The Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Brotherhood was an organisation which arranged pleasant Sunday afternoons with a Christian slant for young men.  They idea was to allow young men to enjoy themselves without the aid of drink. Brotherhoods probably began in the 1870s and the first national conference was held in London in 1906.

Probably the most appreciated event was that held on Tuesday, 14th at Fanshaws, Brickendon when Mr. & Mrs. C.T. Barclay held an open afternoon and evening for the inmates of Herford Union Workhouse.  The treat included a sumptious tea with meat pies, cakes, plenty of sweets and other dainties.  Games were played after the tea.


Summer sport was being played and Hertford Town CC held it’s usual cricket week starting on 13th. Over the month many names of teams playing in cricket matches would be unfamiliar to cricketers of the 21st Century, e.g. Christ Church Bible Class had an easy win over Macmullen’s Brewery Employees; Tewin Water beat Panshanger; Sacombe Park lost to Mercury Office; Hertford Town beat Local Banks!

There was a lawn tennis match, which would have been played on grass at Balls Park, between Hertford and W.S. Ward’s team.  Each team had six players split into three pairs each of which played each pair from the opposition side.  Hertford won 5 events (rubbers) to 3 with one match unfinished.

On Thursday, 16th a shooting match was held at Panshanger Range.  Youngsbury beat ‘A’ Company by four shots.

Other Events

Various horticultural events were taking place including the tenth rose show of the Hertford Horticultural Society which was held on Thursday, 9th at Balls Park.  A week later Bengeo Garden Fete was held at Revels Hall “by kind permission of” Mr. & Mrs. G.E. Palmer.  This fete was held on Thursday, 16th and opened at 3pm by Lady Longmore.  it included a performance (entitled ‘Henry VII at Revells Hall’) of a historic episode in 1498.  The director was Mrs. Alfred Graveson and 70 children took part.  The ‘Bengeo Cookbook’ was on sale.  The activities included bowling for a live pig (!) and guessing the number of shots in a bottle.  The attendees were entertained by Miss Evelyn Vickers’ Amateur Orchestra.

On Thursday, 9th the annual horse and donkey show was held on McMullen’s field.  There was a ‘good’ attendance in spite of the rain.  There were 60 entries in the various categories.  There were three judges including Captain Revill who was a Government Inspector for Decrepit Horse Traffic.  The donkeys were divided into two categories: Country Donkeys and London Donkeys.

The Eastern Counties Otter Hounds annual visit to the area took place on Saturday, 11th.  The River Lea from Hatfield to Hertford was “drawn.”

On the afternoon of Sunday, 12th, Mrs. Young held an “Open Garden” at her house, Ashbourne, in Mangrove Road.

Mr H. Sheldon organised an open air meeting of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection Federation Society on the evening of Monday, 13th in Bull Plain with a “good” attendance.

Serious Events

Two serious accidents occurred on the railway. One man “sustained a bad injury to his head and neck through an iron girder coming into contact with him in Cuffley tunnel.” This was during the building of the tunnel.  Also John Gallagher, Talbot Street, Hertford was caught between the buffers of an engine and a truck sustaining serious chest injuries.  Both men were reported to be recovering in County Hospital.

On Tuesday, 7th there was a collision between a trap and a landau on Mill Bridge.  The trap was driven by Mrs. Eagleston of the Laurels, Bengeo. She was accompanied by her groom.  Both were thrown out of the trap and Mrs. Eagleston sustained a bad cut over her left eye although the groom was unhurt.  The occupants of the landau, belonging to Messrs. Barker, were also unhurt.

An even more unfortunate incident occurred when the body of a young man aged 23 and living in Fulham was found hanged in Brickendon Wood. Neither his father nor any of his friends could find a reason for him to commit suicide.

Hertford County Hospital

Each week the Mercury contained details of the numbers of patients at County Hospital. In the week ending 4th July 11 patients were discharged with six admitted ending with 32 in-patients. 123 persons had attended the out-patients department.  Of course the hospital was totally self-funding and relied heavily on donations which that week included £3 from a dance held at Hertingfordbury as well as flowers, vegetables and strawberries from Mr. Abel H. Smith.

Water Supply Problems

Even though £3,000 had been spent on new mains for the town’s water supply, the supply was still erratic.  Two examples quoted were a Ware Road man who had no water for a whole hour and a house in Port Vale which had managed less than a teacup of water in an hour and a half!

Dental Clinics

There was a debate raging as to whether the public authorities should open dental clinics.  In the meantime the Care Committee was to open its own clinic.

Outings and trips

It was the season for outings and trips many of which would not happen again for at least five years. YMCA & YWCA held an outing to High Leigh, Hoddesdon where games were played and Mr Barclay the owner’s son, gave a talk on his experiences in Japan where he had recently spent six years as a missionary.

Stephen Austin's offices in Fore Street, Hertford, c.1910

Stephen Austin’s offices in Fore Street, Hertford, c.1910

The employees of Stephen Austin & Sons held their wayzgoose on Saturday, 11th with a trip on ‘Royal Sovereign’ down the Thames to Southend and back. The younger members of the employees held an impromptu concert and collected 7s 6d in coppers for the Seamen’s Orphanage.  The money was given to the captain.

Towards the end of the month the Band of Hope (Temperance Movement) held its treat in the orchard of Mr. R.T. Andrews. This group had grown up to combat the effects on children of alcohol abuse. It encourage children to sign the pledge that they would not drink alcohol and set up clubs to provide alternative activities.

Great Northern Railway (GNR) was offering excursions to various parts of the country from its Cowbridge Station.  On 11th there was to be a day trip to Great Yarmouth.  Longer trips could be taken to the East Coast (Skegness, Sutton-on-Sea and Mablethorpe) and Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and Dundee.)  Residents could also go to the Yorkshire coast (Bridlington, Filey or Scarborough) from Hatfield.  Surprisingly you could take a half-day or day trip to King’s Cross on a Thursday or a Saturday.

Advertisement of a Different Age

The Spirella Factory in 1912

The Spirella Factory in 1912

Mrs. E. Webb, 32 Fore Street, was advertising that a trained corsetier was available to fit “Spirella Corsets” and that models could be seen. (Spirella corsets were maufactured in Letchworth Garden City.)

The Workhouse

At a meeting on Saturday morning 11th, The Board of Guardians of the workhouse relaxed some of the living conditions for the inmates.  Thus the inmates did not have to go to bed until 8pm (previously 7.45!) and strict silence during meals was not now required as long as order and decorum were maintained.


In the 4th July edition of the Mercury there was a short article on the murder of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarejevo.  Ominously it went on to state, “The terrible news created a profound impression throughout Europe.”

This page was added on 20/01/2014.

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