Hertford in September 1914

A Call to Arms

By Geoffrey Cordingley


Hertfordshire Mercury, 5th September, 1914

Hertfordshire Mercury, 5th September, 1914

Between 10th August and 2nd September, 1,220 men enlisted with 1,000 men joining Kitchener’s New Army and the rest going into the regular army or the special reserve. The Mercury considered them to be keen, intelligent and very enthusiastic. These men included footmen, grooms, chauffeurs, gamekeepers, old public school boys and others from varied walks of life. Large numbers of men went to the cavalry, artillery, Army Service Corps with only a few to the Engineers. However many more men were required especially those with knowledge of horses for the artillery, and non-commissioned officers.

Major H. Baker organised a body of recruits and on Thursday, 3rd September departed the town with 104 men. The Herts Yeomanry had been ordered abroad and many locals came to say good-bye to friends.

During the week beginning Monday, 14th recruitment slackened partly due to a new standard in height and chest measurements being introduced. 1,000 territorials were billeted in the town during that week. One positive benefit for the local people was that the band of 1st Herts Regiment played on Thursday, 17th in the castle grounds.

The Church Lads’ Brigade was trying to form further battalions of soldiers. The adjutant was Capt. H.P. Munnings who owned a china and glass warehouse in Fore Street.

Mr. J.H. Thorpe, Secretary Hertfordshire County Council, wanted to see a cricketer’s corps established so that men who had a common bond of interest and enhanced “esprit de corps” could serve together. His letter to the paper was based on one sent by F.E. Lacey, MCC Secretary. It was considered that 1000 men would be required to set up such a corps.  This was probably based on the idea of General  Sir Henry Rawlinson who suggested that men would be more likely to enlist if they knew they were going to serve with friends.  ‘Pals Brigades’ were created in many places especially northern industrial towns.

Call to Arms

Hertfordshire Mercury, 5th September 1914

Hertfordshire Mercury, 5th September 1914

Although many men had enlisted the search for more recruits continued.  A meeting was held at the Corn Exchange at which Mr. Andrews, the Mayor, in a stirring speech quoted Cromwell, “Trust to the Lord and keep your powder dry,” i.e. believe that God will aid you but be prepared to fight with a will and strongly. Like Nelson at Trafalgar he also insisted that “England expects every man should do his duty.”

Colonel Sir Charles Longmore claimed that men need to protect the country and keep a strong foreign enemy at bay.  The cause was a just one.  Loyalty to Crown and Country was demanded of the manhood of England.  The forces could never have too many men and now was not the time for sport. He also thought that ladies should encourage men to enlist. It was the duty of everyman to qualify himself for the defence of his country. Men would be joining a winning cause and it was necessary to see that a doctrine of force was smashed.

Mr. Brodie Henderson encouraged men to fight for “democracy over barbaric military despotism.” He also asked, “… how could a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his father and the temples of his God?”

Mr. C.S. Pawle hoped every man would feel his individual responsibility and afterwards would be able say that, “We have done something more than being patriotic. We have done something for humanity, Christianlty and God.” Further, after the war is over, potential empoyers may enquire what an applicant for a job did in the war.

It is no surprise that after such emotional pressure had been put on the young men attending the meeting that 30 – 40 indicated their willness to join up! And no doubt the older men considered their duty done!

I suspect that there were similar meetings being held in Germany and Austria where the same sort of arguments were being used by older Germans to persuade their country’s youth to join the armed forces.

The Press Bureau made an urgent appeal for blankets for the troops and by the end of the month 100 had been handed in at the Shire Hall and sent to Woolwich Barracks by Mr. W.F. Andrews, the Mayor.

On the morning of Sunday, 20th Rev. C.R. Job, rector of Bengeo, took a service on Hartham Common for the troops although a large number of civilians also attended. A heavy shower of rain during the service did not deter people. Rev. Job went on to say that the country had entered this war for the sake of honour. The very existence of our country depended on our entering into this undertaking and we should have to go on until victory was assured.

Soldiers’ Home

St Nicholas Hall, formerly known as The Verger's House, c. 1915

St Nicholas Hall, formerly known as The Verger’s House, c. 1915

St. Nicholas’s Hall was turned into a home for men of the yeomanry and territorials but again people were being asked to contribute to the cost of the upkeep of the home. The Rev. N.T. Gardner (St. Andrew’s church) and Rev. M.S. Swatman (Christ Church, Port Vale) started this venture. Although it was called a home it seems to have been what to-day would be called “a day centre.”

The home contained a reading room: chess and draughts could be played: men could even box on the stage. There was a small sized billiard table and a piano around which everyone could sing. 120 letters a day were posted from this home.

Mr. W.D. Fenning offered to give a lecture with the help of the staff at the centre on the causes of the war and possibly on recent European History.

Home Defence

Mr. Watkins, 61 Hertingfordbury Road, made a call for a drill squad to be formed which could practice drill & marching and rifle practice.

Domestic Service Abroad

Women were offered an alternative location by the Emigration Department of the Salvation Army. It was prepared to find situations as ‘domestic helps’ in good Canadian homes for “good wages”.  However see the October entry for comment on this idea.

Also women were offered the opportunity to work in domestic service in Australia, New Zealand and Canada for £4 with transport to West Australia and New South Wales costing £6 and £8, respectively.

Help for Farmers

Farmers in Melbourne, Herts. were offering workers 20s – 25s per week plus board and lodgings for the next three months, presumably to help get in the harvest.


Hertfordfshire Mercury, September 1914

Hertfordfshire Mercury, September 1914

All elementary schools re-opened on schedule with good attendance and very little sickness. I suspect that a number of the older children were kept on the farms to help with the gleaning, etc.

Hertford Grammar School continued at its original site a short distance from All Saints’ Church.

Miss Huck advertised that her Hertford School for Girls and Preparatory School for Boys would re-open on Monday, 14th at 7, Port Hill.  She would also give lessons outside school hours in general English subjects, French and Music (Pianoforte and Singing.)

The Misses Morris would re-open their school and kindergarten on Thursday, 17th at 55, Ware Road.  A prospectus was available.

The School of Art, above the original Hertford Library at Old Cross, would re-open on Monday, 21st for day and evening classes.  These classes included drawing, painting, modelling, design , woodcarving, art, needlework and embroidery, stencilling and metal work.  Life classes were held from 10am to 1pm on Wednesdays.  Full particulars and a prospectus were available from the headmaster, Mr, J, Wood, AMC.


Drury Brothers was still using the war as a way of advertising, claiming to have captured 100 new customers. Later in the month it was stating “Remember, Britannia rules the waves” and suggesting that customers could help to keep tailors in business by ordering clothes at the store. It was also offering 5% bonus on all Suits made to order.

Donations to Funds

Donations to the Mayor’s Fund included 5 guineas for Dr. Tasker Evans (doctor in charge of Hertford County Hospital as well as a G.P. and medical practitioner at Christ’s Hospital for girls); £1 from the fire brigade; 3 guineas from Neale’s Bon Marché in Fore Street; 1 guinea from Hertford Working Men’s Club; 5s from a working man (which he perhaps could ill afford); £3.9s.2d of contributions of 1s and under; £3 from Hertford Wesleyan Church and £18.8.2d from St. Andrew’s Church.

Also £694.19.6d was donated to the Red Cross Fund.

Unfortunate Timing

Mr. & Mrs. Owen W. Wightman of Bengeo were on holiday in Austria when the war broke out and the Mercury contained a detailed description of their difficult return to England,cf. Wightman trip.

Also Ernest, Edward Beckwith, son of W. Beckwith, 6 Old Cross was trapped in Hamburg, although he was being well treated and not short of money.

Police Special Constables

It was decided that Special Constables would do duty with the police from 10pm to 5am.

Entertainment and Sport

Hertford's first cinema, the People's Electric Theatre

Hertford’s first cinema, the People’s Electric Theatre

Having only opened on 25th February 1910, the People’s Electric Theatre in Maidenhead Street closed for the present.  One of the last pictures shown before it closed was, “From the Lion’s Jaws” described as an exciting drama!

The Castle Cinema showed on Monday, 21st to Wednesday, 23rd, a film entitled “The Curse of the War” described as a magnificent coloured drama! “It not only depicts the terrors of present day warfare in which aeroplanes are destined to play so large a part but also reveals the appalling consequences of international strife, which is the cause of a moral suffering among innocent victims, wives, mothers and sisters.” Hardly what the people on the home front wanted to watch, I would have thought!

The Premier Theatre in Market Street

Meanwhile on Monday, 14th to Wednesday, 16th at the Premier Theatre, Market Street, Proprietor C.E. Sheppard showed a special feature, “Seven Nations at War” – a splendid topical film of the Great War – along with “Lost in Mid-Ocean” showing the wreck of a huge liner lost by collision with an iceberg ( presumably based on the Titanic disaster.) Later in the month, on 28th – 30th this theatre showed a film on “The Battle of Louvain” which had been taken with the Belgian troops a few days previously. On the same evenings John Story from the Court Theatre gave some of his famous impersonations and Edith Butler, from the Queen’s Hall, performed selections on the flute.

Some enjoyment was obtained when the Congregational Church Treat was held as usual but all the children went to Foxholes Farm when the older boys had been due to go to the seaside.

Hertford & District Junior Football League was suspended due to a lack of players.

Perhaps the committee of the Hertford Horticultural Society was being optimistic when it postponed its autumn show until 1915!

Early Closing of Licenced Premises

A letter from a ‘Licence Holder’ complained about the early closing of licenced premises which would affect the trade of inns, beer houses, confectioners, eating houses and all other licenced premises. This started a continuing dialogue in the letters’ column of the paper between on the one side the licencees and the established figures in the town on the other.

Alien Registration

Hedwige Reinhardt staying at Panshanger was arraigned before the magistrates in Hertford accused of failing to notify her change of address. This was a requirement of all aliens of the Alien’s Registration Act and British Nationality Act, 1914.

Hedwige had been in the country for three months.  She had originally registered at Walton Street Police Station, Chelsea.  She had written to this station when she moved to Panshanger on 20th August with her employer, Mrs. Barnard.  However she should have been issued with a permit.  Her lack of understanding of English seems to have complicated the matter.

The police had searched her bags at Panshanger and found nothing untoward.

She was initially remanded for five days on bail of £25 for which Mrs. Barnard stood surety.  On her second appearance in court her case was dismissed.


The building of the Cuffley to Hertford railway continued with the men working day and night.  The illumination electric light was supplied from Hertford. 65% of the Ponsborne tunnel was now complete with men working from both ends. Later in the month William Day, a navvy, successfully sued Messrs. McAlpine & Sons, railway contractors, Hertford for 12s 6d compensation per week for injuries received as a result of a fall of earth on 20th February.

Great Northern Railway continued to run its express excursions including a new trip to Nottingham Goose Fair, a traditional fair held in September/October since about 1285 which gained its name from the thousands of geese that used to be driven from Lincolnshire to be sold at the fair.

Alternative to Coal

Those unable to afford coal were encouraged to buy gas coke which was being offered at great reductions in price for one month only by the Gas Manager, 7 Castle Street or from the Gas works, in Gas House Lane which had been built in 1825!

Roll of Honour

The edition of the Mercury dated 19th annouced that the paper was starting a Roll of Honour under the title “For King & Empire.” The Roll would cover those killed or wounded in action. “We sincerely trust the list may be a brief one but clearly this War is to be a costly one in blood and treasure and already there is some score of names to be inscribed on the Hertfordshire Roll of Honour.”  It was intended that the roll should be a complete, reliable and permanent record of those in the county who, ” … counted not their lives dear unto them” when the call came to take up arms for the Old Country and her Allies in the greatest War of modern times.

A form to be completed by relatives and friends was printed in that and subsequent editions.

The first entry for a Hertford man was for Drill Sergt. Arthur M. Hill, see the article for October, 1914.

It was also suggested that a board might be set up in each church to hold a “parochial role of honour.”

The paper also indicated that it was happy to print letters from the front as there were restraints on what war correspondents could report.

Ladies’ Working Party

Mrs. Reginald Smith unfortunately had to close her working party at the Shire Hall until a deficit of £83.13s.0d was made good. This was a great shame as 1,726 separate articles had been made including 180 for Belgian women and children. Unbelievably later in the month the flannel shirts were rejected, even for men being drilled on Salisbury Plain, because there was no khaki collarband!

Further Demands on Home Occupiers

On top of the billeting of soldiers home occupiers were now being asked by the Mayor if they could provide a home for Belgian refugees.

Other Interesting Items

Dr. Charles Edward Shelly, 60, wrote a hymn “In Time of War” which he was selling for 1d or 2d with the music. All the proceeds were to go to the relief fund. The hymn was sung in both All Saints’ and St. Andrew’s Churches.  Shelly was a surgeon who ran his practice at his home at 76, Fore Street.  He lived with his wife, Ellen Travers, 57, who had been born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

On Monday, 14th Edward Hipgrave was remanded to await an escort after being found absent from the Transport Section of Army Service Corps. based in Aldershot.

On Saturday, 12th Hertford County Hospital was re-opened after a two month closure to install a new drainage system to improve the sanitary arrangements. During the closure, part of Haileybury School sanitorium was used for urgent cases.

This page was added on 07/02/2014.

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