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TALES OF THE FROWYKS

Most people who live in South Mimms and Ridge know where Frowyke Crescent is. How many people, though, know why it’s called by that name? Probably older folk know, especially those who have read Frederick Brittain’s “South Mymms, the Story of a Parish”, published in 1931. For those who don’t, read on!

The simplified spelling “Frowyk” is used here, because that is how it is spelt on the two Frowyk tombstones in St. Giles Church. These days it is normal to add an “e”. The family were the Mr. Bigs of South Mimms 800 years ago. There are several stories about them in Brittain)’s book, and also in another history by the Revd. Frederick Cass, written in 1877 (it’s heavy going as a read, much of it being in mediaeval Latin!). The pictures they paint of life in these parts in the Middle Ages makes “‘Orrible ‘Istories” seem tame by comparison.

The first tale is of a kidnapping. It has echoes of the Wild West in the 19th century. In 1308 Henry, the son of Reginald Frowyk, was staying up country in Hertfordshire at Furneaux Pelham. He was 14. He was forcibly carried away to be married to the daughter of an Essex gentleman called William de Pouns, who lived in Pleshey, 20 miles the other side of Bishops Stortford, towards Chelmsford. The other kidnappers included William’s son, Richard, a priest, and Thomas Lewknor, who owned Wyllyotts Manor (where Potters Bar station would be built 550 years later).

His mother, Agnes, petitioned Parliament for justice, and the kidnappers were imprisoned – but only for two years. They were released, possibly because young Henry actually liked his new bride, Margaret. Some 30 years later he is known to have collaborated with one Adam de Pouns in a business transaction. There is a tombstone outside the priest’s door to St. Giles belonging to someone called de Pouns (the first name is missing), which dates from around those times. These bare facts do not really do justice to the drama of the tale – it would be much better as a film, with lots of charging about on horses.

Reginald Frowk was a draper in the City of London. His grandfather, the first of many Thomas Frowyks, was a grocer, and having gained some wealth and a good marriage to an heiress from Surrey (near Reigate), chose to buy a country estate in what was then greater South Mimms. It is now Old Fold Golf Club. All the Frowyks were London merchants, some goldsmiths, some mercers (cloth dealers), and they gradually became part of the local gentry and nobility.

The next tale is about another Henry Frowyk. He was the grandson of the one who was kidnapped, and he died in 1386, some eight years after his grandfather. By now the family was well established as Lords of South Mimms, and his father (a Thomas) had married the daughter of the owner of what is now Dyrham Park, then known as Durhams, so the Frowyks now owned all the land north of Barnet.

Henry was a Justice of the Peace and Member of Parliament for Middlesex (South Mimms didn’t come into Hertfordshire until 1965), and he was also friendly with the Abbot of St. Albans. In 1381 Wat Tyler led the Peasant’ Revolt, and they threatened to burn down both St. Albans and Barnet. Henry Frowyk is said to have parleyed with the Peasants, and promised to mediate on their behalf with the Abbot of St. Albans. This gave time for the authorities to arrive with soldiers and put down the revolting Peasants. You can take this story two ways. Either Henry was an enemy of the proletariat in their class struggle against their overlords. Or you can consider that he preserved the built heritage of two famous market towns for posterity, and maintained strong and stable government.

Henry is buried before the altar in St. Giles Church, under a massive tombstone of Purbeck marble, with four Frowyk shields and a one-line inscription, asking for God’s mercy. His son, Thomas Frowyk who died in 1449, lived to at least 70, and his tombstone is now in the Frowyk chantry chapel. It was originally in the base of the tower and shows him, his wife (from Shenley) and their 19 (!) children. Thomas probably rebuilt the nave of the church, and also the original side chapel. He was also a friend of another Abbot of St. Albans, as well as being Justice of the Peace and MP for Middlesex. On his grave is a tribute from the Abbot, describing him as a country squire, who liked hunting foxes and badgers. The Animal Rights Group would have had a field day with him! He is also said to have kept the peace between his neighbours. Given those troubled times, he must have had his work cut out.

To put all this in context, between the first two Henrys mentioned came the Black Death (1348) which wiped out huge numbers of people – though the Frowyks themselves seem all to have lived long lives. While Thomas was out hunting foxes, King Henry V was busy defeating the French at Agincourt in 1415, and shortly after his death in 1449 the Wars of the Roses started (1455), including the Battle of Barnet (1471). Exciting times in which to live – or die!
William Marsterson

A BAT CAVE IN SOUTH MIMMS

Deep below the ground by a farm in South Mimms is a series of huge caves, the home to colonies of bats. They were discovered over thirty years ago by a caver, John Huston, and are only accessible from three vertical shafts, although once there must have been a larger shaft wide enough for horses and carts. They are actually a vast chalk mine, and were in use during the 1800s to supply calcium carbonate and flint to the building trade.

They remain virtually unknown to local people, but with 1,132 ft of tunnel known, up to 40 ft high and 32 ft wide, they are one of the largest unsupported chalk mines anywhere in the world. The miners were expert at excavating the caves, creating vaulted structures as they went deeper to provide stability. They provided some 23,000 tonnes of chalk.

A soot graffito records the last day of mining: April 17, 1912. There is a legend that one of the last of the miners, William Rowson, disliked the overseeing agent, and set light to his house, killing him, his wife and children, and all the mine records. This is substantiated by an illustration, scratched into the wall, of a burning house with a stick-limbed agent waving his twiggy arms in the flames. Alongside are the initials W.R.

The Herts and Middlesex Bat Group investigated the caves at the time of their discovery, and identified two rare species, Natterer’s and Daubenton’s. More recently (2011) the Group identified Natterer’s in St. Giles Church at the east end. The caves provide an ideal winter hibernation site, having high humidity and constant air movement. That accounts for another roosting site popular with bats, a Church belfry (St. Giles’ bell tower hosts Brown Long-eared Bats).

Mrs. Campbell passed the Editors a newspaper cutting from which this information is drawn. Unfortunately the newspaper and its date are not recorded, but I was told about the caves in 1988, which suggests that the article was published about then. My informant (now sadly passed on) indicated that the location of the caves was a closely guarded secret, to protect the bats in their winter quarters.
William Marsterson

A 1939 GARDEN FETE

Mrs. Mollie Campbell recently passed me a flyer for a Garden Fete, which has some remarkable features. It reads as follows:

ST. GILES’ – SOUTH MYMMS

A
GARDEN FETE
and SALE of GOODS and PRODUCE
will be held in the
VICARAGE GARDEN
under the patronage of
THE COUNTESS OF STRAFFORD
on
THURSDAY and SATURDAY
JULY 20th an 22nd, 1939

The Sale will be Opened by
Mrs. MITCHELL, of STAPLEFORD TAWNEY
at 3 p.m.
___________________________________
TEAS – SIDE-SHOWS – TREASURE HUNT
DANCING – BRIDGE
Variety Turns in which Mr. GILLIE POTTER
and other distinguished Artistes will appear
TELEVISION under the management of Mr. Phillips,
of Potters Bar
_________________________________________________
Tickets of Admission 3d., Children 1d.
_________________________________________________
Gifts of Produce and Work, and offers of personal
service, will be gladly welcomed.

Not very different from today’s fetes and parties, perhaps, but look at the date: two weeks before the outbreak of World War Two! And under the patronage of our local (Wrotham Park) nobility. There is a picture of country dancing in the Vicarage garden in St. Giles Church archives, though possibly at an earlier date. Entertainment by “distinguished Artistes” sounds very grand, and much more common before the age of Television, which, surprisingly, was also featured in this fete, thanks to Mr. Phillips. And the prices…..!
William Marsterson