Historical North Mymms tomb engulfed in ivy

Grade II listed monument no longer visible


Photograph of The overgrown Grade II listed tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018 Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The overgrown Grade II listed tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

A tomb in the churchyard at St Mary's, North Mymms, which was listed as a Grade II historical monument in 1983, is now completely covered in ivy. It's not known whether any damage has been caused, but church representatives are to meet to consider how best to tackle the problem. Earlier this month the restoration of another listed tomb in the churchyard was completed. That repair cost several thousand pounds and took two years. That, too, had been covered in ivy in the 1900s.

Site of "special architectural and historical interest"


Photograph of the chest tomb, free of ivy - taken in the 1960s Image by Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
Photograph of the chest tomb, free of ivy - taken in the 1960s
Image by Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

The two photographs above were taken approximately 50 years apart. The first, taken in August 2018, shows the tomb covered in ivy. The second, taken in the 1960s, shows the chest tomb when the structure and inscription were visible.

Although it is no longer possible to see what is written on the side of the tomb, records show that it is the burial place of the Reverend John Alkin, the vicar of St Mary’s for the entire first half of the eighteenth century. The inscription on the tomb states that he:
"for above forty years conscientiously discharged the duty of Vicar of this church and died ye 5th May 1749 aged 69 years universally lamented by his parishioners who knew and felt his worth."
The tomb is one of 45 sites in North Mymms listed by Historic England. The date of the listing is recorded as December 9, 1983. The site is described as being of "special architectural and historical interest". The listing continues: "Chest tomb. C18. About 35 metres SE of E end of Church. Gadrooned corners. Fielded panels. Moulded cornice."

Caring for historical monuments


Historic England offers advice for those caring for historical cemeteries, churchyards, and burial grounds. The recommendations cover the removal of ivy from listed structures. The advice is that technical expertise should be sought.
"On a large scale, plants and climbers can engulf a monument, prevent the evaporation of moisture and attach themselves to vulnerable surfaces. Woody species, such as Buddleia, cause physical damage by establishing root systems within joints and then pushing elements of monuments apart. Creeping plants, such as ivy or Virginia creeper, are tenacious and can both cause physical damage as well as trap moisture and cause staining on the surfaces."

In line with that advice, church officials at St Mary's are to discuss how to deal with the ivy at the next parochial church council meeting in September. The fear is that doing anything without first taking professional advice could do more harm than good.

However the church has been advised by a local professional gardener that an early assessment is crucial, and that the ivy could cause more harm the longer it is allowed to mature.
"It is quite possible that at present the ivy has just clung to the outside surface – this should be very easy to ascertain. If the ivy’s tendrils have managed to find their way into any joints then as the plant matures it will cause increasing amounts of structural damage as the ivy expands. Ivy is incredibly tough and the tendrils can become like tree trunks over time. The reality is that the longer it is left the more the likelihood of significant harm and consequent expense."

The responsibility of the owner


According to Historic England, those responsible for a listed building need to have a conservation management plan which includes:
  • ensuring that routine maintenance is carried out
  • undertaking specified repairs, with priority given to listed monuments and structures because of their special interest
  • monitoring the condition of monuments in order to identify those that are actively deteriorating
  • undertaking further repairs as they become necessary.

Repairing a tomb can be costly


Photograph of The Grade II listed Booth tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018 Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The Grade II listed Booth tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

In August 2018 work was completed on the restoration of another listed tomb in the same churchyard. That work is said to have taken two years to plan and complete at a cost of several thousand pounds.

The tomb, known locally as the Booth tomb, is the burial place of Mary Booth who died in 1807, and her husband Frederick Booth who died in 1831.

Frederick Booth had lived at Moffats, and was described in 1787 as "a Gentleman and one of the Attorneys of his Majesty’s Court of Kings Bench and also a Solicitor of the High Court of Chancery".

Interestingly, the recently repaired Booth tomb has also been a victim of ivy in the past. The images below are from a photograph taken in the 1900s. The tomb is visible under the second window from the right.

Photograph of St Mary's Church taken in the 1900s Image from G Nott, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
St Mary's Church taken in the 1900s - the Booth tomb can be seen covered in ivy - close up below
Image from G Nott, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection


Photograph of Close up of the ivy-covered Booth tomb at St Mary's Church - photograph taken in the 1900s Image from G Nott, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
Close up of the ivy-covered Booth tomb at St Mary's Church - photograph taken in the 1900s
Image from G Nott, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

The other two listed tombs in St Mary's churchyard appear to be in good condition.

One is the Gaussen family tomb, which marks the burial place of Samuel Robert Gaussen who died in 1812, his wife Elizabeth who died in 1798, and five infant children. In addition, numerous other descendants spanning three generations of the family are also buried in the tomb. The Gaussens were a prominent and wealthy family resident at Brookmans, and were Lords of the Manor of Brookmans for 140 years.


Photograph of The Grade II listed Gaussen tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018 Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The Grade II listed Gaussen tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

The other is the Kemble tomb, burial place of Thomas Kemble who died in 1821 and his wife Arabella who died in 1820. The Kembles lived at Gobions House. Their son Thomas, who died in 1833 and his wife Virginia who died in 1870 are buried in the same tomb.

Thomas Kemble was a wealthy sugar broker. He purchased Gobions from Fredrick Booth, mentioned earlier. His son sold Gobions to Robert William Gaussen who promptly demolished it.


Photograph of The Grade II listed Kemble tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018 Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
The Grade II listed Kemble tomb at St Mary's Church, North Mymms - August 2018
Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0


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1 comment:

  1. As a church architect for over 30 years I have often expressed sympathy for the plight of he various churches that have been in my care over the years when it comes to items for which the Parochial Church Council (PCC) are responsible.

    Churches have a quinquennial inspection (for those who know Latin this means every five years) and the condition of the church and churchyard are inspected and categorised for the information of the PCC and the Diocese. In an ideal world all repairs would be funded: 100 years ago they may well have fallen to the lord of the manor or the squire to foot the bill. This is not the case nowadays so we have to be pragmatic and practical.

    It needs considering that congregations are dwindling and the expenses of keeping churches running (heating, lighting, even paying the Diocese for the stipends of a priest or Vicar) are already enormous and have to come before the upkeep of he church building. Fewer and fewer people are contributing to these costs. So when it comes to repairs, some categorisation is needed.

    Yes, grants are available however these also depend on the ability of the congregation to pay upwards of 60% of the cost themselves. Over the past four years the PCC has authorised and paid for half of the cost of new bearings on the bells, the bird proofing of the tower, the repair of the exterior south wall of the church and consequent replastering and redecoration of the interior of half of the south aisle, and the rebuilding of a collapsed tomb to the south of the chancel. We were fortunate to obtain a grant for about 40% for the tomb. The church has been able to pay for these items so far but has drawn on capital funds to do so. §1

    A few items were highlighted in the last inspection early last year: four of the windows including two stained glass ones urgently need repair and three of the windows in the tower stair turret need reglazing. The south wall has been decorated but we will soon be needing funds for the redecoration of the remainder of the church. Unlike the average building historic churches cannot just be emulsioned. They need decorating with a breathable limewash so that the 500-year-old plaster does not deteriorate as it did in the south aisle of St. Mary’s. This limewash has to be applied by an experienced decorator approved by the church architect (me) on behalf of the Diocese. So, by definition, this process is expensive.

    I agree that the ivy is not doing the stonework any good but it is holding the tomb together at the moment and has done for the last 50 years. The PCC know this and will discuss what can be done but my plea is that the exposure of the tomb is put in context with the other items that need attention.

    I ask that all who are interested in the upkeep of the church come along and take part in the life of the church; donate time and more importantly, money, for the upkeep of this grade 2* listed church and its grade 2 tombs. Get on a rota; we need people to look after the churchyard weeding and mowing and keeping the building clean.



    §1 At present rate of expenditure this will no longer be available in two years time (18 months if we have to find funds for a second tomb).

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