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Brocket Babies Memorial in St. John's - St Johns Church Lemsford Village

On Saturday 9th April 2016 a memorial service was held at St John’s Church, Lemsford in memory of the Brocket Babies.

Who are the Brocket Babies?

At the outbreak of war in 1939, the London Maternity Hospital in City Road was badly damaged by bombing. The decision was made to equip and staff Brocket Hall, a country house near Welwyn Garden City, as a 50 bed maternity unit for expectant mothers. Between 1939 and 1949 expectant mothers who were willing to leave London were evacuated and a total of 8,338 Brocket Babies were born within the safety of Brocket Hall. Sadly, during this period some of the babies died, including a number which were stillborn. The Burial Register of the local parish church, St John’s Lemsford, shows 62 entries for babies born at Brocket Hall Maternity Hospital who died shortly after birth, the youngest being just 5 minutes old. There are were no gravestones.

The Brocket Babies have regular reunions at Brocket Hall and Lemsford Local History Group (LLHG) is often asked to talk about the history of the Hall during these meetings.

In April 2015 year LLHG attended a reunion and met a lady who wanted information about the babies. We asked her if she was a Brocket Baby, she replied ‘No, but my sister was.’ When we enquired if her sister was at the reunion, she replied ‘No, she was stillborn’. Her question was ‘Where were the stillborn babies buried?’ We did not know but after making enquiries came to the conclusion that common practice at that time was for stillborn babies to be passed to the local undertaker, who would place them in a stranger’s coffin. The babies were not registered and no records were kept of burial or location.

At the next reunion LLHG met another lady who asked the same question. She had a stillborn brother and wanted to know where he was buried. We told her that we did not know and the chances of finding a marked grave were low.

LLHG contacted Justin Burgess, local funeral director, to find out about local cemeteries in the area in the 1940s. We told him what we had discovered and suggested a memorial might be appropriate. Without a moment’s thought he offered to donate a memorial and to complete all the necessary paper work to get permission from the church diocese. The only cost would be £120 for the application for permission to erect the memorial (click on image to enlarge). LLHG contacted Jeanette Edwards, Events Manager at Brocket Hall, who immediately offered to donate the £120.

LLHG was amazed at the speed and generosity of Justin and Jeanette and permission for a memorial at St John’s Lemsford was granted in early 2016 with the support and help of Barbara Taylor, a member of St John’s Church.

At the Memorial Service on 9th April 2016, LLHG member Andrew Chapman told the very moving stories of two of the mothers as told to him by their daughters.

The first daughter, Pauline, told us:

‘We often wondered if my brother had been thrown into the incinerator. My Mother’s memories were shrouded in mystery. All she knew was that she was excited to be having her first child, but very quickly her joy was turned to deep shock, sadness and disbelief. The baby was stillborn and in her words she left Brocket Hall 'with nothing' not knowing what happened to the baby. For years her sadness, which came to define her very being, became a huge part of our lives. There are no records of stillborn babies. I hope all the Brocket mothers, children, and families are able to take comfort in knowing that all the Brocket Babies who did not survive have finally been acknowledged and have been given an opportunity of a special resting place.’

The second daughter, June, told us her father’s story:

‘My Father then started to speak of his experience, he said that they (my parents) were living at Tottenham N.17, he had to travel by buses & trains to arrive at Welwyn Garden City station, then walked to Brocket Hall, he said he was so pleased when he saw the gate, thought at last I'm here, but looked beyond the gate and realised he still had a long walk! He visited his wife, then had to walk, train & bus, walk, to arrive home to be told by my grand parents that a a telegram had arrived telling him to return to Brockets Hall, as my mother had given birth. So he just turned round & started the journey all over again. When he arrived at Brockets he was told the outcome & was asked if he would like to see Kathleen, he said yes. He said he was taken up the staircase that went left & right, he was taken right & shown into a room. (he described everything about the house & staircase, after all these years). Kathleen was laying in a cot, wrapped in a blanket, My Dad said she just looked asleep, looked beautiful, not a mark on her, perfect! How sad! Now my Dad needed to comfort My Mother, he didn't speak of this to me. To my shock he wasn't offered a bed for the night, but had to then start his long journey back home. He walked to the station, no trains, but a porter allowed him to sleep on a train, so he slept & then continued his journey home. Because I found the discharge card, I believe that My Mother wanted me to find Kathleen's resting place, so my search started!’ Lemsford Local History Group and St John’s Lemsford hope the memorial will help to give closure to all the parents and relatives of the babies who died.

The inscription on the memorial stone reads:

In memory of the precious
Taken from us so soon

September 1939 - November 1949

You touched our lives for the briefest of moments
Yet you will stay with us forever

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me,
and do not hinder them, for the kingdom
of heaven belongs to such as these’.

Reverend Ron Ingamells, former Vicar of Lemsford, welcomed the congregation which included relatives of 2 of the stillborn babies believed to be buried in the churchyard of St John’s. The choir of St John’s accompanied by organist Tim Armstrong Taylor led the congregation with the hymn ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’.

Andrew Chapman, LLHG member, talked about the background to the service and Julie Appleby, Brocket Hall staff, read from the Bible - Mark 10:13-16.

Readings and prayers were said and Stephen Foster performed JS Bach Cello Suite 1 – Sarabande and Menuet as a viola solo whilst relatives placed the names of 62 babies known to be buried in St John’s on the church altar.

The service moved outside to the memorial and concluded with a short service of dedication.

The memorial service was conducted by the Reverend Ron Ingamells, former Vicar of Lemsford.

The organist was Tim Armstrong Taylor. The JS Bach Cello Suite 1 – Sarabande and Menuet was played by the soloist Stephen Foster.

If you want more information about the memorial or think you are related to a baby who died please contact LLHG:

We are part of the Bishop's Hatfield Team Ministry within the Diocese of St. Albans. Other members of the Team Ministry are the four churches in the parish of Bishop's Hatfield - St. Etheldreda's, St. Michael and All Angels', St. John the Evangelist's, St. Luke's and St. Mary's, North Mymms.

Children are, of course, always welcome in church and are a valued part of our church family. All ages join for the whole service in church once a month and on other occasions and we have an active Children and young people congregation. St John's School, also in Lemsford, is a Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School with close links to the church.

Our main Sunday Service is at 11 am. Each Sunday we also have an 8.00 am Holy Communion (Prayer Book) and a 6.30 pm Evening Service, variable. For full details, please see our services page.

St Johns Church - Lemsford Village

In 1858 Queen in Council approves the Ecclesiastical Commission's request to create the new Parish of Lemsford out of the Parish of Bishop's Hatfield, diocese of Rochester, on the 3rd February. 1859 Consecration of St. John's, Lemsford by Lord Aukland, Bishop of Bath & Wells on the 27th May.

Find out more about St Johns Church Lemsford

The Brocket Chapel

In 1930 the Brocket chapel was built in memory of Florence Nall-Cain, who died in 1927 at a cost of £7,000 by Sir Charles Nall-Cain. As you enter the chapel, to the left of the door is her stone effigy lying on a canopied marble tomb, finished in mediaeval style and complete with heraldic cats at her feet. The ceiling displays the armorial bearings of several families associated with Brocket Hall. Oxford architect F.E. Howard was commissioned to build the chapel in the Perpendicular style by Florence's husband Sir Charles Nall-Cain, great grandfather of Charlie Brocket. The private chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of St Albans in 1930 and is thought to be the last of its kind to be built in England. The nave and tower are Early English Gothic, the chancel Decorated, and there is a fine East window which was created, again, in memory of the Earl Cowper.

History of st John's

The church was erected over 150 years ago as a memorial to George Augustus, the sixth Earl Cowper, who died before he could realise his publicly declared intention to build a church at Lemsford for the benefit of his tenants. His widow and children ensured that his wish was fulfilled, and the church, designed by David Brandon, was built and dedicated in 1859.

Andy Chapman LLHG

The present day church

The tower, complete with perforated quatrefoil parapet and corner-mounted dragon gargoyles, remains to this day a prominent landmark in the surrounding countryside. There was no clock until 1876 when the original timepiece was installed by Messrs. Gillet & Bland to the west and south elevations of the tower. The clock is now, of course, electrically powered. 1977 the Bells are installed. Peal of six bells dedicated by By Rt. Rev. Bishop of St. Albans, Robert Runcie on December 18th the bells were the inspiration of geoff Dodds and a group of volunteers.. This original feature houses a very steep and narrow spiral staircase that is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

Useful Links

  1. The Diocese of St Albans

    We are the Church of England in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Luton and Barnet. Over 35,000 people worship in our churches across the week

    1. Bishops Hatfield Parish Website

      St Etheldreda's Church is Hatfield's Parish Church. This building, although steeped in England's history, is not a museum. It is a meeting place for a thriving Christian community. The congregation on a Sunday ranges from babes in arms to grandparents.

      1. St John’s Church of England Primary School

        A very warm welcome to St John’s Church of England Primary School, Lemsford. We are a happy, caring school which aims high in all we do. At St John’s we seek to nourish the curiosity in each child by creating a safe, nurturing and inspiring learning environment. Our vision for St John’s is shaped by our shared Christian values and driven by a desire for all at St John’s to embrace challenge and grow.

  2. St. Mary’s Church, North Mymms.

    Welcome to the website for St. Mary’s Church, North Mymms. Our beautiful church has served the parish of North Mymms for over 700 years and continues to be a centre for worship, mission and prayer for the local communities of Brookmans Park, Welham Green and the surrounding area.

  3. Lemsford local history group

    The parish of Lemsford was created out of the parish of Bishop's Hatfield in 1859. Originally the parish included Lemsford Village itself, with the outlying areas of Cromer Hyde, Stanborough and the Brocket Park Estate plus part of the west side of what is now Welwyn Garden City.

Areas That Make Up lemsford Parish