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Helmdon Historical Articles

The Friends of St. Mary Magdalene:

The First Twenty Five Years

an article by Audrey Forgham

  The Quinquennial, the five yearly inspection of the fabric of a church by the Diocesan board of architects, pinpoints how much needs to be done to the structure of a church, and it is at this juncture that money has to be produced to fulfil the repair programme.


The Friends of St Mary Magdalene

invite you to an evening of




Saturday 1st April

in the Reading Room

7.30 p.m.

(Doors open 7:15 p.m.)

Tickets £5 from Hugh Walmsley

01295 768837 

Drinks Available

One of many successful fundraising events
in the Reading Room
When in 1994 the Quinquennial architects reported  grimly that a substantial programme of restoration was needed to St Mary Magdalene (even though a large amount of money had been spent in the previous four years in restoring and making safe the tower) The Friends of St Mary Magdalene, a charity, was born, and the magnificent sum of £40,000 was raised, half of that coming from awarding bodies such as English heritage and The Manifold Trust, the rest being raised from loans from local people and fund raising activities.

Churchwarden Carol Brookhouse chaired the first exploratory meeting which soon realised that the Friends’ fund raising should be quite separate from that of the Parochial Church Council which attends to the day to day running of the church, so Moira Myers was installed as founding chair with David Derbyshire, Bill Gidman, Mary Holroyd, Bob Wallis and Chris Gartside the first committee members.

Members of the 1995 committee were Moira Myers (chair), John Roberts (ex officio), Mary Holroyd (secretary) Vanessa Vicars (treasurer), David Derbyshire, Chris Gartside, Doug Humphries, Mrs C Lowe, Mr J Lowe and Bob Wallis.

Vanessa Vicars was the next Chair followed by Chris Gartside, Roger Miles (2006 -10) Hugh Walmsley (2010 – 2019), and now Cliff Netten fulfils the role.

Jean Humphrey was an early treasurer, as were Vanessa Vicars and Cec Harrold, followed for some nine years by Julie O’Brien.  Lynn Walmsley took over in 2016 with Hugh Walmsley as the present post holder.

An event staged for many
years - Words & Music
Many thousands of pounds have been raised since the creation of The Friends of St Mary Magdalene in 1994 when so much was required.  Chris Gartside recalls that in 1994 the Manifold Trust gave £1,000.  The next greatest sum the Friends were asked to raise was in 2007 when £12,436 was needed for urgent repairs. Then at the 2012 Quinquennial review necessary repairs cost almost £9,300, on top of which were the cost of replacing copper stolen from the roof and associate repainting and the installation of an alarm system. Individual villagers’ and a number of Trustees and Foundations‘ generous donations made up some £8,000 and the Friends were able to provide £12,500 that year.

The most recent Quinquennial, that of March 2019, proved much less painful for the PCC’s pocket, showing the value of spending wisely on maintenance.  In that year the Friends supported the PCC with a sum of just under £4,000.

For a period of time some reliance was placed on annual subscriptions but this method of fund raising has almost died out and been replaced by the 200 Club, whereby 200 residents pay £25 a year hoping to have a chance of money prizes, and the resulting annual proceeds are shared between the Friends and the Reading Room.   Roger Miles, representing the Friends, and Bill England the Reading Room, have been behind this initiative since its inception and it has become a firm part of village life, and every 4th day of the month they can be found, together with other representatives, in The Fat Landlord, drawing the lucky winners.



International musicians the Horsemen of the Apocalypse entertained in 2008       


It was Niki Phillips who was successful in getting donations from national charities. After the Friends had completed all the repairs in 2014 one of these charities, the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation gave  the Church an award for all the hard work done in connection with the repair and maintenance of the church fabric, for which they had given generous donations for the work needed to carry out consequent upon several  successive Quinquennial reports.  Their letter reads as follows: "The late John Coales established the foundation in 1975, and following his death in 2007, a Chalice was commissioned with the intention that it should be awarded annually to the church which in the opinion of the Trustees has done the most to maintain and keep in good order its Church, and the Trustees would like to award the Chalice to the Parochial Church Council of St Mary's (sic) Church in Helmdon in 2016.  If you are agreeable this would be at a service and the foundation

The return of the Porterhouse Jazz Six

The Porterhouse Jazz Six

performed several times in

aid of The Friends


would bear the cost of refreshments after the service". Niki Phillips recalls that Church members were extremely pleased at this recognition of all the hard work put in by many helpers, donors and volunteers, and, not least, The Friends. It was a most beautiful and valuable Chalice which had to be guarded very carefully but the using of it at Holy Communion services was much enjoyed.


Successive chairs have concentrated on approaching local charities.  These have also been welcome, for example, from Helmdon Parish Council, the HYHOs and the Helmdon Hurler, and there have been many bequests, noteworthy among them being recent generous legacies from the Terrey family, who donated the money to pay for, among other things, the floodlighting of the East window.

"The Friends" sound as if it is a serious, worthy enterprise but this is not so; amazingly, since its inception in 1994 it has brought a great deal of fun and interest to the village.   The first event was a concert by Towcester Studio Band on the 18th November of that year. Although some posters still exist as far as it can be ascertained there are no reports of the first fund raising events and it was not until after the advent in 2000 of www.helmdon.com (now www.helmdonhistory.com) that events began to be documented and can now be seen in its archives.


Friends of church pudding & pimms party

Pudding & Pimms - perfect on

a summer afternoon



In 2004, we learn that the Friends arranged a St George’s Day function, a jazz evening, Last Night of the Proms, a quiz, a wine & cheese evening and Words & Music for Christmas.   Indeed for many years Words and Music in the church were a regular, well attended function.

A memorable event in 2008 was the internationally acclaimed guitar and lute duo "The Horsemen of the Apocalypse" which could not have gone ahead without the generous donation of Roger Tyers of Macintyres Estate Agents. Roger Miles recalls that their contract stipulated that they should be provided with brandy  in the interval, and Wiggy Smith donated a bottle which was emptied!    Another event which attracted a full church were  the professional musicians with the beautiful sound, the Fiori Musicali, who have visited twice, firstly in the 1990s and then in 2019.


Falcutt House Courtyard

Helmdon Open Gardens

- Falcutt  House courtyard    


With the church continuing to put on their own events for every day running expenses, and Helmdon Presents (another organisation coming into being arranging their own events for the village), the Friends’ annual programme has not always been as ambitious as in the early years and, in addition, latterly the need for money has not been so great.   However, over the years the village has enjoyed, for instance, safari suppers, open gardens, poetry evenings,  wine tastings,  several occasions of  the filming of



Eyes down with Chris

Gartside's music quiz



the Last Night of the Proms, and music by local artists. Quizzes are a continuing favourite among the fund raisers and Chris Gartside hosted a an excellent music quiz in 2018, whilst Hugh Walmsley and Robert Alfandary put their heads together and provided the clues for three very enjoyable car treasure hunts in recent years.


For over twenty five years  the Friends have kept the fabric of the Church of St Mary Magdalene in good order.  They rely on people being willing to join the committee and will always welcome new members and, as Hugh Walmsley says, they like to have a mixture of church and non church-goers amongst their members and supporters. This gives villagers who like to have a lovely building at the top of Church Street an opportunity to contribute to the preservation of the church for future generations, even though they may not be active attenders of services themselves.

May the Friends of Sy Mary Magdalene continue to flourish.

Audrey Forgham

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