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Helmdon Historical Articles

The Gullivers of Helmdon

an article by Alan Ryalls

It was in 1903 that the Gulliver family first came to Helmdon and took over Hill Farm.

Albert Jesse Gulliver, father of Harold Gulliver and grandfather of Geoffrey and Philip, moved from Whitfield Mill with his wife, Louise, and baby daughter, Dorothy. Albert's father, John Henry, live in Greatworth and had a small holding there before moving to Moreton Pinkney and then to Dropshott Farm, between Syresham and Whitfield. He moved on to Penn Bottom near High Wycombe where he finally retired from farming and drove his horses, sheep and cattle from there to Helmdon for the benefit of his sons Albert Jesse and Harry, who moved into Grange Farm in 1919. John Henry then moved into the cottage in Field Way which remained in the Gullivers' possession until about 1983. Harry's daughter, Marjorie, who now lives in Brackley, is Mrs Ken Watson. She was a schoolteacher, a manager of Helmdon School, and the chairman of managers for some time.

Hill Farm originally belonged to Magdalen College, Oxford, and comprised the farm buildings and house on the hill in Helmdon plus about eight acres there and another 90 acres on the Astwell Road, basically behind the present dairy farm.

Around 1912, James purchased Jacksons Farm, behind the cricket field. In the early days, it was mainly dairying, with about 8 cows and also some pigs.

Harold Gulliver, who was born in the Hill Farmhouse in 1908, was introduced to farming early for he remembered milking a cow by hand at the age of eight. It was his job to watch the cows graze by the roadside and put them in the field before going to school. He always knew when it was school time because Mr Shrimplin the postman, by whom you could set your watch, would tell him "8.30 young man, time for school!"

Bulls Land, near Astwell Bridge, was added to the farm by purchase around 1920 from Luke Watson and by this time, the Gullivers were farming some 200 acres.

Hill Farm in the 1910s
Hill Farm in the 1910s

Harold Gulliver married Hilda Storer in 1936 and they moved into the cottage in Field Way where Geoffrey and his sister, Elizabeth, were born. Andrew, the third in the family was also born in the village. He completed his education at Aberystwyth University and was Deputy Head of Grimsby Technical College, retiring in 1999. Philip, the youngest, was born at Brackley Cottage Hospital in 1948.

The dairy herd increased as extra land was purchased, but the depression period, from the mid-20s to the mid-30s, was a very difficult time for farmers and many went under. Albert Jesse and his sons had a very hard struggle but they survived and eventually were able to purchase the balance of their farm from Magdalen College.

Albert Jesse, his brother Harry at Grange Farm and Harold all worked together for some years and then Harold bought out his father's share in 1939 and Albert Jesse moved to Banbury on his retirement in 1940. Harold finally purchased his father's land in 1942.

As a matter of interest, Harold Gulliver's Uncle Harry who moved into Grange Farm in 1919 had two daughters, Marjorie and Mabel, whose daughter was married to Brian Peart, our local coal merchant for many years. Mabel's twin son Graham continued farming at Grange Hill Farm until they sold to the Robinsons about 1977.

Throughout the whole Gulliver era at Hill Farm, they have been primarily dairy farmers but Harold became interested in sheep and ran a breeding flock of ewes for some years.

During the War it was a case of "digging for victory" maximising production in all directions. Harold became an animal ARP officer but fortunately his duties were light. There was a bomb that fell in a field in a nearby farm but there were no casualties.

The farmhouse at Hill Farm, now a private residence, goes back to about 1750 but it has, of course, been added to and altered considerably over the years. Indeed, it was largely burned down in the 19th century but had been restored, substantially in its present form, by the time the Gullivers arrived.

Geoffrey, who was born in 1937, always wanted to be a farmer and went to boarding school at Wolverhampton before joining his father in 1954. The partnership became H. Gulliver & Son in 1959. It continued this way until 1968 when Phillip joined the partnership and it became H Gulliver & Sons.

It was in the same year that they bought Lukes Farm from Mr Jessett. Lukes Farm consisted of some 70 acres adjacent to the farm buildings plus another 30 acres by the bridge at Astwell. Since there was no need of a second farmhouse and buildings, these, together with some 4 acres, were sold to John Bowen-Jones who ran a farm machinery repair business there. Now the Bowen-Joneses have moved on, Lukes farmhouse is a private dwelling, and ten large houses have been completed on the site at the Wappenham end of the village.

The addition of Lukes Farm brought the size of the Gulliver's farm to over 300 acres but it was sold in 1993 following a serious accident to Philip. The pair of houses in the Wappenham Road opposite to the end of Field Way were purchased as farm cottages in 1956 and Geoffrey moved into one of them when he and Rose were married in 1962. This continues to be occupied by his brother, Philip and his wife Rosemary, and Geoffrey and Rose now live in their fairly recently built house on the Wappenham edge of the village.

Harold Gulliver, who lived in semi-retirement at Abthorpe, was one of a family of six, two sons and four daughters. Dorothy was born at Whitfield, Violet lived at Abthorpe, Phyllis at Wellington in Somerset and Evelyn at Middleton Cheyney. All are now deceased. Brother Dennis, who died in 1978, was a farmer at Byfield. Apart from Dorothy, all were born and bred in Helmdon.

When we asked Harold in 1988 about the early days, he told us of the three working horses that they kept, plus a cob and trap for personal transport. They bought their first tractor in the early 1940s, basically for ploughing, and gradually mechanised from then on. In earlier days they used a horse-drawn reaper for harvesting and it was a great step forward when it was changed for a binder.

They introduced the first milking machine in the village, a Gascoigne, about 1950. Harold was badly kicked by a cow and gave up milking but the two sons carried on, using a new milking parlour built in a barn in the Hill farmyard in 1962. The existing milking parlour, along the Wappenham Road beyond the cricket pavilion, was built in 1970.

The old order changeth as the Hill Farmhouse became a private house and more new houses were built in the farmyard area.

But the two Gulliver brothers continue to live in Helmdon and their presence is for the good of the village in a number of ways. Harold was chairman of the Parish Council and of the village school managers for many years as well as being a member of the District and County Councils. He was a great stalwart of the Baptist chapel and was President of the Northants Baptist Association as well as being chairman of the local NFU. He was co-founder of the Fellowship for Retired People in the village and chaired it for some twenty years.

Geoffrey followed in his footsteps, as a member of the Parish Council for 21 years, as a school manager for 9 years and as chairman of the Fellowship for some 20 years. He was Assistant Scoutmaster to Colin Wain as long ago as 1955 and was President of the Northampton Philatelic Society in 1989, 1993 and 4.

The cricket ground, also used for the village carnival, was made available by the Gullivers and Harold continued to be President of the Sports Club for many years. More recently, the Gulliver brothers presented the village school with a nature reserve.

The village has changed irrevocably with Lilac Farm, Lukes Farm, Wigson's, Wrightons Farm and Hill Farm becoming a number of private houses. We welcome their occupants to the village and hope they will make a positive contribution to the life of the village as the Gullivers have done over the last five decades.

Alan Ryalls
(First published in Helmdon Talkabout Autumn 1988, updated 2001 for Aspects)

[Article published in Aspects of Helmdon 4 (2001), pp 185 - 189 inc.]
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