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Memory Lane, Helmdon

The Helmdon Village Web Site was launched in 2000 and for nearly two decades it recorded the twists and turns of village life, becoming a rich source of social history.

In what will hopefully become an annual series, each year I will look back twenty years. I imagine it will seem incredible that some things were so long ago. Much has changed out of all recognition; other things have not changed at all.

This first article looks back to the year 2000 and the significant events and happenings that were recorded on the web site that year.

2000 was of course the Millennium year, marked with a film of the village produced by Willy Watson under the auspices of the Local Studies Group of the WEA, the WEA being an adult education group that had a thriving branch in Helmdon at the time. Many residents still have copies of the film, which was originally copied on VHS tapes. A copy was deposited at the Northamptonshire Record Office and copies were given to the parish council and the church. It is poignant watching the film and noting those that are no longer with us, including producer Willy, who died in 2007.

The Tove Valley Baptist Fellowship was formed in 2000 as an amalgamation of the Towcester, Helmdon, and Weston branches. The Fellowship was a success and bucked the national trend of a decline in the number of church goers. The Baptist Chapel on Wappenham Road was still open for worship and services moved between Helmdon, Weston and Towcester. The Fellowship also provided a weekly playgroup called Tiny Tots, which was run by Rosemary Gulliver.

Another group to merge in 2000 were the scouts, when 1st Helmdon and 1st Turweston Scout Groups merged to create the Whistley 2000 Group, incorporating cubs, scouts, beavers and explorers. The Helmdon scout troop was started in 1981 by Dr Tony Holden, but reducing numbers meant maintaining a group just for the village was difficult and the merger gave it fresh impetus. Steve Wheeler was chairman of Whistley 2000 for several years.

The Helmdon Carnival started in 1982 and was a big annual event in Helmdon’s calendar with up to one thousand people attending. It was traditionally held on the August bank holiday Monday and in 2000 there was a procession of floats through the village and the event was opened by parachutists dropping into the sports field. The carnival raised much-needed funds for the Reading Room, the Sports Club, Brackley Cottage Hospital and other good causes. In total £2,900 was given out.

The village web site was launched in October 2000. The idea of having a web site had been discussed between Terry Glassett, the chairman of the parish council, Renhart Gittens, a fellow councillor, and Audrey Harwood (now Forgham), the secretary of Helmdon WEA. Renhart Gittens built the original site in early 2000 and then Danny Moody joined the team to bring the project to fruition. The project committee made a Lottery application for funding for a camera to take pictures for the web site. Digital cameras were just becoming widely available, and so a state-the-art one was purchased for hundreds of pounds; it had 1.3 Megapixels!

Internet usage was gradually increasing, so more and more people were able to access the village web site from home computers. There was no broadband though, so users had to “dial up” on modems to connect to the Internet, usually at 56kbps (0.056 Mbps), and photos would appear on web pages line by line when they were downloaded for the first time.

Helmdon was the headquarters of Jeffs Coaches, founded in the village in 1958 and based in the old railway yard on Station Road near the War Memorial. It was a common site to see the coaches coming and going through the village. 2000 was a special year for Jeffs as it won Best UK Coach Operator for European/International Tours at the Group Leisure Awards in London.

2000 was also a red-letter year for Helmdon Primary School, which opened an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) suite, complete with ten Internet-linked computers. Until the ICT suite opened the school had just two computers between 120 pupils. Head teacher, Sue Blackburn, said that teachers might even use it after school as the computers could be used to help plan lessons!

It might seem unbelievable, but in 2000 the A43 was a single carriageway road between Whitfield and Brackley Hatch, which met the B4525 Welsh Lane at a T-junction at High Cross. Coming from Helmdon, you could turn right on the A43 through Pimlico down to Brackley or left through Syresham where it became a dual carriageway again near the Green Man Public House. The meeting of Helmdon Parish Council in March 2000 heard from Sergeant Nick Gough that a contract would be awarded in November and that work to dual the A43 would begin in early 2001.

The Helmdon Bridge Players, formed in 1988, traditionally put on a summer play and a Christmas pantomime. In 2000 the summer play was Alan Ayckbourn's Living Together, which was held in the Reading Room. The Christmas pantomime was Jack and the Beanstalk, directed by Jean Urban and produced by Dave Bridger. There was admiration for the Daisy the cow, played by Leanne Griffiths and Tara Bodily.

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