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Helmdon Historical Articles

Helmdon from the

   Northamptonshire Village Book, 1989

Called "Helma's Valley" by the Saxons and recorded in the Domesday Book as Elme Dene, Helmdon is in the south of Northamptonshire near to Brackley.

The oldest thing in the churchyard of the parish church of Saint Mary Magdalene is the yew tree, reputed to be about 2,000 years old. The present church dates mainly from the 13th and 14th centuries, with later restorations and the rebuilding of the tower in 1823. The oldest item in the church is the Early English piscina near the north door.

One item of great interest is the Campiun window, in the north wall, in which William Campiun is represented at work as a stonemason. This medieval glass window was still in its original lead which it was cleaned and reset in 1976 and it is thought that it is still in its original site. William Campiun may have been a Helmdon mason and possibly the dominant mason in the building of the church at that time. (The name was already renowned for the quality of its limestone and the work of its stonemasons.)

There are still some of the older Helmdon people who can remember when it was a self-supporting village. Most of them kept hens for eggs and food and also a pig and a Mr Campin would come to kill the pig and then butcher it for them the next day. There were two bakehouses where bread and cakes were baked during the week and on Sundays the family joints of meat and Yorkshire puddings were cooked. There were four public houses, the Chequers and the Bell which still exist, and the Magpie and the Cross, which are now private houses. A butcher's shop opened at the weekend and there were four other shops. There were two blacksmiths, two builders and carpenters, two pillow-lacemakers (Mrs Cadd and Mrs Winmill), two dressmakers (Miss Isham and Miss Hawkes) and a tailor (Mr Charles Brown), who made, among other things, riding and hunting jackets for people who lived as far away as Banbury. Tom Pitt the carrier, with his horse and cart, brought goods on approval from Banbury twice a week, delivered parcels and often supplied transport between the villages.

When the older inhabitants reminisce, they talk of the dances held in the hall at the back of The Bell, paying 1/- if the music was on gramophone records and 1/6d if Billy Mold's band played. One of the highlights of village life was the Annual Holiday held by the Helmdon Sick Society on Whit Monday. Men with staves walked from the square to the church, headed by a band which accompanied the hymns at the church service, and Joe Mayo who had a wooden peg-leg. Dinner for the Society members followed, cooked in the bakery, the vegetables being cooked in coppers at Langlands. A visiting fair was held near the village cross with roundabouts and side-shows and this went on until Saturday evening.

Of course the village has its ghosts. One story is told by three members of the WI who remember cycling home one moonlight night after a dance and seeing a man suddenly appear in front of them and cross the road, disappearing through the hedge into a field. When they described him to their parents they were told that it was the ghost of Jimmy West who had killed a young boy in the field.

Because of the T shape of the village, with fields backing on to many of its houses, there are many public footpaths which are in constant use for getting about the village. There are still five working farms with farmhouses and one of them has provided a cricket field and a nature reserve for the village school.

Published jointly by Countryside Books, Newbury, and the
Northamptonshire Federation of Women's institutes

Reprinted by permission of Countrywide Books www.countrysidebooks.co.uk
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