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Helmdon Historical Articles

Helmdon School

an article by Geoff Ipgrave

The school logo
The school logo


When I first took over as teaching Head at the school in 1957 our rather well-worn atlases showed Helmdon on the map of the British Isles, proudly in the middle of England. The children of those days found this to be quite right, proper and not at all surprising. Helmdon was the centre of their world and the school a very important part of it.


1853 is the date set in stone on the front wall of The Old Schoolhouse, and that is the date that marks the true beginning of the village school on its present site: the initials CMM, JF, and JP appear with the date. The original building was erected as the result of a document dated 9 December 1852 which sets out with the customary legal lack of punctuation, the terms of an agreement whereby

"The Provost Fellows and Scholars of Worcester College in the University of Oxford convey to Reverend Charles Millman Mount Rector of the Parish of Helmdon and James Fairbrother and James Pool Farmers Churchwardens all that piece of waste land situate in Bull's Townsend in the village of Helmdon containing two chains and half a pole bounded on the north by the public road on the south by the estate belonging to Mr Charles Fairbrother on the east by a private road to the house on the aforesaid estate and on the west by a private road to a Close called Crabtree Leys ….. upon trust to permit the said premises and all buildings thereon erected or to be erected or to be forever hereafter appropriated and used as and for a school for the education of children and adults or children only of the labouring manufacturing and other Poorest Classes in the Parish of Helmdon and for no other purpose."

It was to be open to inspection "…... and shall always be in union and conducted according to the Principles and in furtherance of the ends and designs of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales"….. "The Principal officiating Minister for the time being shall have the Superintendence of the religious and moral instruction of all the Scholars attending the said School."

There follows a clause permitting the use of the school as a Sunday school and setting up a committee "of seven other persons:
Charles Fitzroy Baron Southampton of Whittlebury Lodge
Hon Henry Hely Hutchison of Weston Lodge
Reverend Richard Lynch Cotton DD Provost of Worcester College
Reverend Edward Cardwell of St Alban Hall
John Jackson Blencowe Esquire of Marston St Lawrence and
Reverend Frederick Thomas Woodman of Maida Vale Clerk."

They were to keep a friendly eye on the School " ….. and to be contributors in every year to the amount of twenty shillings each at the least to the funds of the said school."

Vacancies were to be filled, by election, with replacements who must be members of the Church of England. The document also provided for the setting up of " ….. a committee of not more than four ladies being members of the Church of England to assist in the visitation and management of the Girls and Infants Schools."

The 1853 building also included a house for the head teacher, for which he had to pay rent. It was a fairly paltry amount even at that date, I imagine, since it was only £46 a year over a hundred years later. A percentage of the capital cost of any improvements, such as the addition of a bathroom in the early 1950s was added to the rent. After long negotiations the schoolhouse was sold as a private residence in 1970.


Helmdon School 1972
  Helmdon School 1972

 Picture by Will Watson



Twenty years later, when extensions to the original school building were needed, John Salmon Adkins, in a document dated l January 1872, conveyed to Reverend Charles Frederick Hayden, James Fairbrother and George Thomason, Churchwardens " ..… that piece of land situate at the Townsend now forming part of a Close called Crab Tree Leys lying on the West side and adjoining the present School ….. from North to South twenty-six feet and from East to West seventeen feet." This provided the space for the classroom nearest to the present main school and completed the building of the bottom block.

Little is known of the life of the school under The National Society but, following the Forster Education Act, its management was transferred to a local Board. An agreement dated 4 July 1894 is broadly in line with that of 1852, but the expression "The Poor" is dropped and "for the purposes only of the Elementary Act" replaces "the principles of the Established Church." The agreement was initially for eleven years and "a yearly Rent of Ten shillings by half-yearly instalments" was to be paid by the Board. This payment shows up in the 1907 and 1908 accounts.

The need to renew the agreement gave rise to some long-running awkwardness. In 1903 an attempt was made to "regain the school for the church". It is not clear whether this move was instigated by the then Rector or by the National Society itself. There was certainly a protracted and sometimes heated correspondence between the Society and the Education Authority which also involved a succession of Rectors. One of them was assured by the Society's secretary,


1903 (13 May) "I am confident my committee would carefully consider any application for a grant towards the expenses of recovering the School from the School Board."


And later, in true Christmas spirit:


1904 (24 December) "No doubt the Local Education Authority will put all possible obstacles in the way of your recovery of the School."


Much argument centred on the extent of compensation payable to the LEA for improvements it had made, if the school should be taken over again by the church. An agreement, amounting in essence to the status quo of 1894, was eventually, if not too amicably, reached. This agreement was itself extended for short periods until 1914 when it was renewed for thirty years. As far as I know something like it is still in force and the ten shillings (presumably 50p) is still being paid by the LEA for the rent of the bottom block.

1902 saw the building of an infant school standing detached from the original block. In his report of that year a school inspector congratulated the managers on its completion. This was the first part of the school to be built at a higher level. It was followed in 1930 by its updating and the addition of a classroom adjoining it. A visitor reports:


1933 (November) "The premises have been reconditioned and with their three classrooms and practical room they are now well suited to their purpose."


For the next forty-five years, apart from minor alterations, that was the shape of Helmdon School. There were recommendations in a development plan of the early 1950s for the Brackley area that extensions to Helmdon School costing £12,150 should be made in conjunction with the closure of schools in nearby villages. The whole plan disappeared from sight within a few years.

Then in 1975 a major remodelling and extension of the school to its present size and configuration took place.


1975 (9 January) "The last two days have been exceptionally noisy with the breaching of the back wall of Class 1 in two places and the pneumatic drilling for the foundations outside Class 3."


When the bulldozers, the diggers, the drillers and the bricklayers left, the mountain of rubble was cleared, the mobile classroom was finally towed away and the buildings were as we see them now. For the first time in its history the school had a hall, a kitchen, a staff room, a head teacher's room and a car park.


The playgrounds of the school's early years were of hard core with a surface of gravel rolled in. From the mention of more orders for gravel from time to time it seems likely that a fresh scattering was the only treatment they received. At the turn of the century the boys' playground was the lower part of the present Old School House garden. The girls had a small area between the back of the lower block and the "offices", while the infants had an area at the front of the school.


1910 (11 February) (A complaint was made) "….. of the bad state of the playground, also the wet state of the coal shed."
1918 (1 February) "….. also that something should be done to the playground to make it less like a quagmire in damp weather."


Even when tarmac was used the surface wore loose in time and resulted in many painful and grit-embedded knees.

The struggle to get possession of Crabtree Close lasted for many years. In fact the managers spent more time on the subject than on any other single topic. It had been let to a succession of local farmers for grazing cattle.


1920 (12 December) "It was decided that £10 per annum for grass keeping in Crabtree Close was sufficient."


A series of misunderstandings and failures to give notice to the tenant meant that the tenancy dragged on, and it was not until 1956 that the school was able to have the free use of Crabtree Close as a school field during school hours. The grass, of course, continued to grow, and a short-term programme involving the occasional use of an agricultural mower by two kindly manager/farmers was followed in 1960 by the first gang mowing by the County's playing fields unit. The same year saw the Parish Council take over the management of the field, the provision of swings and a slide in one top corner and the reluctant agreement to the building of a new police house in the other. A concrete cricket strip had been laid, and later a proper football pitch with real goal posts and a rounders pitch were marked out and maintained by the playing fields unit.


It would be satisfying to say that there has been a continuous record of life at the school since it was built but, in fact, it is not until the early 1870s that we have the first log book. The bare bones are that there have been thirteen heads, eight men and five women. Of the thirteen at least three were in charge for over twenty years each. The list reads:


Charles Gorham
Christmas 1875
Henry Bushell January 1877
Autumn 1877
Henry Wickham Autumn 1877
Spring 1878
Evan Phillips Spring 1878
Autumn 1880
Thomas Goodwin Autumn 1880
Spring 1917
Mrs Roome Spring 1917
Spring 1918
Miss Barnes Spring 1918
Summer 1947
Charles Sims Autumn 1947
Summer 1950
Laurence Mills Autumn 1950
Spring 1957
Geoffrey Ipgrave Spring 1957
Summer 1978
Mrs Elaine Nicholas Autumn 1978
Summer 1988
Mrs Claire Worrall Autumn 1988
Spring 1996
Mrs Chris Woodward Spring 1996
Summer 1999


Some problems were common to them all:


1878 (June) "Some books and slates have arrived. Up to the present time the children have had but one book between three for reading".
1905 (January) "The Master has had only the help of a monitress for the instruction of more than sixty children in two rooms."


It would have been of little comfort to the head to receive a statement in
May 1910 setting out the official accommodation figures:



1953 (March) "I am this year allowed £66 to equip the school of about 70 children with exercise books, text books and all forms of art, craft and other materials."


In 1918 the managers decided against recommending a salary rise for the head teacher. At that time the head's salary was £114 per annum with a further £5 to help towards the rent of the schoolhouse. In 1922 the managers proposed:


"…… that we inform the Education Committee that we disapprove of the unnecessarily high grade of teachers' salaries and that it is more than the ratepayers can afford to bear."
(That sounds familiar.)


The number of assistant teaching staff has varied more or less in proportion to the number of children on roll, but it was not until the late 1960s that the whole staff was made up of fully qualified teachers. The 1960s saw the appointment of the first part-time secretary. The first deputy head, the first visiting specialist teacher (of reading) and the first ancillary helper soon followed. Since then the number of visiting specialists of music and other areas of learning has steadily increased, due partly to the school's inclusion for a time in a small rural schools' scheme in the 1980s. Paper work was growing fast.


!987 (January) " ….. large amounts of school administration. Full-time teaching Heads find it difficult to fulfil all these duties nowadays."
1990 (June) "The transfer to LMS (Local Management of Schools) has meant a much greater percentage of time has been spent on paper-chasing."



In the nineteenth century the teacher's tools did not extend much beyond chalk and blackboard. The accent was very much on instruction rather than finding out, and the timetable was an inflexible tyrant.


1878 (December) "Found Infants all writing at 11.20 this morning. First division should have been Reading. Miss F…… attempted to excuse her deviation from the Timetable by saying that there were so few present."


The furniture, too was pretty inflexible - pitch-pine dual desks with cast iron supports and hinges to the seats. The lids, "accidentally" dropped, made a very satisfying crash. Many of them survived into the 1950s and at least one did good service for several years as accommodation for the Cricket Club's scorer.

A visitor in 1914 noted:


"The discipline in this school is remarkably good. The children are industrious, painstaking and attentive, and they take no liberties when left to work independently for a time."
"The instruction is carried on very diligently and the general efficiency is satisfactorily maintained. Effort might be directed to make the teaching more realistic by a liberal use of simple apparatus for illustrating the lessons whenever possible."


Another visitor in 1929 reported:


"The Headmistress of this small and well-conducted school is progressive, and by attendance at Refresher Courses and in other ways endeavours to keep herself well abreast of modern educational developments."


Gradually instruction was developing into education. As early as 1920 there is a record of what was possibly a first teachers' course for the Helmdon staff:


1920 (July) "School will be closed tomorrow to allow Teachers to attend a Handwork Demonstration."


And in 1923 the head went on a geography course at Oxford. This is likely to be the first residential course attended by a Helmdon teacher.

Other subjects began to find their way on to the curriculum alongside the basic three R's. Needlework had long been taught. A note in 1873 records that the Rector's wife was coming into school "to help with the sewing", but woodwork was to follow much later in the 1930s. About fifty years ago the older boys and girls, who were then still part of the school, were being taken to Brackley for woodwork and domestic science as well as swimming.

In 1920 a suggestion from the Education Committee that the managers might consider the provision of a school garden was turned down by them on the grounds that they felt it was "the duty and practice of fathers to train their sons in gardening skills". Over twenty years later and until the older boys were transferred to Brackley a most successful garden was being cultivated. The produce was sold in the village for the benefit of school funds and several awards were won, it being judged as best in the county in 1955. In the 1960s part of the garden was rented by the head as an allotment.

We know that hygiene was being taught by this very graphic account of a lesson as long ago as:


1914 (20 May) "During the hygiene lesson on wounds etc. four children fainted, one who cannot hear of blood fell down and the others had to go out but did not go right off."


The second half of this century has produced an accelerating array of audio visual aids each of them greeted with much excitement on their introduction.


1948 School wireless set and loudspeaker
1952 Film strip projector
1960 Reel-to-reel tape recorder and FM radio
1974 Television and second-hand duplicator
1984 First mention of a school computer
1986 Photocopier
1988 Video recorder


The annual schools examination (the "11-plus") years which engendered such cut-throat competition between town schools and such shameless cramming within them, had little adverse effect on small village schools like Helmdon. It is to be hoped that, with the establishment of the National Curriculum, SATS (Standard Assessment Tasks) will not have the same inhibiting effect on large town schools as the "11-plus" did. I am confident that they will not be seen as the only yardstick of success in the villages.


A visit to the school in the last century would, above all, have been a smelly experience. The occasional whiff of an over-ripe pair of 1998 trainers would hardly have been noticed then.


1879 (August) "On Tuesday sent several boys for water and flushed the drains which were bad."
1880 (February) "Sickness due to damp and fog but chiefly due to dirt. On making inquiries found that not above ten children had had a complete bath during the last month. Others had bathed in the brook during the warm weather and the majority could not remember having had a bath during the year."
1880 (November) "Sent P ….. P …... home to have her head combed, it being in a very filthy state."


Had it been 1910 or thereabouts the parents of P….. P….. .might have been given the RED CARD, which had much the same significance then as it has now:


WHITE CARD "Dirty head or nits in hair".
GREEN CARD "Head is actually verminous".
RED CARD "Exclude child for one week".


The boys' urinal was just under a back window of the main room in the lower block, while other "offices", as they were so politely called, were set back about 20 feet.


1904 (March) " ….. very bad smell from the offices which cannot be sanitary."


Improvements in sanitation proceeded very slowly indeed.


1914 (January) "The substitution of pails for a cesspool in the offices is an improvement."
1920 (October) "Wrote to Northampton asking for a further supply of peat moss as our supply is very low."


In April 1924 the Education Authority gave notice of the building of new offices in the field, but in November of that year at a managers' meeting it was proposed, seconded and passed:


" ….. that the Managers do not consider the offices to be a necessity and protest that such a large burden of expense (£213 3s 4d.) be placed on the Parish."


The brick-built toilet block was, nevertheless, erected. Many Helmdon people will remember it, standing as it did on "Top Play" and backing on to the school garden. But all mod cons had not yet arrived:


1947 (November) "I drew the attention of the Caretaker to the door of the sewage shed which was open."
1950 (March) "For some time now I have been worried over the accumulation of lavatory refuse in the outhouse next to the lavatory. This has not been removed since I came over seven months ago."
1952 (September) "The County Medical Officer of Health called with regard to the school latrines …… It was decided to give a trial to a Wiltshire scheme of mixing an izal solution in the buckets and emptying them twice weekly into a shallow trench 6 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet and lightly covering. A site was chosen in the School Field."
1952 (October) "The Managers asked that 'WC's" be installed immediately."
1952 (December) "The lavatory buckets have frozen over the week-end."


1954 finally saw the installation of WC's in the toilet block. They drained in to a septic tank in the school garden. In 1957 the village was put on the main sewer and the school was connected to it, but, of course, the toilets were still vulnerable to the frost. In the hard winter of 1962/63 a temporary solution to the problem, and one that proved effective, was to swathe the whole block in heavy-duty polythene and put in two free standing paraffin heaters. In 1969 a very limited provision for indoor toilets was made at the expense of very precious space. The final solution only arrived with the 1975 remodelling.

References to the common childhood diseases and illnesses are regularly made, but on occasion an epidemic became serious enough for the school to be closed:


1881 (December) "Received instructions from the Board to close the school again on account of the Fever."
1882 (March) "Opened School again. Three of the School have died."


Measles, mumps, "jaunders", "blisters" and whooping cough seem to have been rampant in the nineteenth century, and in 1912 there was a diphtheria epidemic.


1912 (11 November) "Acting on MOH's advice I opened school (again). Only 25 children out of 57 came. Many seem afraid although the Schools have been thoroughly disinfected"


The widespread influenza epidemic of 1918/19 did not spare the school. It had to close in November and, apart from about three weeks, remained closed until the beginning of April.

The water supply was not always above suspicion, and in 1953 the Medical Officer of Health insisted that water for drinking should be boiled. The following year:


1954 (27 April) "The School has been connected up to the new regional water scheme."


And that seems to have solved the problem.

Medical inspections were carried out fairly regularly but two or three heads complained at the lack of organisation in the School Dental Service. On the subject of the care of teeth:


1953 (June) "I found that 50% did not bother to clean them."


The possibility of school meals being supplied is first mentioned in 1948, and 1951, and then


(25 June) "Canteen opened. About 25 children sat down to a good meal of ham, potatoes and vegetables, pudding and custard. Cost of the meal is 7d per child."


The canteen mentioned was the larger room in the old, lower block. The meals arrived in containers from Brackley.


1953 (March) "School dinners raised to 9d per day, and it is feared this step will result in fewer children taking meals, especially those in large families."
1955 (February) "It has been noticeable that during the very bad weather, the most regular attenders have been the children having school meals."


Reference to a complaint from a parent in 1965 mentions that a meal at that time cost 1/-. The first dining room supervisor at Helmdon School was appointed in 1968 following a ruling that teachers were no longer legally required to do dinner duty.

Great excitement attended the opening of the new kitchen following the extensions:


1976 (23 June) "We had our first meal cooked in the kitchen here today. All the staff stayed to dinner and sat with the children to serve out and eat their own meal together."


The pleasures of beautifully cooked meals straight from kitchen to table were to be short-lived. In 1980 the cost of a school meal had risen to 35p, and in 1982, with only fifteen dinners to provide daily, the kitchen was closed. The few meals required were sent by taxi from Greens Norton - in containers as they had been thirty years earlier. By 1991 hot school meals were no longer being served, and today the children bring packed lunches to school just as they had done a hundred years ago. The wheel had turned full circle.

School milk does not get a mention until 1948, when a sample was taken for testing.


1953 (September) "67 out of 75 children drink milk" (i.e. milk provided under the Milk in Schools Scheme).


The scheme was stopped in the mid-1960s.


The heating of the lower block was by two coke stoves until well into the present century. An old "Tortoise" still stood in the small room in 1957 but the other had been replaced two years earlier by a smart enamelled one. They both poured out great clouds of smoke and fumes when the wind sat in the wrong direction.

A letter from the head to the managers was sent:


1918 (February) (asking that) "before another Winter adequate arrangements could be made for heating the school room."


The following year "heating apparatus" was mentioned at a managers' meeting. No estimate of the cost was given, but it was pointed out that three-quarters would have to come from the Parish and one quarter from the County. Another decade passed before a contract was signed on l March 1930 for "erecting an additional classroom and cloakroom, together with necessary alterations at the Council School at Helmdon ….. for the sum of £1,470 11s 9d." The detailed specification included "preparing a boiler-room for the Heating Engineer" and a new fireplace in the infant room. This had a very pretty surround of blue and white Delft tiles and was enclosed by a heavy brass-topped fireguard.

The boiler must have performed satisfactorily as only fresh orders of coke are mentioned. Conversion to an oil-fired system was made in 1972, and with the re-modelling three years later, a larger boiler was installed to cope with the much extended building.

From the 1950s until the present day there have been problems with both the apparatus and, more particularly, with the boiler room itself. When I called at the school recently, the first question I was asked was, "Did the boiler room often get flooded in your day?" It did indeed. There are entries several times a month of the boiler room being flooded and the measures taken to try and prevent it. Typical notes are:


1950 (November) "The cellar was flooded again."
1957 (October) "The water is eighteen inches deep in the boiler room."
1972 (19 September) "Our new, automatic, oil-fired boiler came into action at midday today."
1972 (20 September) "The heating system was completely cold this morning."
1977 (15 January) "Mr S ….. of the County Architect's Department and I spent over three hours last night in an attempt to keep the flood water from the boiler room. This morning it was twelve inches deep.

A copy of the maintenance account from 1908


Lighting was often needed in the shortest days of the winter.


1879 (November) "The evenings have become so short that it is almost impossible to see in school after 3.30."
1890 (December) "Owing to the dull weather have been obliged to have the lamps lighted sometimes in the morning."
1920 (November) "It being necessary that the school would require oil lamps to enable the work to be carried on during the darkest afternoons ….. two lamps (from Byfield School) should be bought at 9/- each."
1927 (September) (The head requested) "that a new hanging lamp be supplied."
1933 (February) "The Managers consider that as the school is not often used in the evenings, it is not necessary to incur the expense." (of electric light.) It was agreed that electric light should be installed in the schoolhouse.
1947 (8 December) "The electric light installation is now complete and proved a boon at 3pm today when it was very dark."


In 1968 the clocks were not put back in the autumn and British Standard Time was in force throughout the year:


1968 (6 December) "The children are continually reminded to take extra care on particularly dark mornings, and not to start out for school too early and to wear something light in colour". (Reflective armbands were also available from school for a shilling or two.)



The graph below shows the fluctuations in the number on roll. The figures for the last fifty years or so are fairly precise, but some of the earlier years involved a degree of estimation and inspired guesswork. Around 1940 wartime evacuees made up nearly half the numbers.

At first, and by definition, most of the children came from poor families, and there seems to have been little contact between the parents and the school except in the matter of fees and complaints.


1878 (May) "Received an order as to the increase of school fees in the case of Farmers and Tradespeople. The fees to be in the first case 6d per week and in the latter 4d. Half price for Infants. The fee for labourers remains the same - 2d."
1879 (November) "School Fees are still paid very irregularly and children do not bring the money for their copy books."
1880 (March) "Sent in bill to Guardians for Pauper Children - 7s 2d."


But help was on the way:


1891 (September) "Began Free Education this day."


Attendance at school was also a point of friction between home and school. In the heart of a farming area certain things were accepted and accommodated:


1873 (May) "Old May Day -- Many children away garlanding."


Gleaning, haymaking, harvesting, potato picking, blackberrying and acorning are all cited as being activities that could be similarly countenanced.


The numbers on the roll at the school from 1878 - 2000


The summer holiday was regarded as a movable feast:


1910 (July) "It was considered advisable to commence the Harvest Holidays later in view of the late harvest."


At times the school hours were varied or curtailed:


"….. so that the children can carry tea to their fathers in the hayfields."
"….. so that the children could go to the Chapel Tea meeting."
"….. so that the children could go to the Meet of the Grafton Hounds."


On one hand there was a need to augment the family income. On the other was the need to register as many attendances as possible, since it was on the average attendance figure that the school depended for its grant. This meant that there was often little co-operation between home and school.


1880 (April) "Many are kept away on the most trivial excuses and thus the average is reduced and many fail to make the necessary 250 attendances."
1881 (May) "….. stay away when they like and pay no attention to the Attendance Officer, but send such messages as ' they shall do as they like'."
1881 (August) "Some of those who are over ten are gone to work."
1886 (August) "Had to send the Attendance Officer after R….. H….. aged 7, who was gone to work."
1915 (April) "Two boys gone to work (War Permits). As their names are retained on the Register it spoils the average."
1925 (March) (The fall in attendance due to infectious diseases) "not reckoned in calculating the average attendance for the purpose of the Board's Grant. (Rule 23 Exception 2)."


Gradually relations between home and school progressed through neutrality to rapprochement, so that by the early 1920s parents were being invited to concerts. Then followed open days and sports days at which committees of parents helped. The regular fund-raising effort for many years had been an annual jumble sale, the proceeds of which paid for the Christmas party. In 1981 "The Friends of Helmdon School" was formed, and with the advent of LMS considerable sums of money have been raised by a whole range of events, such as


Discos Dances Golf afternoons
Pub Quizzes Bonfire Parties  
Whist Drives Auctions .... to name a few


Parents are also helping more directly in the school and on the playing field.

One of the greatest changes that started taking place after the Second World War has been in the nature of the family background. At that time there was still a sizeable proportion of farm workers' and railway workers' children on the roll. A combination of increasing mechanisation on the farm and the closing of both railways generated a movement towards the nearby towns where work was to be found. At the same time there was the beginning of a trend in the opposite direction on the part of white collar and professional people. This is reflected fairly accurately in the fall and rise of Helmdon's roll. In 1962, with only 33 names in the register, there was real concern in the village (and amongst the staff!) that the school might be closed, especially as the closure of small village schools was currently and nationally widespread. Thereafter numbers have risen, with some slight irregularity, to their present (1999) level of 127. This is almost certainly the highest figure in the school's history.

1947 and 1956 were significant dates in the life of the school. In 1947 the l4 and l5 year-olds were transferred to Brackley Secondary Modern School, and they were followed nine years later by the 12 and 13 year-olds. This meant that, for the first time, Helmdon became a true primary school with the obvious advantage in terms of organisation of having only seven age groups instead of nine or eleven. The abolition of selection in 1973 prevented the break-up of many friendships, since all those leaving Helmdon School in any one year moved on together to secondary education at Magdalen College School.

As a footnote to relations between home and school, it has to be recognised that to some people, though a dwindling number, school discipline has always meant the use of corporal punishment, and undoubtedly the cane was used at Helmdon in the past:


1879 (January) "Caned two boys for fighting in the dinner hour."
1954 ( March) "Nine boys were caned today for disobedience (snowballing). The cane was last used fifteen months ago."


As far as I know it has never been used since that date.


It is well into the present century before we find any record of the school having contact with other schools.


1925 (July) "The School was closed yesterday to allow the children to take part in the South Northants Schools Sports."


The District Sports were to become an eagerly awaited annual fixture for many years to come. In 1993 both boys and girls were awarded cups for winning their sections.

1951 saw what was possibly the school's first cricket match against another school (Syresham). Thereafter, when numbers allowed, football, netball and rounders matches were played against neighbouring village schools.


1969 (November) A full football team was taken to play against Culworth.
"This is one benefit the boys receive from the growing numbers on roll."
1970 (March) "A set of football shirts, tangerine with black trim arrived today." (Wolverhampton Wanderers were the "in" team with the boys at that time).
1975 (May) "The girls reached the final of the Ann Smith Netball Shield." (They lost unfortunately).


By 1984 the roll had fallen again and it was noted:


1984 (January) "The small numbers of boys at Helmdon now make it difficult to play matches against other schools as in the past."


For several years the school sent a team to Greatworth to compete against other schools in "It's a Knock-out" contests which were a feature of Greatworth's annual fete. One of the other regular events started up in the 1950s and involving all the schools in the area was the Brackley and District Schools' Carol Festival, with the villages taking turns in hosting the event, Helmdon's turn coming in 1983.


The school has been involved in some way with most of the village organisations. An early instance:


1886 (April) "A Bazaar was held yesterday in aid of the lending library and the Reading Room".


Before the County Library van started to make regular visits to the village in the early 1960s, the smaller room of the bottom block was open for an hour every Friday afternoon after school as a library. A stock of books was held in a large cupboard there.

Saturday afternoons in the summer saw the "canteen" used for Cricket Club teas, the team sheets having been displayed in the window earlier in the week. The canteen was also the setting for the club's annual dinner, when a succession of well-known Northamptonshire cricketers were guest speakers.


1968 (December) "During the week we have been troubled by mice found to have been brought into the school in the village cricket club's kit which I had offered to store in the attic."


The Women's Institute met in the Reading Room, but:


1928 (June) "The children gave a performance of folk dancing at the WI Fete."
1971 (June) "A commemorative tree was planted in the School Field by the WI".


The cherry tree growing by the front entrance to the school was planted as a 4-foot sapling by the Cub Scouts in Jubilee Year. In the same year:


1977 (October) "Yesterday and today all the children in the School took a hand in planting 600 or so daffodil bulbs in the school grounds."
1978 (July) "The Jubilee roses planted earlier this year are coming into bloom."


The Youth Club was held for some time at the school, which has also been home to the Brownies and the Scouts, and is presently the home of the WEA. The Helmdon Fellowship (for those over sixty) were entertained to tea following performances of Christmas concerts. The school has also produced a float for the Helmdon Carnival on several occasions.

Holidays, or the early closing of afternoon school, have been approved for a wide variety of reasons:


Clothing Club Sunday School treats
Choir supper Chapel tea parties
Village feast Royal weddings
Jumble sales Church confirmations
Jubilees General & local elections
Grafton Hunt meets Coronations
750th anniversary of Magna Carta signing


The flag was flown on some of these occasions, and once:


1920 (15 March) "As the Prince of Wales will pass the school the flag was hoisted." (He was on his way to the Grafton Hunt point to point).


The flag was also raised on all too many occasions during the First World War, but only to half-mast.


1914 (21 October) "Gave a lesson on Nelson's Great Victory and referred to the present war. Seventeen old boys are serving on land or on the sea. (Gave this as a noble example)."


Most of the names that appear on the village war memorial are also to be found in the school records. The first to be entered in the log book:


1914 (13 November) "One boy on the roll of honour went down in the "Good Hope". Thus John Winmill died at his post."
1915 (November) A collection of fruit was made "for sailors of the Grand Fleet."
1915 (December) "Several of the children have received letters from various ships thanking them for the vegetables sent."


When a letter was received from Northampton in 1915 counselling a wartime food economy campaign, the managers in reply agreed that such an operation "would be suitable for the town but that villagers knew both how to cook and how to be economical."

The Second World War's effect upon the school must have been something like that caused by the sudden influx of railway builders' families when the Great Central was being built.


1939 (11 September) "4 new village children were admitted and 10 evacuees."
1940 (September) "26 children evacuated under the Government Scheme have been admitted, 16 of these children are from Fossdene (LCC) and are in the charge of an Assistant Master ….. 10 are from Edmonton and were unaccompanied."
1940 (October) "12 private evacuees were admitted. Classes re-arranged. Evacuees to be merged with native children."
1940 (2 December) "As from today school will assemble at 9.30 am instead of 9 am owing to black-out restrictions."


It was a time of fund-raising for the war effort:


1941 (May) "War Weapons Week'. 'The School Savings Group' will be open each morning. £76 8s 6d."
1943 (May) "Wings for Victory Week'. £205 7s 6 d."
1944 (July) "Salute the Soldier Week'. £347 17s 0d."


It was also a very unsettled time, with evacuees coming and going.


1942 (January) "Several evacuee children who went home for Christmas have not returned."
1942 (September) "12 new children admitted ….. 6 evacuees and 6 native."
1944 (July) "11 new evacuees admitted. In all there are now 26 evacuees on roll."


But, finally:


1945 (10 May) "School reassembled this morning after two days holiday for victory in Europe."



Getting to and from school has always been at the mercy of the weather, the greatest difficulties being caused by snow and floods. Both often caused much reduced attendances and, on a few occasions, closures. Twice in the 1880s it was recorded that flooded roads marooned the school:



" ….. the children having to be carried home in a waggon."


After a similar deluge in 1960:


(17 November) " ….. water stretched right across the road outside the School. Fortunately the County Library van had called and the driver kindly ferried home the children from the top end."


Same problem, same solution, different mode of transport.

The railways had for long been the village's main link with the outside world. The building of the Great Central in particular, made a major impact on landscape and lives. It would be difficult now to picture Helmdon without its viaduct, a feature that has been most appropriately adopted as the school's logo. It was the building of the railway that caused the numbers at the school to jump so dramatically and uncomfortably:


1897 (March) "The work of the school is carried on under difficulties arising from the presence of a temporary population connected with the construction of the new railway ….. The overcrowded conditions of the classrooms render effective teaching impossible."


The historical significance of the opening of the completed railway was not lost on the head. The tyranny of the school timetable was defied in:


1899 (12 March) "Changed the playtime till ¼ to 12 so that the children might see the 'First Trains' pass on the Great Central Railway."


We are reminded that there was, of course, another railway that had already been in existence for nearly thirty years.


1909 (April) "The Policeman called about the boy H …..H …… laying stones on the N&B, Junc. Ry".


Both lines had been closed by 1963 despite protest meetings held in the school the previous year. With the station closed, the older children were taken by bus to Brackley.

Runaway horses and carts were sufficiently rare in the 1890s for the casual entry:


1892 (April) "As the drains were all up in the backyard, have let the children play in the road."


But sixty years later films with a road safety message were being shown and cycling proficiency courses were being organised.

Even so, the prospect of long walks on increasingly busy and dangerous roads, and the growth of car ownership, persuaded more and more parents to bring their children to school by car. By 1970, and particularly while the extensions were being carried out, it became necessary to suggest a voluntary regulation of parking.


1980 (October) "Many parents bring their children to and from school (by car). Approximately nineteen cars have been meeting children."


At the beginning of 1999 the figure had risen to approximately 45.

There are no plans for the transport of children to and from school by air, but many will remember that in 1969 there was a very real possibility that the present Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit could become the third London airport. The school hosted a meeting opposing the idea. The only other mention of aeroplanes occurs in an entry as long ago as


1918 (16 September) "Attendance this afternoon abnormally low. An aeroplane came down about a mile away. Many of the children went to see it in the dinner hour and did not return in time for the afternoon session."


For many years the only telephone link with the Education Office, the school meals service, the police, fire and ambulance services was via the head's private telephone in the schoolhouse. It was not until the 1975 remodelling that a phone was installed in the head teacher's room and another in the school kitchen.

One time-honoured and simple form of communication is, sadly, no longer in use. In October 1953 it was reported to the managers:


"The porch is very damp following the removal of the school bell."


It used to be rung five minutes before school was about to start. For several years it lay half-buried under slack in the coal shed, but was rescued, cleaned, polished and put on display at the exhibition which was staged to celebrate the completion of the extensions.

No longer does the village appear on the national map and the world has become to Helmdon children a much larger place, but I am sure that they still look upon their school as being an all-important feature of their lives and one of whose past and present record the village can be justly proud.


Geoff Ipgrave
Head teacher of Helmdon School 1957 - 1978



I would like to thank Mrs Chris Woodward, head teacher until Summer 1999, who was most helpful to me in the writing of this article.


Helmdon School Log Books 1872-1990,in the possession of the school. Minutes of Helmdon School Managers, 1910-1974, at Northamptonshire County Record Office.

[Article taken from Aspects of Helmdon 3, pp 116 - 145]

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