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Standing The Test Of Time

A report by Richard Wilson

Nestling in the heart of the South Northamptonshire countryside lies the village of Helmdon, with a history which dates back to Saxon times.

During the reign of Edward the Confessor, the village was known as Elmedene, which was Saxon for Valley of Elms or Helma's Valley

At the Domesday survey of 1086, the land belonged to the Earl of Moretain who was William the Conqueror's half brother.

He owned land in 20 counties and had 99 manors in Northamptonshire alone, making him the second largest land owner in England after the king himself.

The parish church of St Mary Magdalene dates back to the 13th century, with three arches added to the arcades in the 4th century and the clerestory added in the 15th.

The church tower has six bells, the oldest of which dates from 1679, and fourteenth-century stained glass commemorating one of its stonemasons.

John Roberts, priest in charge at the church said: "The church dates back from the 1200s as these places often do. It is a very light and open church."

Before the Reformation it was dedicated to St Nicholas and it was at around this time it was renamed St Mary Magdalene.


Stone quarrying was a key part of Helmdon's economy for many hundreds of years and there is evidence the quarries existed as early as the turn of the thirteenth century.

There was also a thriving lace industry form the early 18th century, and in 1861 more than a quarter of the village women were lace makers.

Many of the village's most historical buildings are still in use today.

The Reading Room is a Victorian building given to the village by Charles Fairbrother in 1887 and it was originally a place for men to meet as an alternative to the pub.

It was not until the time of World War I that women began to use it.

Today it is in use as the village hall, used by the parish council and where most of the village activities take place.

Parish council chairman Peter Burns said: "It is a fine old building, extremely well constructed. It was originally built as a Reading Room back when the working man didn't have papers so they could sit there and read the ones provided. That was the concept of the Reading Room and these days it is used by a whole raft of groups."

The Bell pub on Church Street is so called because it was the nearest alehouse in the village to the church and now is the only pub in the village today.

There used to be four public houses in Helmdon but now only the Bell is in service. It was formerly known as the King William so it is likely to have been first licensed during his reign (1830-37).

Rail Landmark

The long-abandoned Great Central railway, which once travelled through the village, opened in 1897. It was taken over later by the LNER and closed in 1966. There are currently moves to re-open the route for freight.

Unlike Helmdon's most famous landmark, the Great Central Viaduct, ran the little valley railway known as the "nibble and clink". Livestock and coal were transported along this line to the Banbury and Northampton markets.

The former station-house is now a Coach Depot.

The village, situated on the A43, has a population of around 800 residents and used to be a farming community, catering mainly for its own needs, but now Home farm is the only fully working farm left inside the village.

Helmdon was awarded the Village of the Year trophy in 1997 and 1999 by ACRE (Action for Communities in Rural England).

Brackley & Towcester Advertiser - 3rd May 2002
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