Walk 91: Helmdon Village Walk: Lovely village, lovely people

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.3 miles (5.4km)

Time to walk: Just over an hour although you may wish to stop for a cuppa at the Reading Room &, if you meet a few of the locals, a good friendly chat

Difficulty: Easy & all on hard paths

Parking: We parked on the edge of the village in Station Road

Public toilets: The Bell pub, or there is one in the church!

Map of the route: We parked at the red dot & walked back to start our walk from the green one

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We’ve taken the route & most of this walk from Helmdon’s Trail on the village website which is very good

Helmdon is a village about 4 miles north of Brackley in South Northamptonshire & is split in two by the River Tove. Its name is comes from the Old English for “Helma’s Valley”. The Domesday Book then records that Robert, Count of Mortain held a manor at “Elmedene” & in the 12th century William de Torewelle (Turville) held the manor of “Helmendene”. The name continued to evolve & in about 1340 was recorded as Helmydene

Although chiefly known for its agricultural links, Helmdon was noted for the making of lace by hand, the earliest record of it in the village dating from 1718. Helmdon had lace making schools that taught girls the trade from an early age. The industry peaked in the parish in the middle of the 19th century, when the 1851 Census recorded that 94 women & girls – more than 30% of all Helmdon’s female inhabitants – worked in the trade, with the youngest workers being under 10 years old

We met several locals on this short walk, all of whom were extremely proud of their village & were happy to stop & share information about it. There’s many clubs & associations & it’s a very nice place to live

So…ready to have a look?

Let’s Walk!

1. We parked in the lay-by on the edge of the village in Station Road. Our walk actually begins back up that road at the bridge over the old railway line, but it’s not safe to park there. So walk back up…

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In 1872 the Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway was opened between Blisworth & Farthinghoe. It passed roughly east to west along the Tove Valley through the middle of the village

In the 1890s a civil engineering contractor, Walter Scott & Co of Newcastle upon Tyne, built the section of the Great Central Main Line between Woodford Halse & Brackley Central. The main line linked northern England with London Marylebone & opened in 1899. It ran roughly north to south through the parish, passing just west of the village. The village had two stations which were closed along with the lines in 1951 & 1963

2. Walk back down Station Road. The first house on the left’s the former Stationmaster’s House for the ‘Helmdon for Mulgrave’ station

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Continue down the hill, past where we left the car, & into the village itself…

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3. The road bends right to enter the older parts, passing Helmdon County Primary School. Helmdon’s original school was situated on a piece of land at the Sulgrave, Weston & Wappenham crossroads where the War Memorial now stands. The current school’s been here since 1853

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Turn right up Church Street…

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Now…those of you who follow our walks will know that we take great interest in the notices that are posted on the telegraph poles & notice boards of the places we visit. They tell you lots about what’s going on locally & some are really amusing. We’re pleased to report that Helmdon has a ‘treasure trove’ of them…

Harold!!!!!!!!

Harold!!!!!!!!

4. On the right before the pub’s a small building which used to be a boot polish factory…

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In its heyday, Helmdon had many shops – click on this link for a superb detailed history of them which also contains many villagers’ memories

On the opposite side at the junction’s The Bell

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There used to be four public houses in Helmdon, but now only the Bell remains. Previously called the King William, the first recorded landlord was John Pratt, whose family had lived in the village since the seventeenth century. He was licensed in 1841 & was landlord for at least 38 years

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In 1884 it was taken over by the Leamington Brewery Co & became the Bell, probably because it was the pub nearest to the church. We met a really friendly gentleman outside the pub who told us some history about the village & also suggested some local walks which would take in the old viaduct

5. Continue up Church Street where. on the right’s what appears to be one of the ‘hubs’ of the village – the Victorian Reading Room

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It was here that we met ‘Celia’ who was a font of all knowledge about the village, telling us all about the history, the various clubs & the church & its association with the local people. The Reading Room holds a coffee morning twice weekly & she invited us in for a cuppa!

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6. The road begins to climb more steeply now as it heads towards the church. On the left’s what’s reputed to be the oldest property in the village…Shortlands

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Pass the old village pump & commemorative bench

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7. The very tall house on the right used to be the Bakehouse. It was built in the late 18th century & continued baking until the mid 1950’s

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Click on this link for a complete history of the bakehouse & its bakers

An old boot cleaner outside a cottage

An old boot cleaner / remover outside a cottage

8. Finally we arrive at the highest point in the village & the parish church of St Mary Magdalene (note the very old yew tree which can be dated back to 1309)

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We were grateful to Celia for her history of the church. It is unlocked daily to allow visitors & is well worth a look inside as it’s immaculately looked after

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Look for the window on the left which depicts a stonemason at work. This is William Campiun, & the window has been dated back to 1313 which suggests he was a benefactor, at least paying for the window & probably contributing to the building of the north aisle

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Such a medieval representation of a craftsman or tradesman is unusual, & one that gives his name & date is particularly rare. In those days though quarrying was done on a large scale in the village & supplied most or all of the stone for the church

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We told you the care that’s placed in the church by the locals & Celia told us to look out for the individually embroidered prayer cushions that are on every pew

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It’s also very much a ‘family’ church & we loved the areas set aside at the front & rear for a ‘Messy Church’…

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9. Leave the church & follow the road all the way back down to the junction & turn right…

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There’s several buildings of note along this road. Firstly look for the tall building on the left which used to be ‘Hygienic Bakery’ dating back to 1903. This was locally referred to as “The Steam Bakery”, so called because it had mechanised equipment whereas the Bakehouse still used the old style oven

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Historical notes say that the general opinion was that the bread was not up to the standard of the crusty loaves produced at the Bakehouse & it therefore did not remain in business for very long

10. Opposite’s the old Post Office…

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This area was once the hub of the village. Earlier we mentioned that the village was split in two by the River Tove & we cross it just before the old railway bridge

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The old station is down on the right. This line was affectionately known as the “nibble & clink” or the LMS line, taking cattle & coal to markets in Northampton & Banbury

11. Across the bridge on the green is something else this village is extremely proud of…the War Memorial

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The memorial commemorating the fallen of both World Wars was given grade 2 listed status in 2015. In 2009 an American memorial was set up beside it which honours the Americans who crashed at Astwell Castle Farm in 1943. On 30 November 1943, a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, No.42-3048 from USAAF station 109 Podington of the 327th bomb squadron, 92nd bomb group, 8th bomber command crashed near the farm buildings. It had taken off on its way with the rest of the squadron on a mission to bomb the industrial complex at Solingen, Germany. All 10 crew members were killed

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Have a look at this link which tells the story through the eyes of someone who lived at the farm & witnessed the crash

Celia told us that each year they get a representative from nearby USAF Communications Station, RAF Croughton to come along & read out the names of the airmen at the service in the church & at the memorial

12. We’re going to make a short detour now, turning left up the Mulgrave Road stopping outside the derelict farm barn on the left…

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The state of the old long barn is a real shame. Priory Farm is the oldest in the village &, at the time of Charles II, was also the largest.

13. Walk past the farm & look across the valley to the left to see the 9 arched viaduct…

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Helmdon Viaduct was a creation of Walter Scott & Co & formed part of the Great Central Railway. Opened to goods traffic in July 1898 it’s a 9 arch, brick structure. Trains on the route came to a grinding halt in September 1966

We’re going to devise a walk that takes a closer look

14. Turn round & walk back to the junction…

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…& turn left up Wappenham Road where there’s some more beautiful properties – it’s as if we’re in another village

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15. On the right’s Fountain House…

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There has been a dwelling on this site for hundreds of years & the present house was built  in the late nineteenth century by William Ellis, a respected local historian, after retiring from the Indian Civil Service. The garden has been used in the past by many local organisations

Just a bit further along on the same side’s Magpie Cottage which was once the Magpie public house

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It was originally known as The Cock & Magpie which probably indicates the activities that went on here as with several pubs of the same era. It apparently was frequented by the workers on the railway in the 1890’s & closed around the turn of the century

16. Cross over the road to the Old House, Look at the small building at the front which used to be a thriving butcher’s shop in the 1930’s

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Just up from this is the recently renovated 19th century Baptist Chapel which opened in  June 1841 with the schoolroom being added in 1953. Because it was deemed unsafe as a building, it closed as a place of worship in January 2004

17. Continue up the hill past, on the left past Home Farm which is the only fully working farm left within the village…

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Red Kites were flying overhead as we walked up here towards the area known as The Square…

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Again there were some interesting posters etc on the lamp-posts & signage boards along here

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18. On reaching The Square turn right down Cross Lane which is another lovely area…

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On the left’s The Old Manor which is difficult to find any background information about anywhere

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Follow the road down & to the left to arrive at the end of our stroll, outside what used to be another pub, The Old Cross

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So that’s the end of our short hard-pathed stroll around beautiful Helmdon. It’s always tricky when walking round small villages with a camera taking photos to not be viewed as anything but suspicious by the locals

But…Helmdon was different. The locals were genuinely welcoming & interested in what we were doing which put us at ease & allowed us to really get under the skin of the village. It’s a lovely place & you’re sure to get a great welcome so…

Go Walk!