The Gulliver family have had long associations with the Baptist work and witness in the area, particularly with the Chapel in Helmdon. Hilda, my mother in law, was very involved with the weekly Women’s Meeting on a Tuesday, alongside Margery Watson. Harold, my father in law, was responsible for ensuring a preacher was booked every Sunday, quite a difficult task when the chapel was without a resident minister. Phil or Carey (as some of the older inhabitants of the village know him) and his siblings went along to the Sunday school at Helmdon Chapel. The Senior Teacher was Jack Bazeley, the Junior Teacher, Beryl Watson. Andrew, Phil’s brother, tells me that he and Elizabeth started their preaching careers at Helmdon, greatly encouraged and urged on by their father, Harold. My closer association with Helmdon Chapel began in 1975 when I married Phil and moved into Helmdon.
Following an incident one hot summer when the varnish on the pews caused people to stick to them during a hot summer, they were treated to stop this happening and eventually the pews were removed and replaced by chairs which made the building more versatile for community groups to use.
Over the years many groups have used the
Chapel including Boulders Youth Group and a Coffee shop/drop in for teenagers, and Girls Brigade and Bridge Players used it for rehearsals. Tiny Tots regularly met at the Chapel on a Wednesday and I have many happy memories of social occasions with the Tots group, Christmas parties, and Bonfire parties - a brazier outside housing a small, but safe fire, and sparklers for the children, followed by food - one particular occasion was entitled “Chilli in the Chapel”. Another memory that springs to mind is our Church Holiday Clubs for primary school children held at the end of the summer holidays. The clubs were very popular, based on Scripture Union material, Banana Island and Waterworld to name two. Our interim pastor, David Goode, was wonderful at designing props and came up one time with the idea of a train built underneath the gallery. The session took place in the mornings over the course of 3/4 days, a bible story told in a fun way with crafts, refreshments and games usually taking place in the field opposite the Chapel.
Helmdon remained part of the Weston group until 2000 when amalgamation with Towcester Baptist Church took place to form Tove Valley Baptist Fellowship. In 2003 at the funeral of my mother in law Hilda Gulliver, it became apparent there were problems with the building. Following a structural survey we were told the building had “broken its back” and had severe structural problems. The decision therefore was taken by the Church meeting that Helmdon Chapel should close as a place of worship and steps taken to sell the building. As many of you are aware this took years during which time the building became very sad looking and dilapidated. The school room which was built in 1952/53 had plaques round the wall giving names of Sunday School pupils and others and families were contacted to see if they would like these before the building was finally sold. Chris Bazeley and Geoff Whitmee did most of the hard work in removing these for those who wanted them to collect. Eventually the building was sold to a local builder (Jonny - JMB Construction Solutions Ltd.) who made it the family home it is today.
The restoration wasn’t without problems. I well remember Jonny ringing up one day and I jokingly said “you haven’t found a body have you?” his reply was “I haven’t found one I’ve found three” whilst digging out the area for car parking. The bodies dated back to the late 1800s. After going through the legal proceeding required in such cases, the three bodies plus several more were removed and re-interred at Woodend Garden of Rest by a local undertaker. Although there is a sense of sadness when a Chapel closes, Tiny Tots moved to Weston and still meets there on Wednesday mornings and services are held at Weston every Sunday morning (or will be once restrictions are lifted).
Over the years there have been many Helmdon villagers involved with the Chapel. One of the more recent ones was Irene Buckley (nee Inness) who was a much loved and valued member of the Chapel. She was a good friend and support to many of us, in spite of her battle against cancer. Irene was one of the last people to be baptised by immersion at Helmdon Chapel. She was very involved in the refurbishment of Weston Chapel in 2006, particularly in choosing the colour scheme. She was an Elder of Tove Valley Baptist Fellowship, of which Weston is a part, until her health made it difficult for her to continue and she felt it right to resign. I followed in her footsteps as an Elder and was very grateful for her help, support and insight on many occasions.
As well as running a Ceramics group in Helmdon, and demonstrating to such groups as the Fellowship, Irene also started a Art Club at Weston, following its refurbishment, assisted by Ros Partis and latterly Emi Farnham from Towcester. Emi and Ros still run the Art Club and displays of the clubs art work can be seen in the downstairs rooms of Weston chapel.
Irene took a Ministerial course at Regents Park College, Oxford, and my recollection is that she wanted to study theology in a way that would help her make connections with her work, faith and church involvement. She later became Lay Pastor at Farthingstone Baptist Church, also preaching when able to at Weston & Towcester. Eventually her health made it impossible for her to continue, but she still came along to services at Weston whenever she could, often Rosie bringing her when she was no longer able to drive. Her funeral/thanksgiving service was a testimony to her faith and the numbers that attended showed what high esteem and regard was held in. A song which I and a couple of others from the Chapel shared with Irene at a short service at her home, a few weeks before she died, and was sung at her funeral, was, and is, so true and wonderful.
There is a hope that stands the test of time,
that lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
and ends with
“When sufferings cease and sorrows die, and every longing satisfied,
Then joy unspeakable will fill my soul,
For I am truly home.”
In these unprecedented days of lockdown and restrictions we all need to have hope.
Hope is being able to see
That there is light
Despite all of the darkness.