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Reminiscences - Noreen White

Noreen White.
Noreen White.
Noreen White (née Ayres) was born in 1920 and lived in Helmdon for most of her life. She had a brother, Jack, and a sister, Edith.

She was married to Jim, a Geordie lad who came to the area during World War 2. She had 5 children - these were Kenneth, Alan, Jennifer, Linda & Gillian. Gillian still lives in Helmdon.

Noreen liked the simple life and enjoyed all things about the country. Nothing made Noreen happier than to be with her family. A great deal of family life was spent at number 19 Church Street.

She made many friends and enjoyed social evenings, playing Whist in the Reading Room. Noreen was a Godly person and never lost her faith.

Life became hard for Noreen when Jim had a stroke in 1990, as she selflessly cared for his growing needs until he passed away in 1996. Noreen herself had a stroke in 1999 and due to the incapacity that it brought her, she moved to Southfields in Brackley. Noreen lived at Southfields until she passed away in December 2004 after a short illness.

Those that knew Noreen will remember someone who never spoke ill of anyone and was always willing to help others as well as care for the needs of her family.

She epitomised the community that Helmdon had become and she will be missed by all who knew her.

Noreen wrote some notes about life in Helmdon. The date that she wrote these notes is unclear but they paint an interesting picture. I hope that readers find them enjoyable.

Linda Baker


[Noreen's thoughts were hand-written, and to preserve their uniqueness, they have been typed as written.]

The Characters of the Village.


I would sit in the house with all the windows and doors shut up, hands over my ears so I would not hear the poor pig squeal, it was awful.


I remember Mr Campin who was a pig killer who I thought was so cruel he would come along to the houses with his bag of tricks on his back. He would say, oh where is he then, let's get started ….. meaning Dad, oh but we better have a drink first, just one glass of home made wine ….. then off they would go up to the pig sty. I would sit in the house with all the windows and doors shut up, hands over my ears so I would not hear the poor pig squeal, it was awful. The pig was killed by cutting its throat. When it had been burned with straw and cleaned the pig was taken into a barn for a day and hung up. Then Mr Campin would come and cut it up the next day.

Mr Pitts was the village carrier. He had a horse and cart which he would go to Banbury in, taking or bringing parcels for people in the village for which he would charge a small fee perhaps 3d, 6d, 1/-. I remember Dad would ask him to get a pair of rubber soles or half pound of hob nails to mend the Boots or shoes with, also he would bring clothes and if they wasn't the right fit he would take them and change them. It was a full day's work ….. on Saturday he would start from his house up Church St (where Mrs Davis lives now) at 8 a.m. I often went with him to Sulgrave to visit my Grandparents and we wouldn't reach her house until nearly 10 am - 10.30 am. because going round Helmdon everyone knew everyone and it was oh, come and have a drink Tom. It was the same in every village. It was even worse coming home by the time he had a few drinks in Banbury Pubs and home-made wine again in the villages. I would think I hope he can drive the horse alright ….. he would say ah he knows the way to go, and sometimes I thought well the horse knew what to do better than he did. We arrived home about 8.30 - 10 pm. ….. a long day but lovely in the summer and happy memories.

Mr Alf Sheppard was a Blind Man of the village and I think everyone admired him because every Sunday he would walk to Church to Blow the organ (or pump it) so as Mrs Gascoigne could play for the services held at the Church, in the morning & evening also extra times. It was a long way. He lived up Chapel Street near Alan Watson's house ….. he would also walk to Brackley and back of course. There wasn't cars and traffic about then. He lived with his sister, and when he died I thought it was so sad because he was carried by the village "carrier" (which used to be in the Church) and just his sister holding on to his coffin and one man pulling it. I have never forgot just seeing those two together on his last journey coming down the Bridge ….. he was blind but was so useful and dedicated to the Church.


Mr Jerry Gascoigne was the Village Blacksmith and farmer from whom a lot of the villagers would fetch the milk in cans ….. it was a 1/2d pint for skimmed and 1d for best milk. Mrs Gascoigne would make butter, other farmers would bring


Mr Jerry Gascoigne was the Village Blacksmith and farmer from whom a lot of the villagers would fetch the milk in cans ….. it was a 1/2d pint for skimmed and 1d for best milk. Mrs Gascoigne would make butter, other farmers would bring the cart horses to have them shod, and he had a few cows and often they would graze at the side of the roads.

We always had a village Bobby whom everyone respected, and the kiddies would say oh look out here's the Bobby coming ….. we dare not give him any cheek or do any mischief while he was about or you would be in for a good telling off and sometimes a clip round the ear. They used to walk about the village on the beat, then they was given cycles.

The village had a Bakehouse, owned by Mr Adams, then Mr Oakey, Mr King.

Mr Brown ran a Tailor's outfitter business.

We had two grocery and odd-ends shops, one Post Office which also sold sweets, cottons and oddments (Mr & Mrs W Smith) (Mr & Mrs Watson) (Mr & Mrs Shrimplin). Mr Campin sold bicycle lamps etc, ….. battery, carbine, fireworks. … then Mr Jim Courtney.

Mr Templeman made polish (at a house) which is now Hazara. Mr Harry Campin would come and kill people's pigs. A district nurse lived in the Village, Nurse Walters ….. also a Village policeman. The letters was delivered by postmen from village, then on bicycles from Brackley ….. paid them a penny or 2d and they would deliver to the Doctors. Mr Harry Cleaver had a cobblers shop later on. Mr S Walters brought the first Bus in the Village ….. it was a 13 seater. I remember he came by the school at play time and the first people he gave a ride in it was Mrs Hawkins and Mrs Finch. Mr Charles Gibbons coal man.

Telegrams delivered by people in village.

The Rubbish had to be taken up the pit, Weston Rd.

A stone pit was also up Weston Rd. Men was pleased to get a job there ….. other work was mostly farmers or Railwaymen. In Hay making & Harvest time children could get out of School early to take tea to the men in the fields and when the field was cleared after harvest people with hens would go and pick the corn up ….. which was left we called it scheaning. Dandelions, Cowslips, Elderberries, Haws was picked for making wine.

Mr Tom Pitts was the Carrier. He had a horse and carrier's cart and would go to Banbury Thursday and Saturday ….. he called at each door to see if anyone wanted anything taking or bringing from Banbury for just a small fee ….. that's how he got his living. People cooked on an open fire with oven or oil stoves, washing was boiled in a big iron pot on the fire or a fire copper if you was lucky enough to have one.

Everyone knew everyone who lived in the village. If anyone was ill, or Mothers having babies or some one passed away, there was always someone who would go and help the family. All the babies was born at home, quite a few people paid in to a Doctor's Club which was paid every month. Miss Salmons collected the money.

Roadsweeper Mr Carvell, grass cutting Mr Shepard, & Blind Man always pumped the Church Organ for Mrs Gascoigne who played the organ. Mr & Mrs Rose, the Pub Bell ….. they also delivered papers in pony-Trap. Men singing in street. Tell the time by the Trains. Towcester races, carol singing & May Day, cricket games, fair, muffin man, Green Jackets, games, whip Tops, skipping, bowlers, Bat & Balls.

Take milk 1½d pint skimmed milk, 1d not skimmed ….. milk delivered to door. Sunday School, party up at Mrs Lees for school. Boat Race day Rosettes, (W I day out), ice cream man. Muffin Man. Barrel Organs. Rag Man for gold fish, Mole skins, Rabbit skins.

All houses had to be lit with lamps and candles and there wasn't any flush toilets ….. they was either a big hole in the ground in a small outbuilding with a toilet seat made of wood or a large hod shaped bucket which had to be emptied in the garden by digging a deep hole and burying it, which should have been done after 9.00 pm or before 7.00 am ….. the smell was awful. And people didn't have Bathrooms or wash places only one or two very rich people in big houses had wash places.

The Electric light was brought in the village in the 1930s.

Lots of people kept hens also pigs in the back gardens, and everyone grew vegetables and fruit and plots of allotments was rented out ….. some plots was up Weston Road, Church Street, and the Orchard, being at the bottom of Mr Wilson's garden which still a few people rent. Mr Bill Gascoigne was the Blacksmith & small farmer, Mr Harry Wilson was Builder and Undertaker, Mr Bob Buckingham was Butcher.

Children started school when 4 yrs old until 14 yrs. School started at 9 am - 12; afternoons 1.30 pm - 3.00 for infants, 4.00 for elder.

My first Teacher was Miss Barnes ….. Miss Page, M[iss] Church.

The Bell was Tolled every day when it was time to go to school. If any child stayed at home for long or had days off the School inspector was soon knocking on the parent's door to know why the children hadn't been to School. In the Hunting season all the children was taken up to the meet at the memorial with the teachers to see the Hunt but when the Hunt moved off, back to school we had to go. But some would [go] off and go Hunting the next day ….. those who went instead of going back to School had some explaining to do then got the cane on each hand but the same ones went off again the next time the Hunt met.

The school was closed every year when it was Banbury fair day which was a great treat.

….. take our Yorkshire puddings up Sunday to bake at Bake House.

All children went to Sunday School every Sunday in the mornings and afternoons ….. girls nearly all wore aprons and had a special Dress for Sundays.

The School had a lovely museum with lovely things in people had given, which seems to be missing now.

Jimmy West

It was a lovely moonlight night in October when Annie, Winnie, and myself was cycling back from Sulgrave about 10.30 pm. We got near to Peter's Bridge when Annie shouted look out Noreen or you will knock that man down ….. we could see this figure so clearly, he came from one side of the road across to the other side into a gate ….. he was wearing a Black Bowler Hat and dark suit and was an average size man. We had been along the same road many times but only saw him those two nights. We told our parents and some of the Elderly people what we had seen and everyone told us the same story. It was Jimmy West he killed a young boy just inside one of the fields and was put in prison for life.

When we told Mrs Southam about it she knew the whole story, which prison he was in. Unfortunately we never kept a copy of it, ….. I only wish I could sit up there now with other people and the same thing happen again to prove to other people that these things really do happen.

The village had a club day every year and Strudwicks would come round with the fair - swingboats, skittles, Toffee apples then roundabouts. We often had a donkey man come round, also a Mr Mark South who everyone knew in the village would come round with his melodeon or mouthorgan ….. all the children would follow him ….. also Barrel organs would be brought round. The Reading Room was open every evening except Sunday for the men to take newspapers and Books, the Gentry Farmers in one end and working class in other, also cards Dominoes and Billiards later on was played, the Dances & concerts, WI and other meeting was held.[at] Christmas ….. the Mummers, carol Singers would go to every house ….. Church Bells was rung every New Year's Eve. That was something everyone would wait up and listen to. I remember people seemed to commit suicide quite often by cutting their throats or drowning at Astwell Ponds or in Water tubs.

Helmdon had a very good choir for which they won competitions at Northampton and other places ….. the Photos and certificates was in the Reading Room but they seem to be missing now.

Thrashing, Roads, steam Rolling.

Two train stations L.N.E.R. one L.M.S. We could get to London and the North every day on the L.M.S ….. we used to call the 11 o'clock to Banbury the old nibble and clink train on cattle market days. Farm labourers would have to be up very early in the morning to drive (WALK) the cattle to market then walk home again in the evening, and people from other villages as well as our farmers would have to get the milk to the station to catch the 6 am and 7 am train to London or where ever it had got to go to which would be brought pony & traps. Other loads of sugar beet, swedes or whatever was taken to the station but had to go on the "weigh" platform before loaded on to the trains. People would use the trains for sending lots of parcels. I remember taking a Rabbit up to send to my Aunt in Huddersfield for 6d.

Houses didn't have running water ….. it was either pumps, wells, or springs, or taps outside.


The British Legion was very active in those days. Every year they hired a bus and went on a day trip ….. New Year's Eve they always had a dance or social evening which was held in the Reading Room. The men would go catching moles and skin and dry them by putting them on a board with small tacks, then sell them to a Mr Nutty Davis who came from Syresham ….. also he bought rabbit skins for which he would give you 6d (a tanner).


The British Legion was very active in those days. Every year they hired a bus and went on a day trip ….. New Year's Eve they always had a dance or social evening which was held in the Reading Room.

The men would go catching moles and skin and dry them by putting them on a board with small tacks, then sell them to a Mr Nutty Davis who came from Syresham ….. also he bought rabbit skins for which he would give you 6d (a tanner).

When it was cricketing season lots of people would go to watch the matches ….. it was quite an important day.

Working class People was very poor in those days and was glad to get an extra 6d or 1/- when it was Hunting days in the village. The men would go and try to open the gates for the hunt to go through for which they was thrown a 6d or a 1/- and thought it was wonderful to get that extra.

When it was a fine Sunday evening lots of the people would go for walks as it was the only day the whole family had together and nearly everyone went for a walk either round four turns on Astwell or in nice weather across the fields.

The LNER station closed for passengers on 4th March 1963.

During the Second World War Men & Women had to go in the Forces or Land Army or ammunition Factories ….. we also had lots of evacuees from the Towns also the army had search lights in a field down the Wappenham Rd, also the village had lots of Dances, Concerts to entertain the troops ….. the Dances was held in the Bell hut also in the Reading Room.

….. Had a clinic in the Reading Room in the early 1950s for Mums to take the Babies to be weighed and collect Welfare foods.

During the war we could see and hear the planes going over to Coventry when it was being bombed ….. we also had some bombs dropped up near the Viaducts, also one plane crashed about 8.30 am one morning down in a field at Astwell.

When it was Banbury Fair all the children had a day's holiday from School …… also always had time to go to the meet when the hounds met in Helmdon.

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