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.
FOUNDATIONS - THE NATIONAL SCHOOL
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
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
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
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 " ..
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
.. 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
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
|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:
||"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
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.
PLAYGROUNDS AND SCHOOL FIELD
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
|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:
|Mrs Elaine Nicholas
|Mrs Claire Worrall
|Mrs Chris Woodward
Some problems were common to them all:
||"Some books and slates have arrived. Up
to the present time the children have had but one book between
three for reading".
||"The Master has had only the help of a
monitress for the instruction of more than sixty children in
It would have been of little comfort to the head to receive a statement
May 1910 setting out the official accommodation figures:
||"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.
.. large amounts of school administration.
Full-time teaching Heads find it difficult to fulfil all these
||"The transfer to LMS (Local Management
of Schools) has meant a much greater percentage of time has
been spent on paper-chasing."
CURRICULUM AND EQUIPMENT
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.
||"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
"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
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:
||"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
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
The second half of this century has produced an accelerating array
of audio visual aids each of them greeted with much excitement on
||School wireless set and loudspeaker
||Film strip projector
||Reel-to-reel tape recorder and FM
||Television and second-hand duplicator
||First mention of a school computer
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.
HEALTH AND SANITATION
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.
||"On Tuesday sent several boys
for water and flushed the drains which were bad."
||"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
home to have her head combed, it being in a very filthy state."
Had it been 1910 or thereabouts the parents of P
.might have been given the RED CARD, which had much the same significance
then as it has now:
|| "Dirty head or nits in hair".
||"Head is actually verminous".
||"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.
.. very bad smell
from the offices which cannot be sanitary."
Improvements in sanitation proceeded very slowly indeed.
|| "The substitution of pails
for a cesspool in the offices is an improvement."
||"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
|| "I drew the attention of
the Caretaker to the door of the sewage shed which was open."
||"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."
||"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."
||"The Managers asked that 'WC's"
be installed immediately."
||"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:
|| "Received instructions from
the Board to close the school again on account of the Fever."
||"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:
|| "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
|| "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.
|| "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."
||"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
|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.
|| "67 out of 75 children drink
milk" (i.e. milk provided under the Milk in Schools
The scheme was stopped in the mid-1960s.
HEATING AND LIGHTING
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:
|| (asking that) "before another
Winter adequate arrangements could be made for heating the school
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:
|| "The cellar was flooded again."
||"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.
Lighting was often needed in the shortest days of the winter.
|| "The evenings have become
so short that it is almost impossible to see in school after
||"Owing to the dull weather
have been obliged to have the lamps lighted sometimes in the
||"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."
||(The head requested) "that
a new hanging lamp be supplied."
||"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
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.)
SCHOOL AND HOME
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
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.
|| "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."
||"School Fees are still paid
very irregularly and children do not bring the money for their
||"Sent in bill to Guardians
for Pauper Children - 7s 2d."
But help was on the way:
|| "Began Free Education this
Attendance at school was also a point of friction between home
and school. In the heart of a farming area certain things were accepted
|| "Old May Day -- Many children
Gleaning, haymaking, harvesting, potato picking, blackberrying
and acorning are all cited as being activities that could be similarly
The summer holiday was regarded as a movable feast:
|| "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.
|| "Many are kept away on the
most trivial excuses and thus the average is reduced and many
fail to make the necessary 250 attendances."
.. stay away when they
like and pay no attention to the Attendance Officer, but send
such messages as ' they shall do as they like'."
||"Some of those who are over
ten are gone to work."
||"Had to send the Attendance
Officer after R
.. aged 7, who was gone to work."
||"Two boys gone to work (War
Permits). As their names are retained on the Register it spoils
||(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
||.... to name a few
Parents are also helping more directly in the school and on the
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
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:
|| "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
As far as I know it has never been used since that date.
CONTACT WITH OTHER SCHOOLS
It is well into the present century before we find any record of
the school having contact with other schools.
|| "The School was closed yesterday
to allow the children to take part in the South Northants Schools
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
||A full football team was taken to play
"This is one benefit the boys receive from the growing
numbers on roll."
||"A set of football shirts,
tangerine with black trim arrived today." (Wolverhampton
Wanderers were the "in" team with the boys at that
||"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:
|| "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, THE VILLAGE AND BEYOND
The school has been involved in some way with most of the village
organisations. An early instance:
|| "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.
|| "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:
|| "The children gave a performance
of folk dancing at the WI Fete."
||"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:
|| "Yesterday and today all
the children in the School took a hand in planting 600 or so
daffodil bulbs in the school grounds."
|| "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
Holidays, or the early closing of afternoon school, have been approved
for a wide variety of reasons:
||Sunday School treats
||Chapel tea parties
||General & local elections
|Grafton Hunt meets
|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
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
|1914 (13 November)
|| "One boy on the roll of honour
went down in the "Good Hope". Thus John Winmill died
at his post."
||A collection of fruit was made "for
sailors of the Grand Fleet."
||"Several of the children have
received letters from various ships thanking them for the vegetables
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."
||"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
.. 10 are from Edmonton and were unaccompanied."
||"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:
|| "War Weapons Week'. 'The School
Savings Group' will be open each morning. £76 8s 6d."
||"Wings for Victory Week'. £205
7s 6 d."
||"Salute the Soldier Week'.
£347 17s 0d."
It was also a very unsettled time, with evacuees coming and going.
|| "Several evacuee children
who went home for Christmas have not returned."
||"12 new children admitted
6 evacuees and 6 native."
||"11 new evacuees admitted. In
all there are now 26 evacuees on roll."
|1945 (10 May)
|| "School reassembled this morning
after two days holiday for victory in Europe."
TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS
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:
.. 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:
|| "The work of the school is
carried on under difficulties arising from the presence of a
temporary population connected with the construction of the
.. 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
|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.
|| "The Policeman called about
the boy H
laying stones on the N&B,
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:
|| "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.
|| "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
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.
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]