|History of Helmdon Lay Hidden
in Farmer's Home
It seems inconceivable that waste paper could be of interest
in local history.
But back at the end of the 19th century when W.P Ellis of
Helmdon was turning out the lumber room of an old farmhouse,
he found parish accounts as recorded by the Churchwardens
in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Sadly many generations of rats and mice had used this paper
to line their nests!
The writing on those sheets which had not suffered too badly,
varied between good and "the less elegant scrawl of the village
Overall his discoveries founded a wonderful insight into what
amounted to the everyday life of a village some 200 years
ago. Helmdon was a village of farms, each one with unfenced
land in scattered lots. Churchowned flats were distributed
here and there, a legacy of legacies.
Roads were little better than cart tracks, barely passable
in wet weather when it was necessary for wagons to seek out
the firmest ground of the fields.
A brook was a feature of the middle part of the village but
there was no crossing for vehicles, only a timber foot bridge
on some pillars.
Further down the stream, a plank had been thrown across, known
as Scholars' plank, probably because it was the best route
for children going to the village school.
An important feature of the Parish of Helmdon was the existence
of paid officers.
Apart from the local constable, there was a mole catcher and
crow keeper. A work force was also needed to clean out brooks
which separated Helmdon from adjacent parishes.
Disputes about responsibility for maintenance of the waterways
were not uncommon however. An entry for 1659 notes items paid
to the workmen for scouring of Radmore Brook in March last
Children were catchers of sparrows. In 1700, as many as 1,500
of these funds secured financial reward for the youth of the
Rogation Monday was a notable date in the Parish calendar.
It was the one day in the year when crops of grass on the
'towne meadows' were sold to the highest bidders.
Those successful in 1699 included Richard Steevens of Brackley
Way and William Cowley of Banbury Way.
This day was also an occasion for making merry. The main feature
was a procession and much ale was consumed all at Cross's
although there were three public houses in Helmdon.
Parish records impart a comfortable feel to the events of
the day by using phrases such as "spent with ye naybours at
Croses on Cross Monday."
The pub was indeed the central feature of the village for
it was here that vestry and magistrates meetings were held
and town disputes settled.
One wet afternoon, three neighbours met to consult with each
other about the pound gate, which had a damaged hinge. It
seems the opportunity was always seized to consume ale, whatever
The Parish Constable was a highly significant figure, as evidence
by the case of a damaged bridge. He would oversee the repair,
buying materials and getting them delivered, than supervise
the work and even pay the wages.
All strangers to the village were seen by him and he also
accompanied the taking of taxes to Brackley, to ensure their
The Churchwardens rivalled the constable in importance.
Control over parish money was paramount. They held the key
of the chest which could not be unlocked without both present.
Payments from it were made to all parish servants.
Once, their duties extended to brewing of the Whitsun ales,
an early example of caring of the welfare of the villagers.
The hundred or so pages of "Village Life in the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries" contain much more fascinating recollections
of Helmdon life, amazingly gleaned from scraps of paper so
nearly destroyed by local vermin.
The Banbury Guardian - 10th September 1998
NOTE: The W.P Ellis book "Village Life in the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries" can been seen at the Northamptonshire