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The Helmdon Trail
 
Take a walk round Helmdon, a small village set in open country in the south of Northamptonshire, England.

Its people love Helmdon, though no great event or historical person has made it famous. It is a vibrant community with a tale worth telling.

Helmdon has a population of around 900 and used to be a farming community, catering mostly for its own needs. From the early 18th century there was also a thriving lace industry. Today people go to work chiefly in the towns around, such as Banbury and Northampton, and even to London. It has a nine-member parish council.

The Welsh Lane, an old drovers' route, now called the B4525, runs across the south of the village, and other roads come from Sulgrave, Weston and Wappenham.

Your route starts  from the Welsh Lane.  

You will  start your journey by passing through the Jubilee Wall, which was built to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee of 2012.                                                           

 

Helmdon fields

Fields on the right

       of Station Road

 

Go down Station Road and cross the bridge over a deep cutting which is the abandoned route of the old Great Central Railway which

opened in 1901 with Helmdon station closing in 1963, and the whole route abandoned in 1966.

There are fields on your right, usually filled with sheep.

 

The first house on your left is the former stationmaster's house for the "Helmdon for Sulgrave" station.  This, Helmdon's second railway  line, the "nibble and clink", ran from Bicester to Banbury.  Opening in 1872, it was later taken over by the LNER, was last in service in 1952 and officiallly closed in 1953.

 

Remains of the old station

Remains of the

old station

 

The  now sparse remains of the old station (which also served the Great Central line). which runs on an embankment and then traverses the valley on the nine arch Great Central viaduct which crosses the Helmdon brook.

After a tree-lined stretch of road, and some houses, on the left is Grange Lane which has a tunnel under the embankment to reach Grange Farm.

 

The School Buildings on Station Road
     The School Buildings on

                          Station Road

 

On the right at the bottom of the hill, you will find Helmdon Primary School. This much regarded school has in excess of 120 pupils, Many of whom come from Brackley and villages outside Helmdon.

 

 

Until as recently as 1992 a public house stood opposite called the Chequers, dating from around 1760.

The Bell, Helmdon's last remaining pub
The Bell, Helmdon's last remaining pub

Now turn right up Church Street. On the right, just before the Bell, is Leeden Tye fronted by a little shop where boot polish was once made. The Bell, so called in earlier times because it was the nearest alehouse in the village to the church, is the only pub in the village still in business today.

Shortly you will see the Reading Room where many of the village activities take place. The Reading Room is the
focus for many of the groups in the village and is the venue for many of their activities and events.  It has on its walls photographs of the Village of the Year competitions won by Helmdon.

Almost opposite the Reading Room, on the other side of the road, is a short close. On the left is an old cottage called Shortlands, reputedly the oldest house in the village

The Old Bakehouse on Church Street
The Old Bakehouse
on Church Street

 

Walking on up Church Street, you reach on the right the Old Bakehouse, still open in the 1950s for villagers wanting newly baked bread and their roasts cooked in the oven on a Sunday.

The parish church of St Mary Magdalene, on the highest ground in the village, has stood by its old yew for many hundreds of years. Its fouteenth

St Mary Magdalene Parish Church
St Mary Magdalene Church
century stained glass, the Campiun window, commemorates one of its stonemasons. There are six bells in the church tower of which the oldest is dated 1679, and over the centuries they have been rung to call people to services, as well as in times of war, peace and celebration.

The present Manor Farm House
The present Manor Farm house
Up past the church is Manor Farm near where one of the early manor houses presumably stood. Early history suggests that Helmdon was once divided between three manorial holdings and had no great squire. Just to the south-east is Falcutt House.

The Great Central Railway viaduct
TheThe GreThe vidultat Central TjHemdon ViaductRailway viaduct
After retracing your steps all the way down Church Street, turn right. Immediately on the right hand side of the road is Stone Gables.  A little way along the road on your left can be seen Helmdon's famous landmark, the Great Central viaduct. Under it ran the little valley railway known as the "nibble and clink" or LMS railway line. Along this small valley line cattle and coal went to Banbury and Northampton markets. Its old station on the right is still a Coach Depot, and just ahead is a small road bridge over the abandoned line.

The war memorial
The war

memorial

 

The village is proud of its war memorial commemorating the fallen of World Wars 1 and 2.    It was given grade 2 listed building 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. In 2017 a flag pole was erected in one corner to commemorate national occasions.

The long barn at priory farm
The long barn at Priory Farm

in the 2000s

Just on the left,along the Sulgrave Road, can be seen Priory Farm, which in Charles II's reign was the largest house in Helmdon. Its has a large long barn. now sadly in a state of utter disrepair.

Opposite Priory Farm is the road to Weston and Weedon Lois.  Just up the hill on the right are Weston Hill cottages and there is evidence that this building was originally the village school, though it was not on this site.

On each side of the Weston Road were the old stone quarries, which produced the pale Helmdon stone for so many years. The building material was used for many of the local houses as well as for much more famous ones. Today the left hand side is the site of a large wood yard.

Wappenham Road, Helmdon
Wappenham
Road, Helmdon

 

Going back to Priory Farm turn left and as you go up Wappenham Road, you will find Fountain House, a late nineteenth-century brick house, on your right.  It has hosted drama productions, fetes and sales.


Just beyond, Magpie Cottage used to be the Magpie public house. It prospered while it catered for the drinking needs of the navvies employed on the Great Central Railway in the 1890s, and closed soon after.

A  little way up on the left is the Old House, fronted by a long abandoned shop, a flourishing butcher's business in the 30s.

Just up fron the old shop, on the same side of the road, is what looks like a new house but is a renovation of the mid-nineteenth century Baptist Chapel which closed some few years ago.

Above the bend in the hill is Home Farm, the only fully working farm left inside the village. Some farmhouses were built outside the village as a result of the mid-eighteenth century enclosure of the open fields, and the land is still worked from them.

On the right you will find Field Way, at the end of which is Field View House

Long Acre doorway

Doorway of

Long Acre

     

 

Then comes what is known as "The Square".  On the right is Long Acre.

Proceeding down Cross Lane you will pass by the house called The Old Manor, and thence to the Old Cross on the fleft at the end,, which used to be a public house. Here, and in several houses in Helmdon, are stone features obviously cut for more prestigious houses and used because the masons had them left on their hands - or the stone could have come from Astwell castle which was drastically reduced in size in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

 

The footpath to Astwell
The footpath to Astwell
Three deserted villages, Falcutt, Stuchbury and Astwell lie on the fringes of Helmdon.

The village straddles a network of old footpaths, routes to Weston and Weedon Lois, and Wappenham, Radstone, Whitfield, Astwell, Crowfield, Halse, Falcutt, Stuchbury and Sulgrave. The central ones are much used.

If you have comments about this trail, please send them to: editor@helmdon.com.
 
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