Helmdon Parish Council

Serving the people of Helmdon

Clerk: Mrs Helen du Bois
2A Station Road, Helmdon
Northamptonshire NN13 5QT

History of The Helmdon Fellowship (1950-2008)

Over Fifty Years In The Village
- A History Of The Fellowship

An article by Audrey Forgham - 2009


This Fellowship History has been taken mostly from the minutes of an organisation which began in the 1950s. It cannot pretend to be an accurate history. Up until the 1970s there are no minutes of annual general meetings, and in any case decisions might well have been made and not recorded. So this is simply an overview, hopefully providing a flavour of what the Fellowship, as it is known today, has been about through the years.

The first existing minutes are from 24th October 1956. There was some sort of club even before then because a Miss Connie Storer stated that she "didn't wish to remain as secretary under the new set up of the new 'Old People and Welfare Committee', but would stay on the committee". The committee, as well as Miss Storer, consisted of Mr Harold Gulliver (chairman), Mr Jim Jessett, Mr Eric Humphrey, Mr Harold Seckington, Mr Arthur Duncombe, Mr Saunders, Mrs Eileen Jeffs, Mrs Jean Seckington (the new secretary), Mrs Vera Wilson, Miss Nora Nicholls, Mrs Alice Southam and Mrs Phyllis Jessett.

Officers have remained fairly constant over the years. Secretaries have included Jean Seckington, Mrs Roberts, Eileen Collett, Olive Holton, Sue Coates and, today, Rosemary Gulliver. Chairmen have been Jim Jessett, Harold Gulliver, Harold Seckington, Geoffrey Gulliver and, today, Carol Brookhouse. Treasurers have been Nora Nicholls, Doris Brookhouse, Nora Nicholls again, Wilf Forgham and, today, Barbara Buxton.

Preparing the Fellowship Spring Lunch
Some of the committee preparing Fellowship tea in 2002.
Left to right: Ann Harman, Doreen England, Rosemary Gulliver,
Sheila Somerton, and Pauline Payne.

Many members have given unstinting help on ever-changing committees but particular mention must be made of Nora Nicholls, treasurer for some 39 years. In 1958 she received a letter and an Age Concern "certificate of appreciation" for past help. In 1978 she thanked the committee for the plant which had been given to her on behalf of the Helmdon Fellowship of Retired People "in appreciation of 25 years of very conscientious and loyal service". It wasn't until 1992 that Nora Nicholls and Nancy Wheeler (another Fellowship stalwart) stood down from the committee.

By 1964 the name had changed from the Old People & Welfare Committee to the Old People's Welfare Association, with a membership fee of 1s a year. It was agreed that if either the husband or wife was 65 then they both would be eligible to join. (In the case of widows or spinsters the age was to be 60 years). In 1968 there is a change of name from the Old People and Welfare Committee to the Helmdon Fellowship of Retired People. In 1993 (with a membership standing at 69) the constitution was changed to allow membership to be open to all retired people over 60 years of age, whether retired or not, and the name of the Fellowship was therefore changed from the Helmdon Fellowship of Retired People to the Helmdon Fellowship. Today it is most commonly referred to as The Fellowship.

First mentions of possible social members are in the 1977. In 1978 Mr and Mrs Adams of Silverstone, and Mr and Mrs Honey (on moving to Thorpe Mandeville) were made social members. Two honorary members were appointed in 1987 "in recognition of all the work they had both done for the Fellowship over the years and Maud Peart wrote that she was "over the moon" and accepted the invitation with gratitude "as leaving the Fellowship, through moving to Wappenham, had made her very sad". Doreen Mackley "accepted with pleasure honorary membership of the Fellowship".

To start with the Annual General Meetings were held on different days to the meetings. In 1975 the AGM followed the meeting because "the previous AGM had been very poorly attended" (indeed no one apart from the committee was present so no report of work in the past year was given). However, in October 1978 it was reported that 32 members attended the AGM, this having followed the get-together, and the practice of holding AGM and get-together still pertains today. In 1981 there were 28 members present at the AGM, in 1983 in addition to the committee, fifty two members attended, and in 2008, about forty five members were present.

Welfare was the most important function of the organisation to begin with, members being allocated to committee members who regularly visited them and made sure that all was well with them. Birthday cards began to be sent to members in December 1975.

Fellowship "aids" such as wheelchairs were the subject of discussion from early on and there were several mentions in the minutes over the years deploring the fact that there was nowhere to put them. There was a money raising effort for a wheelchair in 1970. It was kept at the Rectory but before it was let out "Miss Nichols, Mrs Thompson and Mrs Seckington were to be consulted" and the next month it was decided "to keep the wheelchair in the Reading Room as it was more central". In 1978 the Rector was asked if he would store all the aids. Later on in the 90s there was concern over where to put them and Geoffrey Gulliver kindly came to the rescue and stored them on his premises. Today, with the exception of one wheelchair, Social Services caters to the needs of members.

Chiropody was the main topic of committee time right from the beginning of the recorded minutes. In the 1950s it was arranged by the committee and partly paid for by members. In 1958 a chiropodist "was appointed" and visited the village twice a week. Chiropody rates were increased in 1963 from 12.6d to 15s. per patient and "the old people" were "to pay 3s. of this". In the 1960s a chiropodist still came to the village but in 1980 there was a suggestion that "patients visited the clinic at Brackley for treatment" and this was taken up, the Fellowship of Retired People promising transport "as long as those wishing to avail themselves of transport fitted in with the scheme and did not make appointments to suit themselves without informing the committee of their intention to do so". In 1982 the transport for chiropody was 50p per person. Transport was still available for members into the 90s, ceasing but a few years ago.

Another very early function of the Old People And Welfare Committee was the organisation of a sweep to come to the village on a certain day (this went on until very recent years; Doreen Brock regularly put a notice on the board with a view to making a programme of visits for him). There is some mention of helping members with gardening, and, in the 70s, even to clean and decorate rooms for members, and then a few months later "Community Services" had agreed to do some of this work.

In September 1964 welfare foods began to become important A letter was sent to a Mrs Abbott at Northampton, possibly at Age Concern, with which the organisation seem to have had a loose affiliation over the years, regarding details about getting Horlicks, Bovril and Tea, etc" for a cheaper rate for the Old People". By 1975 groceries were being bought wholesale for members and there is a mention of a Cash and Carry Warehouse in Northampton. In 1979 Mrs Marjorie Watson enquired whether welfare foods could be made available for members to purchase at monthly meetings. In 1987 it was reported that the welfare foods bought at the October meeting amounted to £108, so they were very popular. The table of welfare foods was put out until 1996 then the service ceased; there was now very little interest as most people had access to a supermarket.

Fund raising was important from the very beginning. At the meeting of November 1958 the balance in hand was £2 3s, and the position was obviously so dire that Harold Gulliver, Miss Stokes Mrs Gladstone and Mrs Southam "each gave one pound to the funds". In October 1959 Mr Parker, the auditor, said that he thought that a bank account should be opened at Barclays and in consequence the "Old People's Welfare Fund" was set up. Although from then on the accounts appeared to stay healthy in that there was no more need to put private money in the funds, fund raising was always on-going.

Whist, bingo, "draws" and beetle drives were among the first activities of the organisation and were also a source of income. A whist drive in 1963 raised £9 8s. 6d, the admission charge being 2s, and profit from each whist drive in 1992 was in the region of £100. Geoffrey Gulliver was the enthusiastic organiser of the whist drives; they ceased in the early 2000s.

In 1957 when the decision was to hold a sale and whist drive, committee members were asked to "beg articles for sale". Two years later there was mention of a jumble sale, and in 1959 one sale made £13 7s. 10d., and in May 1961 another raised £12 2s. 9d. Clothing sales were also popular and in 1979 one raised £50 and in 1980, £47.0s. 50p. In 1978 the Spring Sale made £125.1s.04 for Fellowship funds and in March 1980, £185. In 1998 Spring Sales were abandoned because the great deal of work was not commensurate with the total sum raised, and to make up the money lost, more coffee mornings with their bring and buy sales at various member's houses, (such as this one, above, in 2000 at Greystones), came on to the Fellowship's programme.

Carol singing was another source of funds. 1957 was the first mention of a group singing their way around the village for funds. In 1975 this activity raised £50, in 1983 it raised £97, in 1985 £116, and in 1994 £295. Carol singing by the Fellowship ceased sometime after 1994 and today it is a church activity.

To begin with there was little talk of speakers. In the early years "games afternoons", films and slides were often offered.

Colin Nash and Friends
April 2007: Colin Nash and Friends,
illustrating Colin's talk on the history of jazz

In 1957 a "social evening" was arranged. October 1963 was possibly the first mention of the phrase "get-together". One of the first speakers was a Mr Gardiner in November 1966 but there is no note of the subject of his talk. However, the momentum and interest in speakers grew, and through the years talks have included have been diverse: there has been a talk from a British Rail projectionist, on Russia, Finland, on law, guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, the Great Central Railway, philately, on making a will, being a pantomime dame, Derby porcelain, Code breakers at Bletchley Park (with subsequent visit in 2002 - left), leather craft, and a Horse drawn Carrier's Working day (with visit).

Monthly meetings were, and still are, held in the Reading Room. These days the Reading Room lives in harmony with its neighbours, but it has not always been so because in 1975 a letter was sent to the Reading Room. "The committee of the HFRP would like to register a very strong protest on behalf of its members who live near the Reading Room, regarding the party which was held there last Saturday. The young people attending the party behaved disgracefully along the street and did damage in people's gardens. The elderly people in the area, several of whom live alone without a phone with which to call the police, were seriously frightened until after 1am".

The Bletchley Park Guide shares his knowledge
The Bletchley Park Guide shares his knowledge
with Fellowship members

Over the years the Fellowship has had numerous invitations to events out of the village, for instance in the 1980s it accepted an invitation to a party organised by Brackley Round Table. The Salvation Army Over 60s Club visited several times, and in 1980 Helmdon members were asked to a meeting of the Good Companions Club of Greatworth. In 1982 members visited the Sulgrave Good Companions Club.

There has been a carnival in Helmdon since 1983 and the Fellowship of Retired People helped with the catering in 1988. In the following year members provided the refreshments, taking a half share of the profits of £56. In 1990 the Fellowship had a produce stall and in 1991 there is a mention of a carnival profit of £20 on the carnival game "Catch the Rat". In the 90s the organisation had a regular bric-a-brac stall but it developed into jumble which was difficult to store and dispose of when it was unsold, and this form of fundraising ceased in the 2000s. On occasion the Fellowship contributed a float to the carnival parade and in 1998 they had a float decorated on a Victorian theme.

Mr Ipgrave, sometime Head master of Helmdon Primary School, brought a group of school children to entertain members at Christmas in the 70s, and the Fellowship still get entertained delightfully by the present schoolchildren each year.

Carol Brookhouse making sure to keep Father Christmas happy.
Carol Brookhouse, Chairman, making sure
to keep Father Christmas happy
at a December "get-together" in 2004

In 1959 there was a mention of Christmas parcels to the value of 10s to a few selected people. In December 1963 all members were involved in that each person was to receive 1 cwt of coal the second week of December. Mrs Peart was to be asked "to deliver the coal and get a signature from each person who accepted the gift"; the cost of the coal to the Fellowship was £18. In 1986 the question of this gift of coal to members was raised and the chairman felt that "as our finances are in a reasonably healthy state, this gift should continue to be given at Christmas time". In 1992 "Christmas vouchers to the value of £5 were given to each household as usual. Mumford's and Finmere Fuels were to be asked if they would be still willing to honour them". This practice ceased soon after, although the giving of pens, diaries, calendars or notebooks has continued, having been presented to members at Christmas at least since the early 1980s.

The first mention of a Christmas dinner was at the Christmas party of December 12th 1970. The menu was to be turkey, ham, new potatoes, peas, beetroot, chutney, bread rolls, trifle, cheese and biscuits and mince pies. In 1977 it was decided to start the meal with hot soup and to have turkey and tongue with hot vegetables followed by trifle or fruit jelly. Traditional turkey and ham was no longer on the menu in 1992 with the introduction of chicken casserole and steak and kidney pie. Not that the meal was at Christmas any more. In January 1982 there is a minute that the "twice postponed Christmas party has now been arranged to take the form of a Spring Lunch to be held on Saturday 27th March at 12.30". (This may have been due to bad weather but the minutes do not say why). The next year it was again decided to hold a Spring Lunch instead of a Christmas party "as it appeared to have been so very popular". In 1999 it was noted that 50 members attended that year's lunch. Spring Lunches ceased in 2008 when it was felt that the event had grown to be too much work for the committee; fish and chip lunches are still on the programme.


Phil Drage, Jean Brookhouse and Jack Harman, amongst others
enjoying the 2004 Spring Lunch

For many years the Young Wives (now the Women's Club) entertained the group at Christmas, and the first invitation from them to attend such a function is possibly September 27th 1972. This tradition stopped in the early 2000s, some of the Young Wives by then having become Fellowship members themselves.

Outings have always been a feature from the very early days, the days when it must be said travel was much harder than it is today, and car ownership was far from universal. In 1958 there is the first mention in the minutes of an outing to Leamington and Stratford, the fare being "6s 6d (including tea) for Old Folks and 10s. for outsiders". Later that year the trip was to Windsor (fare 7s) "with hot tea instead of the usual plain tea", and when it was discussed later, those that went on the trip said that a "good and enjoyable outing was had by all". In 1965 there is the first mention of a mystery tour. It was on a Saturday and cost £7. Evening Mystery trips which culminated with a drink or meal at a pub were still going on until 2001 but they had outworn their mystique, and soon after that they were no longer on the visits programme.

Jeffs Coaches, based the village, have almost always been used for tours. In 1959 "Mr Jeffs's bus took members for 6s. 6d. (including tea) to Evesham district". In September 1972 Mr John Jeffs gave the services of a coach for carol singing and for an afternoon tea party at Mrs Lees "free of charge". In 1975 he was again very generous in that he gave the Fellowship an "outing to Henley in August, at his expense". In 1978 the evening coach trip to Bibury cost members 60p and visitors 80p while the cost of the trip to Bath trip in 1981 cost members £1.50 and visitors £2.50.

On the train to the vineyard. In front, Peggy Smith and Sheila Somerton. Also in the photo: Ann Smith, Roger Russell and Jenny Saunders.
On the train at the Gifford Hall Sweet Pea Farm and vineyard
in Suffolk (2004). In front, Peggy Smith and Sheila Somerton.
Also in the photo: Ann Smith, Roger Russell and Jenny Saunders.

Trips still go on although the cost has increased greatly. Destinations have ranged far and wide, from Bournemouth to St Albans, from Norwich Bath to Henley, Evesham to Gloucester, Bournemouth to Weymouth, and Hunstanton to Marlborough. Memorable visits in recent times have been to the Elan Valley in Wales, the Birmingham canals, to Suffolk to a Sweet Pea Farm (picture left), to a Secret Bunker in Cheshire, and a ferry trip was made over the Mersea on a trip to Liverpool. In 2007 twenty members were privileged to participate in a visit to Highgrove, the unique Gloucestershire garden of the Prince of Wales, a unique experience. Some visits have been made to pantomimes, usually at Northampton, and "Jack and the Beanstalk" was visited in 1991. The Fellowship has also made visits to local attractions such as Bronnleys, Sulgrave Manor and the Claydon Bygones Museum. At various times questions regarding the coach driver's tip have figured hugely in the minutes – some felt it should be included in the coach fare, others not. In 1980 there were complaints about seating arrangements, some feeling they should have the opportunity of occupying the front seats. This was resolved in 1981 by decreeing "that journeys taking the Fellowship in southerly direction should pick up at the Square first and when travelling in an easterly direction the opposite would apply".

Mrs Lees at Falcutt House was very hospitable to the "Old Folks". In 1964 she asked them to her gardens for an outing and "the reports were very good", and at the Christmas of that year she "kindly sent an invitation for all the Old people to have Tea at her House". Garden parties and "garden meetings" have featured hugely as an activity over the years.


From left to right: Douglas Hadfield and Pauline Butler, Jan Harrold,
Alan Watson, Eileen Watson, Cec Harrold (in front), Audrey Forgham
and David Brookhouse. Ann Smith is chatting to the Revd Will Adams at the back.
(Picture taken in 2008 in Trudie and Barbara Buxton's garden)

There were early mentions of a garden party at Mrs P. Watson's and in Mrs Salter's and Mrs Hearne's gardens, and of latter years there has been an annual garden party at the home of David and Carol Brookhouse (with proceeds going to various charities), and Alan and Eileen Watson and Trudie and Barbara Buxton have also opened their gardens for coffee mornings. The Fellowship is grateful to a great many people throughout its existence who have supported them in this way.

For some years a grocery parcel was given (to the value of 10s at one date) to any member who could not go on an outing because of ill health. In 1975 "a Mr Osborne of Falcutt was given 50 cigarettes in lieu of groceries. These will be given in five weekly packets of 10 to ensure that they are his personal gift". In 1976 it was reported that that year's parcels had cost £1. 0s. 47p each. Eleven were delivered, and one gentleman member was sent "two cans of beer". In 1980 August a list of persons unable to go on summer outings was drawn up so that they should have a gift parcels, and in 1983 parcels were to be given to ten people in all who could not take advantage of summer outings.


"Will Adams cut the ribbon with beautiful golden scissors"

Sixty members of the Fellowship were present at an anniversary tea in the church when the Fellowship celebrated its Golden anniversary in the summer of 2008. To mark the occasion the organisation purchased a new seat to replace the old bench outside the Church gates.

What of the future? In the 80s the membership was particularly flourishing with eighty people attending one get-together, although numbers diminished in the 90s. Today, in 2009, it is the largest organisation in the village with 65 members on its books. Thirty to forty people attend the "get-togethers" and participate in the coffee mornings and outings. In the early years there is no doubt that welfare was the most important function of the organisation; looking after members' welfare was the priority. However, with the advent of Social Services and car ownership the need for all embracing pastoral care from the Fellowship has diminished. That is not to say the concern for members is not still there, with the committee still the lynch pin, informing members of the programme and visiting them in times of illness or distress, but in 2009 the social side is perhaps the main function of the organisation. Long may it continue to flourish in the village.

If anyone has anything to add or amend to this history, please get in touch with me. Thank you.
Audrey Forgham
2009