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Helmdon Trail - Helmdon Stone

 
The Queen's Temple at Stowe
The Queen's Temple at Stowe

Stone quarrying was part of the economy of Helmdon   for     many    hundreds of   years. J. Morton in The Natural History of Northamptonshire praised the stone as being of fair white and durable "which is freer from an intermixture of yellowish Spots than is that of Ketton, and is indeed the finest building Stone I have seen in England". John Bridges, writing in The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire, was equally complimentary and Nigel Nicholson in The National Trust Book of Great Houses of Britain writes that Helmdon stone is the finest of all building stones "for it is unmotttled and unveined, as clear as liquid …it can be carved with a crispness that two hundred and fifty years of weathering has not dulled."

It is not easy to determine when the stone was first used for building. There are some indications that the quarries existed as early as the first half of the thirteenth century and certainly the late twelfth-century and early thirteenth-century part of Helmdon Church, which was built of this stone, must have caused quarrying on some scale. The remarkable Campiun window in the north aisle of the church, which depicts a stone mason with his pick, with a probable date of 1313, is evidence that the craft of stone masonry was of importance to the village at that time. Since stone masons were, of necessity, a peripatetic trade, William Campiun must have had important standing and his family sufficient wealth for him to be commemorated in the village. A Proof of Age of 1356 which mentions the fact that twenty carts from Helmdon were fetching stone for the repair of Sulgrave church, is the first clear indication that quarries were being worked for buildings other than at Helmdon. A few fields on both sides of the Weston road leading north from the village are those which were quarried.

There was expansion of quarrying in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century. Although the church is the oldest surviving building in Helmdon for which the stone was used, the Reading Room and many buildings in the village also contain some, or are completely built with it. Great houses built with Helmdon stone include Easton Neston, Stowe, Blenheim Palace and Woburn. Easton Neston is the only house whose external appearance relies primarily on the use of Helmdon stone. It was in the 1670s and 1770s that the building work carried on at Stowe involved the use of Helmdon quarries, with accounts mentioning frequent payments to Helmdon men for quarrying their stone. Although most of the stone for Blenheim came from nearby Cotswold quarries, Helmdon was a notable subsidiary given that the quarry was over twenty miles away. Woburn's connection with the quarries was relatively minor. Helmdon quarries supplied paving stone to the estate during the late eighteenth century. There were only four masons in Helmdon in the census return of 1841.

The quarries lost their importance in the nineteenth-century, and were little worked for architectural purposes. The best stone in the ridge was exhausted and by the middle of the century more and more brick buildings were appearing in Helmdon. There was a re-opening of the quarry in 1918 but this was for mere road stone.

[Much of the above information was taken from E G Parry's articles on Helmdon Stone in Aspects Of Helmdon No. 4 and Northants Past & Present Vol VIII.]

 
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