Sulgrave Village Advent Calendar Windows 2016 – No. 12 – Coomb Cottage, Helmdon Road


Rain again but if anything even more people turned up for the unveiling! No 12 of 24, half way!

More pictures and a some memories of another cottage and a young family in Helmdon Road, sixty-six Christmases ago, on the next page.

































A vivid personal memory of another cottage in Helmdon Road:


This little cottage formerly stood at the bottom of the hill in Helmdon Road. The footpath which now leaves the road at this point before crossing the footbridge and heading southwards towards Greatworth used to pass behind the cottage. This picture probably dates from the twenties or earlier.


The cottage was still there in 1951 when I used my nice new folding Brownie camera to take this picture from my bedroom in our house in Helmdon Road (and later developed and printed it in the same bedroom!) Note the many elm trees which were lost to Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s.

At that time, the cottage was lived in by Bernard and Muriel Gascoigne and their daughter Pamela. Bernard was the youngest son of the last resident Sulgrave blacksmith, George Gascoigne, whose forge was in Church Street. This rather wonderful “boy meets girl” picture featuring Bernard was taken in 1940 by a passing professional photographer and I am indebted to the Gascoigne family for permission to use it on the village website.


The girl in the picture is Betty Hunter, evacuated from London with many other children to escape the wartime bombing. She lived in a small cottage situated on what is now the forecourt to the garage of Spencer House in Little Street. I was at Sulgrave school with her younger brother Donald in 1943 and I regained contact with him two years ago through the village website. He and Betty returned to London before the end of the war in 1945. Donald has good memories of Sulgrave – some of the happiest years of his life, he says – but the somewhat rose-tinted stories of happy London children living comfortably and safely in the countryside are not entirely accurate, as can be seen from this extract from the Sulgrave School Log for 1942:


(Surname removed)

Clearly nothing came of the meeting at the Village Stocks and by the late 1940s, Bernard and Muriel were happily established in their little cottage. Bernard worked with his father at the forge as shown in the picture below.


Sadly, Bernard died in the early 1950s. He was only about 35 years old and his loss was keenly felt in our then close-knit rural community. I distinctly remember the oft-repeated phrase, a heartfelt “he was such a lovely man”.

Later on, Muriel married again and moved to the United States with her husband and Pamela. In 2008, completely “out of the blue”, I received this email from Pamela:

I have just spent some very emotional minutes looking at the old photos on the website. The cottage at the bottom of the hill on Helmdon Road is of special significance, as I was born there to Bernard and Muriel Gascoigne in 1949. I am sure it is the same cottage…….I cannot tell you how much I enjoy the website. Sulgrave will always be home, in spite of the fact that I have lived in the US for over 50 years. Thank you for this opportunity……”

The cottage is now long gone but at this Christmas time it’s sobering to reflect that an innocent young family once lived in that little house at the bottom of the hill, with ample wood supplies in the nearby fields and fresh water from the stream, happily unaware of the tragedy that would soon befall them.

Just out of sight around the corner at the top of the hill in the first picture stood a prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War, but that’s a story for another time…..

Colin Wootton



3 Responses to “Sulgrave Village Advent Calendar Windows 2016 – No. 12 – Coomb Cottage, Helmdon Road”

  1. Lindsay says:

    lovely story, I remember Dennis and Joan Gascoine and their somewhat large brood, who lived in the farm which was at the top of my garden (St Hilary) but I can’t remember the name of the farm now….. oh, Bentleys Farm…?

  2. Ingram Lloyd says:

    More doggies almost than people but all having a great evening if Shrimp’s expression is anything to go by! The parcels look very tempting to shake and even possibly a sneaky peak … ?

  3. Pamela Miller says:

    I so enjoyed reading this story about the cottage and Bernard and Muriel. They were my parents. Actually, Bernard was only 27 when he died in November 1953. I was four. I will be returning to England and Sulgrave next week.

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