The Village Nurse

During these days when the threat from the pandemic looms over our lives, it is too easy to assume that the National Health Service has been always there to look after us. We forget that when some of the older villagers were born, there was no NHS.  But there was someone who could be turned to when villagers were in poor health: Nurse Hopkins, the local nurse, whose picture is to be found in the church.

It is a fascinating picture, not just because of the personage of Nurse Hopkins but also because of the vehicle she is driving. At the time, it was one of the very few vehicles in the village. It was purchased by Lady Lilford for the use of the local nurse. By all accounts, Nurse Hopkins was very proud of it.

Charlotte Hopkins was born in Shropshire in 1874 and was appointed to the role of local nurse by the Lilford and District Nursing Association in 1916. In addition to Lilford, her patch included Titchmarsh, Pilton, Achurch, Wigsthorpe and Thorpe. She lived in Newton Cottage here in the village and, after her retirement, was often called out to assist Nurse Duffett who replaced her.

In the days before the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, villagers had to pay an annual subscription in order to access the services of a nurse. Funding was a constant problem. One edition of the parish magazine carried the warning: When serious illness suddenly befalls, it is often far from easy to pay the double annual subscription required before the services of the nurse may be obtained. Everyone, therefore, should think a great many times before dropping this subscription as one of their economies in the present times which are, unfortunately so difficult for many.

The accounts of 1917 show total subscription income of £47 of which Titchmarsh villagers paid £26. There was a deficit for the year of £125, the balance of which appears to have been made up fund-raising events and a donation from Lord Lilford. The costs make interesting reading. Nurse Hopkins’s salary was £60 and the cost of running her car, not including petrol, was £16. For comparison, that salary equates to about £4900 today. The average price of a house in the region in 1917 was £195.

When the Association was finally wound up in 1948, such was the respect accorded to Nurse Hopkins that she was awarded £100 from the final balance of £286 even though, by then, she had been retired for 20 years.

She died aged 82 in May 1956.

The lost cottage

The house below stood in the rickyard at Village Farm at the far end of North Street.

Photo courtesy of Daphne Winsor

Cecil Walker was born in 1923 and spent the first 28 years of his life living here.

Cecil remembered the cottage at the Village Farm.  ‘Our cottage stood back in the rickyard.  There used to be two cottages.  They took a half of one down and made the two into one big cottage.  We lived there with my family when we first married.   The rooms were big.  In one bedroom you could put two double beds, one single one and all the furniture.  The day my parents finally left the cottage there was a tremendous thunderstorm.  The lightning struck the chimney and it fell into the room where my father used to sit.’  The cottage was subsequently demolished.

Sylvia and Terry spent some time determining exactly where this house stood, and thanks to their recognition of the wall structure and layout of stones in the wall, were able to confirm exactly where the house stood.    Here is the view today of where the house stood.

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Titchmarsh Beacon

You will have seen the beacon at the top of Drydens Close, but do you know why it’s there?

Had the celebrations of VE gone ahead as normal, one feature would likely to have been a repeat of the lighting of hundreds of beacons on the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

Sylvia and Terry have been looking into the long history of beacon-lighting and composed this summary of their findings.

In 1988 East Northants Council supplied the beacon, so that Titchmarsh, being a high point in the locality,could be one of the locations in a chain of 461 beacons that participated in the ‘Fire over England’ event, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada off the coast of England

Titchmarsh beacon

Back in 1588, following years of hostilities between Spain and England, King Philip II of Spain assembled a flotilla in the hope of removing Protestant Queen Elizabeth I from the throne and restoring the Roman Catholic faith in England.  

Queen Elizabeth, being aware of the invasion plan, instructed Sir Francis Drake to launch a surprise attack on the Armada’s fleet of 130 ships, in Cadiz.  He destroyed several dozen of the Armada’s ships, delaying the launch of the Armada on its journey to take England.   In the meantime Elizabeth’s forces back home  built trenches and earthworks on the most likely invasion beaches; strung a giant metal chain across the Thames estuary and raised an army of militiamen. They also readied an early warning system consisting of dozens of coastal beacons that would light fires to signal the approach of the Spanish fleet.

Away from the coast, other beacons were lit. According to Helen Belgion in her book Titchmarsh Past and Present, the Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, Sir Christopher Hatton of Kirby Hall was commissioned to muster the militia and see to its beacons. An order was made that‘Tychemershe beacon be sett upon Tychemershe church steeple’ and four substantial honest persons were chosen to watch the same. The duty was laid upon William Dudley, Mr Lenton, Gilbert Pickering (II) and John Pickering (II). Whether they contributed towards expenses as ‘esquiers’ (5/-), gentlemen (3/ 4) or other substantial honest yeomen is not recorded. For the muster of militia, all landed proprietors rated at more than £10 had to provide arms ‒ one pike, one bow, one haquebutte; at £5 a bow and a bill. Each parish had to provide harness and weapons ‘as settled by chiefest inhabitants’.

That the church was used is no surprise. The church stands on a ridge over the Nene valley and as its tower can be seen for miles around, it would have been an ideal link in the chain of cross country warning beacons.

Spain’s “Invincible Armada” set sail that May, their mission being to escort an army from Flanders to invade England.    Following many naval skirmishes in the channel, including the Battle of Gravelines at Calais, the Royal Navy’s fleet of some 40 warships led by Sir Francis Drake and Lord Charles Howard defeated the Armada.  The success was thanks to Drake’s fleet being heavily armed with long range naval guns, whereas the Armada’s battle tactics were primarily close-quarters fighting and boarding enemy ships.In disarray, the defeated Armada were driven north by strong winds and storms, they limped back to Spain via Scotland and Ireland. The defeat of the Spanish Armada led to a surge of national pride in England and was one of the most significant chapters of the Anglo-Spanish War.

Kettering Evening Telegraph’s report on July 20th 1988, details the celebrations held in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada.

The lighting of the beacon July 28th 1988

To mark the opening of the celebrations, the first beacon, on the Lizard in Cornwall, was lit by the Spanish Ambassador to the court of St James, triggering the spontaneous lighting of the chain of beacons throughout the UK.  

In Northamptonshire thousands of people turned out at half a dozen sites to celebrate the historic day.

Around 300 people from all parts of East Northants district gathered at Titchmarsh to watch the ceremonial lighting of the beacon.  The task was performed after a few hiccups (when the torch would not catch light) by vice chairman of East Northants Council Philip Chantrell of Raunds.

In Earls Barton the fire brigade, on standby for the event, sprang into action when a box of fireworks accidentally caught light.


In the nine years since the association was formed, we have acquired a rich collection of photographs, many dating back over 100 years. These images have been invaluable in helping us reconstruct a picture of the village’s history for our various presentations. In order to ensure that the collection is as comprehensive and accessible as possible, we are spending time reviewing and collating them into a well ordered archive. We have created the following themed folders so that we will be able to easily locate our photographs: Church / Clubroom / Clubs / Events / Farming / Fetes / May Day / People / Pubs / School / Shops / Streets [by sub division] / and Transport.

At the end of review we will have all of our photographs recorded in at least one of these categories and where possible the originator of the photograph is also noted. Eventually we hope to make these available through the History Association website, but this may take a while – in the meantime if you would like to see any of our collection, please don’t hesitate to get in touch using the contact details below. On the other hand, If you have any photographs to add to our collection we would be delighted to borrow them, copy and collate them, and return them safely to you, do please get in touch.

It is always exciting to see an image of a place or a person that you have heard about but never knew what they looked like. That is why we were especially thrilled to receive a collection sent to us by Robert Piggott from Essex whose ancestors once lived in Polopit. Not only did it include pictures dating from the early part of the twentieth century of the Austin family but also ones of houses in the lane, the existence of which we have only known about from documentary evidence. Unusually also included were photographs of the rear of the cottages that once stood where the three houses 29 – 33 Polopit now stand.

The Butcher, the Baker … and the Turbulent Priest

Our next presentation is at 7:30 pm on Thursday 21st November in the Clubroom and is entitled The Butcher, the Baker … and the Turbulent Priest.

In it we recall a time when the village was buzzing with commercial activity: when bakers from Titchmarsh supplied not only this village but also surrounding communities; when all one’s needs could be met by the variety of shopkeepers and tradesmen here; and when one’s thirst could be quenched in any one of six alehouses.

We also recount the fascinating but sad tale of the Revd. Atherton Powys whose colourful life was blighted by mental illness.

Refreshments and entry are free.

Titchmarsh: A History in Pictures

Over the years, Titchmarsh History Association has accumulated an extensive archive of images of the village and its residents. Some are photographs taken over a hundred years ago and are an evocative record of an era very different from the present.

In our next presentation at 7.30 on Thursday 9th May in the Clubroom we will be using a selection of these images to tell the story behind the changes to the village, highlighting some of the people who have characterised and enriched the village’s past.

Refreshments and entry are free.


Just over a year ago, Clive posted an item on his research into the possible siting of a vault under an area of the chancel which he thought might contain the bodies of members of the Pickering family. He had concluded that there was sufficient written evidence to justify a search for the vault
A major difficulty is that the most likely location of the vault is beneath the plinth on which now stands the church organ, an exceedingly difficult place to access given the size of the plinth, 5.2m x 2.7m but only 10cm high.

                  The probe is inserted

The problems notwithstanding, it presented an unusual – but tantalising – challenge which we thought might be solved using a camera probe. In October, using one such camera and calling on the expertise of its owner Paul Ollett, Clive inserted the probe through one of the existing ventilation holes in the sides of the plinth and revealed … 148 years of dust and debris covering the floor! Sylvia and Terry hastily set up a Heath-Robinson-type rig to effect some cleaning and, as a result, it was possible to make out a small area of lettering, disappointing in its extent but sufficient to warrant further exploration.

      Emergency dust clearing

Undaunted the team is anxious to undertake further searches and remains optimistic about solving this intriguing mystery. So watch this space as we progress further. It may not be on the same scale as Tutankhamun but it is no less fascinating.


The History Association played an active role in the village’s commemorations of this important period in our history.

Apple trees:  Key to our involvement was the planting and dedication of an apple tree grown from a cutting taken from one of the trees given to soldiers returning from what was to be known as the Great War. On 9th November the tree was planted in a key location in the village, on the corner of Park Road and opposite the school, a site prominent enough to remind people of its significance for years to come, potentially even for the next hundred years. The tree was one of forty produced from similar cuttings, the others being distributed elsewhere in the village.

The tree is planted

The commemorative tree was planted by villager Alan Jackson, an ex-soldier who himself was seriously injured in a recent conflict. The choir from the school sang the wartime favourite ‘Blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover’ and the duo Red Velvet reprised a song written by Les Ray from letters written by his uncle Walter Mabbutt, one of the fallen.

The song was also sung at the dedication of the tree by the rector Canon Withington after the Remembrance Day service on 11th November.

The dedication of the tree

Why two events? The planting was brought forward to fit in with the needs of the media, specifically a series of interviews for radio and television whose interest had been piqued by the uniqueness of the project. Terry Higgins and Derek Ellis spoke about their trees, Michael Alderman about the original story as told by his father, and Sylvia Prestwich about the project itself.

There are still a few trees available for sale at £12. If you are interested, please contact Sylvia on

Exhibition: The Association also mounted an exhibition about the apple tree project, putting it in the context of the impact of the war on the village. The stirring stories of some of those who died – as relayed through their letters – were a poignant reminder of their great sacrifice, but the display also focused on the pain suffered by those who were left, the wounded and the bereaved.  Also featured were the many types of support provided by those at home and the inauguration of the village memorial in 1920.

The exhibition was set up in the church in time for a performance of The Armed Man and for the Remembrance Day service. It was then moved to provide a reminder of the reason for the anniversary tea party in the Clubroom.

The anniversary tea party

Titchmarsh churchyard memorial inscriptions

Did you know that there is a booklet prepared by Northamptonshire Family History Society in 2006, which records the inscriptions on the gravestones in our churchyard? We now have a stock of these booklets. If you would like us to check if there is an entry; or if you would like to buy a booklet (cost £5 including postage), then please get in touch.