A Brief History.
The village itself has been here since Saxon times at least when Saewulf held the land. After the Conquest, Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux and the half- brother of the Conqueror, held the land – he may have fought at Hastings as he is portrayed swinging a club or mace in the Bayeux tapestry (but clergymen were supposed to be non-combatants). As far as is known, the only thing Odo did relating to Greatworth was to appoint William Peverel to be his under-tenant here. Peverel had 161 other holdings as well, including Nottingham Castle.
Thereafter Greatworth was held by a number of families – there were the de Keynes, the Leuknores, the Nevilles, a Draper and the Lords Windsor. Of the last Lord Windsor, William Pargiter held property and one of the Pargiter ladies, Eleanor, married Charles Howe who built himself a fine mansion where he lived until he died in 1741. The house burnt down on Christmas Eve 1793 and all that remains are the two pineapple gate piers and the garden pond. Charles Howe is chiefly famous for writing a book entitled ‘Devout Meditations’ which was very well thought of in its day. He also had a deer park and a field called ‘The Park’ is still extant today.
But even before the village formed there is evidence of Neolithic or early bronze age activity; and likewise, the Romans were here. There is evidence of at least seven separate Roman settlements.
The church of St. Peter is believed to date back in part to the 13th century. There are six bells in the tower and a number of interesting monuments: the building was restored in 1882 and much of the historical interest was lost. The village is fortunate in having two places of worship – there is also a Methodist Chapel which was built in 1860 although non-conformist worship on the site dates back to at least 1788.
There has never been a railway station in the parish: the nearest one was at Farthinghoe. It opened in 1851. In 1872 the Northampton and Banbury Railway opened a line which became part of the Stratford-on-Avon and Midland Junction Railway in 1910 and the two railways had a junction at Cockley Brake – remains of the signal-box are just about visible even today. Also passing through the parish was the later Great Central Railway which had a station at Helmdon.
Since 1878 the community has been well-served by the village school. Before that date there had been various initiatives such as a Dame School, a private school which lasted for a few years from 1610 and the generosity of Charles Howe who paid for many children to receive lessons. A boarding school for young ladies moved here in 1771 and an Anglican Sunday School commenced in 1824. The chapel also had a thriving Sunday School before the 1850s. Also pre-1878, commencing in 1822, there had been a National (C. of E.) School in the churchyard. This was condemned and closed by the Board of Education in about 1875 which left the village without a school. A group of non-conformists thought something should be done, so they got together, and in accordance with the 1870 Education Act, formed a School Board, borrowed a thousand pounds and got our present school opened in 1878. The Wesleyans also opened the present Sunday Schoolroom at the chapel in that year.
Greatworth used to be well-known for its R.A.F. station. This was a wireless receiving station and the masts and aerials could be seen from miles away. It opened c.1940 and closed in 1986. The buildings are still here as are traces of the masts and their foundations.
Like everywhere else, Greatworth was badly affected by the two World Wars. Nine men from Greatworth and Westhorpe died in World War I and two in the second war. It is worth noting that Westhorpe – that is everywhere on the shop side of Helmdon Road, was in Marston St. Lawrence parish until 1935. Until that date Halse and Stuchbury, which are both the sites of important deserted villages, were not part of Greatworth either – and the medieval part of Westhorpe is now under South Close.
We are fortunate to have a public house (it used to be quite famous for not having a name) and a shop and post office. There is a Sports and Social Club which was partially funded by selling off the village’s Reading Room, and there are a number of organizations which always welcome new members. These organizations come and go: the Brownies, the Beavers and the Women’s Institute are no more and no-one at all remembers the Young Britons or the Band of Hope. But nevertheless there is a lot going on and all the various happenings are supported by the volunteers who produce and distribute our newsletter, ‘The Glimpse of Greatworth’ and by that other band of volunteers who serve on the Parish Council which was formed in 1894 under the first chairmanship of Marmaduke Hey, the signalman at Cockley Junction.