St Helen and the Holy Cross Church

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Richard III has been in the news over the last year since his remains were found under a car park in Leicester. While the arguments continue about where he is to be reburied, we decided to search out the tomb of his young son who died aged eleven.

Sherriff Hutton was once an important settlement and one of the power bases of the powerful Neville family. It still has the remains of a ruined castle to the south of the village and the humps and bumps of an earlier motte and bailey castle to the east, by the church.

The church is set at the end of a small road at the eastern end of the village. The first church dates from around 1100. In the 13thC, the area came under the control of the Nevilles who enlarged the church by adding a clerestory, side aisles and chantry chapels.

It is a big church, befitting the status of the Nevilles. At the west end is a solid square tower with battlements and small crocketed pinnacles at the corners. The nave has a gable roof with lower side aisles. The chancel has a flat roof with chantry chapels built on either side. The north wall is heavily buttresses as the ground slopes downhill.

Entry is through the small 18thC brick porch on the west wall of the tower. A long wooden ladder leads to the bell chamber. The remains of an earlier arch can be seen on the west wall.

Inside, walls are bare stone having been scraped by the Victorians. Light floods through the plain glass clerestory windows making the nave light. Octagonal pillars with pointed arches separate nave and side aisles.

The round font is at the back of the nave with two very old high back leather chairs. The box pews in the nave are mainly Georgian.

On a pillar facing the south door, is the remains of an Saxon/Norman grave slab.

At the end of the north aisle is a small wooden altar in front of the organ. Behind is the tomb of Edward of Middleton, who died in 1484 aged eleven. On top of the tomb is an alabaster effigy of the boy in a long belted robe and wearing a coronet. The base of the tomb has been damaged and has carvings of angels and very eroded shields. Above the tomb is the banner with the white boar, emblem of Richard III. In the stained glass window is a small light with the Sun in Splendour, the badge of the Plantagenet Kings. On a shelf above the tomb is a basket of white plastic roses and a lit candle. Two white roses have been placed by his praying hands. It is a touching and very moving memorial.

Beyond him is the tomb of Sir Edmund Thweng d 1344 at the battle of Stirling. He is in armour with shield at his side and sword hanging from his belt. His crossed legs rest on a lion and his head on a pillow held by angels.

The carving of the Last Supper on the north wall was part of the Victorian reredos. Now a ruched curtain behind the high altar replaces the reredos. The east window contains 19th stained glass with Christ in the centre with the four evangelists. By the altar is an old strong box.

The chantry chapels on either side of the chancel are now the vestry (left) and Children’s corner (right). This still contains the big family pews but seems to be more of a dumping ground.

On the south wall is a wooden Elizabethan table altar, which would have replaced the more elaborate altars destroyed during the Reformation.

This was once an important church and was used by Richard’s Council of the North. Now it is just a big parish church, a shadow of its former glory. With the renewed interest in Richard III, perhaps this will now be added to the tourist trail?

The church is open 9-5 and there is some parking outside the lych gate.

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