St Helen’s Church

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Brant Boughton is a small village of beautifully maintained brick or stone houses just north of the A17 near Newark. The tall spire dominates the view as you approach the village and was described by Pevsner as one of the most elegant in Lincolnshire. Once in the village, you lose the church as it is set back off the road and is easily missed.

We parked on the main street and followed a signed public footpath between the houses which brought us to the east end of the church and up steps made of old grave stones. Our hearts sank when we realised the south door was locked. Fortunately we walked round the church and discovered that the North doorway is the one in use and was open. The church car park is on this side of the church.

From the outside it is a superb church and has been described as Gothic architecture at its best and is featured in Simon Jenkin’s “England’s Thousand Best Churches”. The very tall tower is ‘crocked’ with lines of knobbles. It has a battlemented roof with tall pinnacles, also crocked at the corners. There are more crocked roof lines beneath. The clerestory on the nave and side aisles have a carved parapet with more crocked pinnacles. The chancel has a carved frieze and (you’ve guessed it) more crocked pinnacles. In fact everywhere you look it is crocked.

There are gargoyles and carved heads under the window arches and more carved figureheads at the tops of the wall buttresses. There are two small sundials on the south wall.

Entry is through the north porch. There are three carved stone roof bosses with a pelican plucking her breast to feed her young, a rose and a lamb and flag. There are wall arches with foliage and more carved heads.

Inside the eyes are drawn up to the painted angel roof. The church was restored by Bodley in the 19thC and great care was taken to keep as much of the original 15thC woodwork as possible and match the medieval colouring. It wasn’t until I looked at the photographs we took I realised just how much detail there is and how beautiful the roof is. The angels are worthy of the great East Anglian wool churches.

Along the roof are carved angels with golden wings holding a shield. The nave beams have gilded bosses and are painted with black and white chevrons on a red background. This has back stenciled designs and golden stars. The side aisles have a black roof with red beams with a pale flower motifs. Around the walls of the nave and side aisles is a frieze with black script of the Nicene Creed written in latin on a white background.

There are carvings under the roof beams of minstrels, praying angles, figures holding a shield. Below these are animal carvings.

On the south wall are two memorial slabs to Matthew Lister 1786 and also John Harris 1811 , his wife Mary 1793 and their son George who died 1798 aged 16.

Octagonal pillars supporting pointed arches separate nave and side aisles. At the back of a church, a pointed arch with the head of a king and queen leads into the base of the tower. This has panelling around the base of the walls with old tombstones on the floor and a bier. There is a fragment of the bottom half of a 14thC carving representing the Trinity.

The colourful stained glass windows are 19thC and have images of saints, prophets and kings.

Iron chandeliers in the aisles were made by the local blacksmith.

At the back of the church is a carved stone font with an elaborate carved wood steeple top. We didn’t open this but afterwards wished we had as I found pictures on the internet of the inside. The doors are painted sage green with gold decoration. In the centre are three figures. Archangel Michael is killing the dragon (Satan) with St Nicholas and St Agnes.

At the end of the north aisle there is a wooden screen with gilded carving and honor, gloria, laus and potestas painted on the base panels. On the north wall is a reconstruction of the Daubeny Tomb with carved shield on the sides and an old wooden chest. (There is no information about who the Daubenys were or about the tomb.) Linen fold panelling separates it from the vestry beyond. The roof is painted in panels of red and green with a crown motif with H underneath surrounded by a floral decoration. Hanging from the roof is an iron chandelier with candles.

The chancel was demolished in 1812 and completely rebuilt and is typical High Church Bodley. In front of the rood screen is a carved wood floor standing pulpit and a brass eagle lectern.

The beautiful rood screen has carved panel bases with open tracery arches and a carved frieze along the top. Above is a painted crucifix with Mary and a male figure on either side. In the centre are two metal doors with an open four petal design on them.

Steps lead up into the chancel and also to the altar. The carved rood choir stalls have a tracery design and metal candlesticks holding two candles. On the north wall is a massive organ with linen fold carved panels on the front and more carved woodwork around the pipes. There is more linen fold carving on the north wall. The panelling continues round the east wall behind the altar and reredos.

On the south wall is a stone sedilia topped with arches and pinnacles all covered with carving. Beyond is a small piscina.

There is a wooden communion rail. The altar is covered with an embroidery and tapestry cloth. Above is a carved gilded frieze with IHS motifs. Behind is an elaborate painted wood reredos. This has carvings of the four disciples set in niches with an arch above and heraldic shields below. In the centre isa 15thC painted german panel of the Ascension into Heaven. On either side of the reredos are fabric drapes. On either side of the east window are carved stone figures.

There is a beautiful fan vaulted ceiling. This has a pale sage green background with floral motifs in red, gold and a darker green with IHS in the centre. There is an iron chandelier with candles.

This is a delightful church with a beautiful exterior and immaculately restored interior. It is well worth visiting and I am sure will repay a second visit.

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