St Helen’s Church

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Close to Ashby de la Zouch Castle, this was built as part of a spending spree by William, Lord Hastings in the late 15thC. The church was restored in the late 19thC when the old pews were replaced and side galleries removed. The font and pulpit were replaced. The grave stones in the churchyard were lain flat at the same time, although a few large tombs survived untouched.

It is an attractive building of reddish sandstone and limestone which glows in the rays of the setting sun. The gateway from South Street has a skull and crossbones on each side; a warning that there are plague pits near by. There was a major outbreak of plague in 1645 when dozens died.

The church has a massive square tower with battlements and pinnacles. On the south wall is a painted sundial which is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the UK. At the west end of the tower is a square doorway surrounded by small carved shields, including one with three frogs and small carved heads of a king and queen.

The nave and side aisles are buttressed and battlemented and have large Decorated style windows. The north and south doors are set under carved ogee arches with the head of a king and a bishop at the base.

Entry to the church is through the north door. On a Saturday morning, there was a children’s singing club taking place.

It is a big church with four rows of pillars with pointed arches above. It has an oak Tudor roof. At the back of the church is a Royal coat of arms from Charles II. Walls are lined with memorials. There is a splendid memorial to Revd Robert Behoe Radcliffe who “… was descended from an ancient family, possessed a singular nobleness of mind and sweetness of disposition …  proving God was with him by the patience by which he endured the extreme sufferings of body which brought him to an early grave”.

Also on the back wall partially hidden by a screen covered with church information, is a splendid alabaster slab with the images of Robert Mundi and his two wives. He left property in the town to pay for a requiem to be said for him in perpetuity. We wondered if this still happens.

Above the south door is a painted carving of the bust of Mrs Margery Wright complete with white ruff and wrist bands. She died in 1623 and left “£43 to provide yearly, for ever, gowns to certain aged and poor people”.

In the south wall is the massive wall tomb of Edward Mammatt below a window dedicated to his wife. He lost his eyesight in an accident when he was six. He became the church organist at the age of 13 and held the position for 40 years. He also composed music.

Standing at the back of the church is the 19thC font of white alabaster with darker marble legs. There is another older font tucked away at the back of the church. The pulpit is the same age and design. Unfortunately I forgot to look for the finger pillory to the right of the font. This is two pieces of horizontal wooden blocks, hinged at one end and used to punish those who misbehaved in church or didn’t pay attention to the sermon. It pinched and held the fingers of an offender so he couldn't get away, and was forced to stand by the wall until set free. There is only one other known example of a finger pillory in England, in a manor house in Wiltshire where it was used to discipline servants.

The Lady Chapel at the end of the south aisle has a rather nice wood retable with a figure of the Virgin and Child in the centre.

At the end of the north aisle is the Chapel of St Michael and All Angels which is primarily used as a memorial to servicemen and women from the Second World War. A list of those who died is hung on the wall. Flags of the British Legion and the RAF Association are displayed on the walls. Set in the north wall under an arch is a small wall tomb with a 15thC recumbent figure known as ‘the Pilgrim’. It is thought to be Thomas, third brother of William Lord Hastings.

A splendid wrought iron screen separates chancel and nave. Winged angels holding shields support the roof beams. The dark wood reredos behind the high altar was carved by a local craftsman in 1670. On the floor of the chancel is a beautiful brass memorial to Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who lived a "life of exemplary usefulness”.

On the north wall, a carved wooden screen separates chancel and vestry with the priest’s room above.

On the south side is the Hasting’s Chapel, the burial vault of the Huntingdon family. This contains the magnificent table tomb of Francis, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon who died 1561 and his wife Katherine. Round the base are carved shields with their sons and daughters, all named.

On the wall is another memorial stone with a painted shield held by a lion and a wyvern. Above is a crest set in a semicircle with foliage and above an urn with inscription and coronet.

Hanging on the wall is a large hatchment with a painted shield held by two horses and the motto TRUST WINNETH TROTH.

This is a nice church with is well looked after and used by the local community. It is open 9-5. Parking is in the pay and display car park a few minutes walk away. On a Saturday morning this was busy with shoppers and we had to wait for a space.

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