Parish Church of St. Helen

Pages 20-22

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1981.

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Parish Church of St. Helen

(8) Parish Church of St. Helen (Plates 2, 13, 17; Fig. 20), facing St. Helen's Square, has walls of magnesian limestone and roofs covered with slate. That there was a church here in the 12th century is indicated by the surviving font of that date, and the S. wall of the nave, pierced by a later arcade, may be of 12th-century origin. The original church may have been lengthened when aisles were added, flanking nave and chancel; the survival of two 13th-century capitals, reused, suggests that a N. aisle was added in the 13th century; a S. aisle was built in the 14th century, when the existing S. arcade was built, but a weathering over the arcade shows that the aisle was then smaller than the present one. The aisles were widened to their present width in the 15th century, and the W. end of the nave was rebuilt with a bell-tower in the second half of the 15th century.

In 1548 the church was declared redundant, arrangements were made for its sale (YCR, v, 28, 72), and in 1551 the fabric was partly demolished, but in 1553–4 an Act was obtained authorising the rebuilding of the church. The present N. arcade and most of the N. aisle are probably of this date. Repairs and restoration were carried out in 1805 and 1814 when the previous steeple was replaced by a light belfry and lantern, but by 1857 the fabric was in a dilapidated state and extensive rebuilding was undertaken, under the direction of W. H. Dykes, architect. The N. and S. walls were entirely rebuilt, retaining the form of the 16th-century windows on the N. side but not on the S., new roofs were constructed, and the chancel was extended to the E., with a new vestry on its S. side. Further renovation was carried out in 1875–6, when the W. end and its lantern were rebuilt by William Atkinson.

Architectural Description. Excluding the additions of 1857 and later, the church has a simple rectangular plan, with the S.W. corner splayed off. The Chancel and Nave are without structural division. The 16th-century N. arcade is of four bays, the E. bay being wider than the others; the arches are two-centred, of two chamfered orders, partly plastered and with labels, carried by octagonal piers and responds. The E. pier has a 15th-century base reused as the capital and stands on an inverted 13th-century capital. The other piers have no capitals and fit awkwardly under the arches. Stops to the labels are of 1857, except for two flanking the E. arch (Plate 30), probably of the early 16th century, one showing seated figures of God the Father and Christ receiving a soul, the other St. Michael and angels. The S. arcade repeats the spacing of the N. but the arches are lower. They are each of two chamfered orders, the inner order dying into the octagonal pier below, the outer order carried on moulded corbels. Over the arches on the S. side is a simple weathering indicating the roof-line for an aisle lower and narrower than the present one. The W. wall is of 1875–6 but reproduces the form of 1814 when the lantern was built; externally a large two-centred arch spans between deep two-stage buttresses and internally an arch spans between the N. and S. walls to carry the octagonal belfry and lantern. The octagon has buttresses at each corner, transomed windows with trefoil-headed lights, and pierced parapet. The W. doorway was remodelled in 1875.

The North Aisle, mostly rebuilt in 1553 and again in 1857, has an E. window of three lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head; this window is of 1856 but was said to reproduce the form of the previous window of c. 1300. The N. wall is masked by adjacent buildings. It has two buttresses of 1857 and three windows of 16th-century form, each of three cinquefoil ogee-headed lights under a flat head with a label, and a doorway with chamfered two-centred head. The W. window, of 1875, reproduces a 14th-century form with three lights and geometric tracery in a two-centred head. The South Aisle has, in the E. wall, a window similar to that in the E. wall of the N. aisle, and a doorway of 1857 to the vestry. The S. wall is all of 1857. The W. end, in two planes, has windows similar to that in the W. end of the N. aisle.

Fig. 20. (8) Church of St. Helen.

Fittings—Bells: two listed by Benson, uninscribed, one dated 1628, attributed to William Oldfield (AASRP, xxvii Pt. 2 (1904), 633). Benefactors' Tables: in N. aisle, two, 18th-century, one repainted 1832. Brass: in S. aisle, to Barbara and Elizabeth Davyes, 1667–1765 and 1669–1767 respectively, inscribed rectangular plate. Coffin Lids: in S. aisle, (1) small plain coffin lid, mediaeval; in Yorkshire Museum, (2) part of slab, formerly reused for walling, with marginal inscription to Annais de Grantham, 14th-century. Communion Table: in chancel, with turned legs and moulded framing, early 17th-century repaired 1858. Font (Plate 38): in S. aisle, circular bowl curved in below, with band of palmette ornament above arcade of semicircular arches, late 12th-century; upper base with roll mouldings forming a quatrefoil on plan, 13th-century, lower base consisting of inverted moulded capital, late 13th-century.

Glass: described in rows across from left to right, from top to bottom. In nave, W. window, wl, borders consist of gold crowns, leopards, fleurs-de-lys or flowers alternating with blue sections; under tall crocketed canopies (3a–3d) of the mid 14th century are set, in upper row, (2a) St. William(?), mostly modern; (2b) the Virgin as Queen of Heaven, with triple crown; (2c) St. Helen, with inscription 'elena'; (2d) king in fur tippet and long robe patterned with wyverns between raguly latticework with crowns over intersections, carrying cross-staff in left hand and two rods(?) in right; possibly St. Edwin or perhaps the Emperor Constantine holding two nails given to him by St. Helen; in lower row, (1a) in niche, nimbed figure with book; (1b) Coronation of the Virgin; (1c) kneeling donor figures; (1d) in niche, nimbed figure; (2a–2d), (1b) and (1c) late 15th-century, (1a) and (1d) mostly mid 14th-century; removed to present position from E. window of original choir in 1857–8.

In N. aisle, W. window, nVII, in middle light, figure of a Bluecoat Boy, only the plated head and hands completely genuine, 16th-century(?).

In S. aisle, E. window, sII, in top quatrefoil (1A), arms of Goldsmiths' Company, mentioned by Drake in 1736. Top row, heraldic shields, (3a) quarterly Percy and Lucy, 15th-century; (3b) Fitzhugh(?), modern copy; (3c) Beauchamp, 15th-century. Middle row, (2a) fleur-de-lys in roundel; (2b) made-up shield-of-arms, 17th or 18th-century; (2c) roundel with a lion or, set backwards, 18th-century. Bottom row, (1a) figure of a saint, resting head in hand, probably St. John, 15th-century(?); (1b) made-up panel; (1c) square panel, composed of fragments. Window rearranged since 1957.

S. wall, 1st window, sIII, contains inserted 15th and 16th-century medallions, said to be Dutch. Top row, (3a) quatrefoil surround to square panel, with scene of mouse with small bucket or thimble on its tail; (3b) in oval roundel, David playing harp to Saul on open portico reached by steps, with old man and young man in foreground; (3c) surround as (3a), rectangular panel with tulip. Middle row, (2a) roundel with St. John the Baptist pointing to Lamb of God before Flemish architectural landscape; (2b) roundel with meeting or parting of young man and old turbaned man with background of classical buildings, figures, camels, horse and dog; (2c) roundel, Triumph of Chastity, who rides sidesaddle on a unicorn holding pillar and shield, trampling Venus and a bound and blindfold Cupid, against landscape background with shrine of the Virgin(?) on left and town on right. Bottom row, (1a) roundel, man in 16th-century armour holds box, with lion sheltering under his cloak; (1b) roundel, sainted bishop holding open book in landscape; (1c) roundel, St. John the Baptist pointing to Lamb of God in landscape.

W. window, sVII. At top of central light (3b), figure of pilgrim, made up of old fragments. There are three panels in row at bottom, (1a) rectangle, the Nativity, 15th or early 16th-century; (1b) roundel, arms of Glaziers' Company, 17th-century, perhaps by Henry Gyles, moved from N. aisle, E. window; (1c) panel, St. Francis receiving stigmata, composite scene using two versions of same subject.

Inscriptions and Scratchings: on S. arcade, 2nd and 3rd arches, two masons' marks, 14th-century. Monuments and Floor-slabs. Monuments: in N. aisle, (1) Theophilus Davye Garencieres, Lord Mayor 1796, 1803, Prudence Elizabeth his wife, 1801, John Wade, 1787, and Theophilus, 1797, their sons, marble tablet with enriched apron below, sarcophagus above, signed Taylor; (2) John Stow [silk mercer], 1775, Catherine Ellen his wife, 1775, John and William, their sons, tablet under reeded cornice surmounted by urn on pedestal with shield-of-arms. In S. aisle, (3) Elizabeth, widow of William Summers, 1778, Susanna Fraser her daughter, 1812, Daniel Fraser, 1832, oval stone tablet against shaped backing; (4) Mrs. Catherine Warburton, 1817, black and white marble sarcophagus; on S. wall, (5) John Seymour, 1841, Isabella, 1832, and Frances, 1830, his daughters, Mary his widow, 1843, tablet with cornice and pedimental head, signed Skelton, York; (6) Ann, wife of the Rev. John Acaster, 1834, marble tablet with simple cornice, signed Flintoft, York; (7) Christopher Myers, coachmaker, 1832, Ann his widow, 1858, tapered marble tablet with moulded base and pedimental head; (8) Thomas Hartley of Heslington, magistrate, 1808, marble tablet with draped urn, by Taylor, second tablet to Jane his widow, 1833, added at base; (9) James Atkinson [surgeon], 1839, Ann his widow, 1840, wall-monument in Gothic style with side buttresses and pinnacles flanking crocketed ogee arch springing from triple shafts with carved capitals; inscription tablet surrounded by diaper pattern, shield-of-arms in arch, signed T. Hayes, Beverley. In vestry, (10) Thomas Payler, 1795, Mary his wife, 1759, Mary his second wife, 1807, Major Payler his son, 1809, tablet with shield-of-arms with cornice surmounted by draped urn modelled with cherubs' heads, artificial stone, signed Coade and Sealy, London; (11) Joseph Buckle, 1760, slate tablet between freestone pilasters carved with floral drops and broken pediment enclosing bust. Floor-slabs: in N. aisle, (1) John Bowes, 1754; (2) Thomas Moseley, 17..; (3) William Brooke, 1789, Rachel his wife, 18 ... In S. aisle, (4) ... Conyars, canon of York, 1686; (5) Elizabeth (Stanhope), wife of Richard Acklam, 1722/3, with shield-of-arms of Acklam impaling Stanhope, with shield-of-pretence of Stanhope; (6) Judith Teasdale, 1799, Henry her husband, 1806; (7) ..., wife of Thomas Tomlinson, 1784. Piscina: in S. aisle, with two-centred chamfered head, no bowl, mediaeval, reset. Plate: cup by Stanley Casson, York 1634–5; flagon by Seth Lofthouse, London 1703–4, with added spout; two patens, London 1722; brass alms-dish with figures of Adam and Eve, probably Augsburg work of the 16th century (Fallow and McCall, 1, 12). Royal Arms: in N. aisle, of George III dated 1802, painted on framed panel (Plate 32). Tiles and Paving: in chancel, black and white marble slabs, probably 18th-century, reused. Miscellaneous: in S. aisle, gargoyle, probably 15th-century, reset.

Burial Ground, see Monument (20).