ASHBY DE LA ZOUCH
913/1/1 LOWER CHURCH STREET
08-MAY-50 PARISH CHURCH OF ST HELEN
Parish church with C14 core enlarged from 1474, and restored and further enlarged 1878-80 by J.P. St Aubyn.
MATERIALS: Coursed sandstone, with C19 tooled masonry, tile and lead roofs.
PLAN: Nave with double aisles, west tower, lower chancel, with north chapel and south transeptal chapel. With its double aisles the church is wider than it is long.
EXTERIOR: The 4-stage Perpendicular tower has diagonal buttresses with gabled offsets, embattled parapet and corner pinnacles added in 1886. The 4-centred west doorway has carved spandrels, and moulded surround with shields and hood mould. The 4-light transomed west window has a steeply pointed arch. The second stage has cusped windows and in the third stage is a large sundial with iron gnomon and painted but faded numerals, and north clock face. The upper stage has only single-light bell openings, with louvres. The nave has 2-light square-headed clerestorey windows, although they are not visible externally. C19 outer aisles have diagonal buttresses, blind tracery to embattled parapets and 3-light and 4-light Perpendicular windows. In the westernmost bay of each aisle is a doorway with crocketed ogee hood mould. The chancel has diagonal buttresses, coped gable with pinnacles, and Perpendicular 5-light east and 3-light south windows with intersecting tracery. The south chapel, with embattled parapet, has a 5-light east and 3-light south window. The north chapel (now vestry and organ chamber) has an embattled parapet similar to the aisles. Its near full-height 5-light cambered east window is transomed, and is blocked in the lower part of the upper main lights.
INTERIOR: The nave, chancel arch and arch to south chapel have octagonal piers and polygonal responds of C14 type, but embellished with panelled tracery and brattished capitals that suggest late C15 remodelling. The tower arch has similar capitals, and beneath the tower is a star vault. The shallow 6-bay tie-beam nave roof has moulded timbers and is on shield corbels, and incorporates three large foliage bosses. Lean-to roofs of the inner aisles have moulded timbers, but only the south is medieval. The north has brackets, one dated 1626. The south aisle retains an ogee-headed piscina. Outer aisles have 4-bay arcades with octagonal piers. The chancel has a C19 5-bay arched-brace roof on angel corbels. In the south wall are trefoil-headed sedilia and ogee-headed piscina. The south chapel retains the cambered tie beams of its medieval roof, but the remainder of the timber was replaced in 1963-64. Outer aisles have plastered walls and continuous sill band. The remaining walls have been stripped of plaster. Floors are 1970s stone paving, with wood floors below pews.
PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The Baroque wooden reredos is dated 1679 but was restored in 1880. It has Ionic pilasters and broken segmental pediment with achievement framing a central panel with swags. The alabaster font and pulpit form a pair of 1880, by Thomas Earp. The pulpit is round with blind arcading on marble shafts. The font has an octagonal bowl with quatrefoils framing various symbols including IHS, crown and six-pointed star, on a stem with detached marble shafts. A second Perpendicular style font has a panelled stem and octagonal bowl with pointed quatrefoils. Nave benches have notional arm rests. Choir stalls are similar but richer and have blind-tracery frontals. A wrought iron screen across the south chapel arch is in Baroque style, moved from the chancel. In the nave west wall is a carved and painted Carolean Royal Arms. There are numerous monuments, the earliest of which is a C15 effigy of a pilgrim in a cusped recess in the north chapel. Most monuments are to members of the Hastings/Huntingdon family, together with 7 family hatchments. An alabaster chest tomb in the south chapel is to Francis, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon (d 1561) and his wife. Two alabaster effigies are on a tomb chest with shields and weepers. The monument was `restored' in 1698 by the 6th Earl when it was placed against the wall beneath a mural monument with armorial bearings. It was moved back to the centre of the chapel after 1837. A standing wall monument to the 9th Earl of Huntingdon (d 1746) was designed by William Kent and carved by Joseph Pickford. It has a demi-figure of his widow, Selina Countess of Huntingdon, by Michael Rysbrack. An incised alabaster grave slab with incised effigies in the nave west wall is to Robert Mundy (d 1526) and 2 wives. In the south aisle is a 1914-18 war memorial reredos incorporating a figure of Mary in a niche. The earliest glass is the German, Swiss and Flemish roundels that are said to have been brought from Farleigh Hungerford (Somerset). A series of windows by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake provides consistency to the late C19 glass. Of historical interest is a rare wooden finger pillory, in which offenders could be detained in full public view, but considered less degrading than the stocks.
HISTORY: A large town church in an important location close to the castle. The core of nave and chancel is C14 but the church was enlarged from 1474 at the expense of William, Lord Hastings, creating an ambitious late medieval town church comprising an aisled nave with tower, and chancel with chapels. The roof of the inner north aisle is dated 1626. Further enlargement was undertaken 1878-80 by J.P. St Aubyn (1815-95), architect of London who was responsible for numerous church restorations. The contractor was G.H. Lilley, the cost of work £16,000. St Aubyn added the outer nave aisles, and the north chapel was converted to a vestry and organ chamber. The nave roof was repaired in 1912 by A.R. Powys, working with SPAB.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: In the churchyard is a war memorial (LBS no 187626), and entrance gate piers of rusticated masonry, with later gates (LBS no 187625).
Brandwood, G., Bringing them to their Knees: Church Building and Restoration in Leicestershire and Rutland 1800-1914 (2002), 73.
Pevsner, N (revised E. Williamson)., The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland (1984), 79-80.
Scott, W., `The Parish Church', in The Story of Ashby de la Zouch (1907).
St Helen's Church Guide, n.d.
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Helen, Ashby de la Zouch, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* It is an ambitious Perpendicular town church and local landmark adjacent to Ashby Castle.
* It retains significant medieval fabric in the tower, arcades and roofs.
* Fixtures include an especially notable reredos of 1691 and a C17 ironwork screen.
* The church retains an outstanding collection of funeral monuments from the C15-C18, including an alabaster chest tomb of c.1561 and a wall monument by Kent with sculpture by Rysbrack of c.1746.
* Victorian restoration was in sympathy with the earlier work, and was accompanied by installation of fittings of high quality.
This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Register. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 30 October 2017.