English Churches - South Yorkshire
Set on top of a hill and a well known local landmark
Church of St Helen with its distinctive square tower can be seen for
miles and is a well known local landmark, particularly for drivers
leaving the M1 and dropping down Sheffield Parkway into Sheffield.
Set on top of a hill, there has been a church here since Saxon times and it is one of the few churches in South Yorkshire recorded in Domesday Book. Nothing remains of the Saxon church and the present building dates from the late C12th. It has been extended, altered and restored over the years, leading to what Nikolas Pevsner describes as “a confusing building”.
The church, apart from the top of the tower, is built from the local Rotherham Red Sandstone, which really does look red on a sunny day. The string course and window lintels are limestone. The top of the tower is magnesium limestone and thought to have come from quarries from Roche Abbey and contrasts markedly from the rest of the church.
The earliest part of the church is the nave and north aisle which were built in 1175, possibly on the earlier Saxon church. The chancel was built in the C13th along with the bottom of the tower. This was originally offset at the south west corner of the church. It only became incorporated into the church building when the south aisle was completed in the C14th.
In the C15, the nave was extended at the west end to line up with the tower. The difference in architecture and stone work is clearly visible from the outside. The C13th stones are smaller and more irregular in shape, needing a lot of mortar.
A south porch was built and the nave roof was raised with a clerestory added. This has a castellated parapet, characteristic of the C15th rather than the plain top with large finials of the C14th.
The Brampton Chapel, at the east end of the south aisle dates from the C16th.
There was the usual restoration of the church in Victorian times. The small child’s coffin now built into the west wall of the porch was found during work on the south wall in 1892, and was part of the original foundations of the wall. There was no lid and it was filled with dirt. It had been a common pagan tradition that a new born child should be buried alive in the foundations of a new building. It is thought this tradition may have survived here, but with an empty coffin. The other suggestion is that it was an old coffin that was recycled for use as building stone.
The exterior stonework was showing signs of erosion and in need of replacing. Rather than replace with new stone, in places a repair known as “Honest Repair” advocated by William Morris was used. He believed old buildings should survive as long as possible with the least alteration. Rather than replacing blocks of masonry, this involved a less drastic repair, using thin layers of stone to fill the eroded stone. The technique is no longer common although examples of it can be seen on the south wall.
The plaster was scrapped off the inside of the church, leaving bare stone walls. Tiny traces of wall paintings survive on the north chancel arch and above the lintel of the window in the south aisle. The woodwork and stained glass windows date from then and a vestry was added at the end of the north aisle. A new vestry was added to the side of the north aisle in 1973, and now serves as a small coffee lounge area.
Inside, it is an attractive church with a square nave with a green man carved on one of the beams. The north arcade still has the C12th round arches and study octagonal pillars.
The south arcade is late C13th with tall pointed arches with what are described as quatrefoil pillars which have a narrow band of carved acanthus leaves at the top.
The simple stone font is in line with the doorway into the church. Wood from the earlier pews has been used to panel the base of the walls. Set in a recess in the back south west corner is a C13th effigy, one of the oldest in South Yorkshire.
The effigy is very eroded and any shield has been lost. It has been suggested it might be Sir Christopher Talbot, second son of the Earl of Shrewsbury. He was Lord of the Manor of Treeton and lived at Sheffield Castle. One of the C16th pew ends in the south aisle has a carving of the Talbot hounds.
On either side are small squints.
The splendid carved marble pulpit was donated by an owner of nearby Orgreave Colliery in the C19th. Behind is a C13th coffin lid which was placed here during the C19th restorations.
The table altar has pre-Raphaelite style angels painted on the front. (Behind is a modern radiator.) The small reredos on the east wall has the symbols of the four evangelists.
The Brampton Chapel is reached through another carved wooden screen. The pews have been removed and it is now used as a meeting or exhibition area.
The painted altar with triptych above are C19th.
On the south wall is what is described as a Pieta triptych., with the Virgin Mary holding the body of the crucified Christ.
In the passageway leading to the small coffee lounge are two lead sheets, complete with plumbers marks, that were salvaged after the rest of the lead had been stolen from the church roof.
This is very attractive church, set in the centre of the village and much loved by its congregation. It is open for coffee on Thursday mornings. It is usually open as part of the Heritage Open Doors. The main entrance is off Front street although there is a small entrance off Church Lane. The post code is S60 5QP and the grid reference SK432 877.
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