Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire – St Helen

On Heritage Open Day we headed south to Ashby-de-la-Zouch. I don’t suppose that is a line I have ever written before, although I have a vague memory of going to the Castle when the kids were little. We drove down and found St Helen’s church – SK 361167 – they could have done with talking to the local school to organise some extra parking space for HODs. Very good website which links to their Heritage Project – website. What is rather nice is that the Christmas services are listed along with the heritage talks – stick “traditional” in front of it, and everything is historic. Their publicity is extremely good – nothing photocopied here!

Opposite the church is a Community Heritage Centre, excellent access, loos, decoration (aka information boards), and tea – my only complaint was that there was no cake made by nice church ladies (yes, I’m being sexist).

For the church itself they have a selection of leaflets: ‘Tour of the Church’ leaflet, ‘10 things not to miss’, ‘Tour of the Monuments and Plaques’, and ‘Tours of the Windows’ – this blog could take a long time to write. The church was constructed around 1474, but was widened 1878-80 – it is a church worth looking up, as well as looking at many other things. I liked the clock, even though I know nothing about it. The font is Victorian, carved from a single block of local white alabaster. It was designed by Mr Earp of Lincoln. The memorial is to the Reverend Robert Behoe Radcliffe MA, King’s College, Cambridge, Vicar of this parish for four years, before dying at the age of 36. “He was an earnest and affecting preacher, a faithful expounder of the Word of Truth, and adorned by his life the doctrine which he taught.” It is noted that “His ministry here, though short, was abundantly blessed: and that his name may be remembered when those who heard his voice are sunk to dust, this monument is erected by his parishioners.” Rather ironic that he does not make it into the ‘Tour of Monuments’ leaflet. The current parishioners are noted on a very professional “Who are we?” board.

Less uplifting than a fellow of King’s, is this Finger Pillory. “Little is known about it, except it is made of oak”. A rather niche website suggests it was used for minor offences like not listening to the sermon. Must install one!

The alabaster tomb slab remembers Robert Nundi, a tailor who died on 15 April 1526. He left bequests to a church in Lincoln, to several local religious houses, and for mass to be said regularly at St Helen’s in his memory. Tailoring must have been a prosperous business. Another benefactor is Margery Wright, “being born in this town did (out of her charitable and pious disposition) give in her life time £43 to provide gowns yearly for ever for certain aged and poor people here.” In 1603 it is recorded that she married Gilbert Wright of St Clement Dane in London – probably her second marriage. She died in London in 1623, and gifts were still being made by her trustees in the 1880s.

The Hastings Chapel houses monuments to the Hastings family. It is dominated by the table tomb of Francis, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon and his wife Katherine. He died in 1561, she in 1566 – she was Katherine Pole, a direct descendent of George Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III. They lie surrounded by the effigies of their children. The tomb was made from local alabaster by Richard Parker of Burton on Trent. It is gorgeous.

I had heard of Katherine Pole, and I have also heard of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon. She was born Selina Shirley in 1707, daughter of 2nd Earl Ferrers, she married Theophilus, 9th Earl of Huntingdon. He died in 1746, when she was 49, and she devoted herself to the evangelical and Methodist movement for the rest of her life. She was close to John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, and established a theological college to train evangelical ministers. As the Church of England would not employ these ministers, she set up and funded her own chapels – in my first job, cataloguing the Elias Library of Hymnology at Westminster College, Cambridge, I handled a pile of the hymnbooks for her chapels. The figure is part of a current art project – I believe she is going to Coalville Coop as the art project goes on tour (brilliant idea!). Another part is about St Helen finding the original cross. The pulpit is also by Mr Earp, and there are some lovely altar frontals too – talented people in this place.

The Window Tour leaflet tells the story of Jesus through the glass – from the Annunciation to the Jesus before Pilate (and the comment that they don’t have a Resurrection window!). I didn’t photo all the Victorian glass, enjoy Palm Sunday and Jesus calming the storm. There is some lovely medieval glass, installed in the C19 from various local houses, probably including Ashby Castle.

There is a lot more we could photo – we will be back. I’ve joined their mailing list. And there is a Castle to visit.

We walked up into the town, found a charity bookshop and a café. Need to recharge the batteries. This Heritage is hard work!




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