SK3616 : St Helen's Church from Ashby Castle

taken 6 months ago, near to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, Great Britain

St Helen's Church from Ashby Castle
St Helen's Church from Ashby Castle
Looking from the Great Chamber to the tower of St Helen's church.
Church of St Helen, Ashby-de-la-Zouch

The church is unusual for the principal parish church of a town in being essentially a new build from the late medieval period. There was an earlier church, and although the Historic England Listing suggests that the main arcades are 14th century, embellished in the late 15th century, the church guide treats the church as new build, with a date of c.1475.

It was the work of Lord Hastings who was expanding and improving Ashby Castle at the same time.

The 15th century church comprised nave with aisles and chancel and west tower, with chapels to north and south of the chancel. The southern chapel is the family chapel of the Hastings family.

The church appears to have remained unchanged until 1878-80 when further aisles were added. The result of this is that the remaining 15th century windows are those in the tower and in the chancel and its adjoining chapels. In the latter are good examples of 5-light perpendicular tracery.

The south side of the tower has a large sundial, almost certainly contemporary with the building, which would make it the earliest of its kind in England

The original aisle arcades have distinctive octagonal columns with brattished capitals, but generally the interior structure is quite plain. Even the original nave roof has simple tie beams with no significant embellishment.

Interior fitments of interest (excluding the Hastings chapel, see below) include, in rough chronological order:
- A niche tomb in the north aisle of late 15th century date with the figure of a pilgrim, thought to be Thomas, brother of Lord Hastings.
- An alabaster grave slab to Robert Nundi and his wives dated 1526.
- An unusual wall monument to Margaret Wright (d.1723)
- A fine plaster or wood Royal coat of arms of Charles II's reign.
- A finely carved wooden reredos dated 1676
- A finger pillory of uncertain date but possibly 18th century.
- A Georgian brass chandelier in the nave.
- Ornate Victorian pulpit and font of c.1880 carved from alabaster. The latter replaced a 14th century font which was discarded, but later rescued and restored in 1922 and returned to the church, although not in use.

The Hastings Chapel deserves special mention for the richness and variety of monuments to members of the Hastings family.

The most impressive of these is the alabaster chest tomb of Francis, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon (d.1561) and his wife Katherine (d.1576).
Also of particular note is the memorial to Theophilus 9th Earl of Huntingdon (d 1746), designed by Thomas Kent and including a bust by John Rysbrack of his widow Selina. She is the subject of a commemorative window at the west end of the church with accompanying brass in the chancel dating from the 1880 restoration.
The chapel windows also have a collection of pre-Victorian stained glass, mainly heraldic devices, but including some biblical scenes of Flemish origin. These were collected in the late 19th century by Lord Donington and eventually made up into the windows as we see them in 1924.

The church has an early 20th century organ by Kirkland of London. The original ring of 8 bells was increased to 10 in 2005.

The church is Listed Grade I.

The St Helens Heritage Project has produced a series of excellent leaflets covering various aspects of the church from which much of this information has been drawn.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle

The castle ruins are those of what was effectively a large late medieval manor house, rather than a true castle.

William, Lord Hastings, started his expansion of an earlier manor house by at least 1472-3, if not earlier. He obtained a 'licence to crenellate' (fortify), the result of which was the Hastings tower. His plans for development were incomplete when he fell from power in 1483.

The Hastings family, by now Earls of Huntingdon developed the grounds in the 16th and 17th centuries, but following the defeat of the royalist cause in the Civil War, the Hastings Tower was partially demolished as well as some of the other buildings.

Thereafter the Earls of Huntingdon ceased to use it as their main residence, but parts of the medieval buildings continued as a residence known as Ashby Place.

The estate passed to Francis Rawdon, later Earl of Moira at the end of the 18th century. Interest in the castle was stimulated by the publication of Sir Walter Scott's 'Ivanhoe' in 1819, and Ashby became fashionable, with spa baths.

Various repairs were made to the castle during the 19th century. Ownership was transferred to the state in 1932, then to English Heritage in 1983.

The principal surviving works are the Hastings Tower, the Kitchen Tower and the chapel and the medieval great hall. The chapel is unusually impressive for a domestic development of this period.

The gardens to the south of the buildings are unusually well preserved examples of their period having been developed in the late 16th century. The 2008 report of a major survey can be found here LinkExternal link|Ashby%20de%20la%20Zouch%20Castle,%20Leicestershire:%20A%20Multi-Disciplinary%20Investigation%20of%20the%20Castle%20Garden.

The ruins are Listed Grade I and the whole of the grounds classified as a Scheduled Monument.

For a fuller description of the castle and its history, see the English Heritage pages description LinkExternal link ; - history LinkExternal link

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SK3616, 217 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Thursday, 27 May, 2021   (more nearby)
Thursday, 27 May, 2021
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts  Religious sites 
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Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SK 3607 1675 [10m precision]
WGS84: 52:44.8304N 1:28.0258W
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OSGB36: geotagged! SK 3611 1668
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North-northwest (about 337 degrees)
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Tower  Ruin  English Heritage Property  Church 

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