St Helena


The church at Thoroton is dedicated to the mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine. She is reputed to have discovered the true cross when she visited the Holy Land in AD326. Now called St Helena, pre-Reformation wills held in York indicate that the church was earlier dedicated to the saint in the form “St Helen”.

Domesday Book’s Norman French calls Thoroton ‘Torrertune’, and states that it was one of five Nottinghamshire churches that had a priest, but were not in possession of a church building. The Association of Architectural Societies wrote in 1896 that there was evidence of an older church, but omitted to indicate what the evidence was, and to what period it might belong. Certainly in 1093 William II Rufus gave the church to the See of Lincoln, so it is possible that a building was erected between Domesday and this date.

The earliest feature in the present building is the transitional round-headed north aisle arcade, which is late twelfth or early thirteenth century, so it must remain conjecture as to whether there was a building prior to this date.

The arched arcades are
visible in a view of the
interior of the church

With the pointed arches of the south aisle arcade dating from 1200 to 1250, there must have been either some rebuilding taking place, or the building of the church was spread over a longer time span. Certainly by the reign of Edward II it warranted two chaplains to celebrate, as a licence of 1325 confirms.

Very little can be ascertained of the church’s history throughout the medieval period. From 1171 to nearly the end of the eighteenth century, its annual Pentecostal offering to Southwell was 10 pence. This was 4 pence less than Screveton, and below average in amount compared to other places in the Bingham Deanery.

The first register dates from 1583. This consists of 64 parchment leaves with a stiff parchment cover, and has baptisms from 1583 to 1773, marriages from 1587 to 1751, and burials from 1587 to 1774. A second volume of five parchment leaves bound in brown calf contains baptisms and burials from 1774 to 1812, and a third volume, of paper bound in parchment, contains marriages from 1758 to 1810. The subsequent volumes all conform with the Acts of 1812 and 1836.

After a quiet medieval period in the church’s history, there seems to have followed a further quiet period during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the turbulence of the Reformation and the Civil War passing the church by.

In 1650 the Parliamentary Commissioners reported that the Impropriation of Thoroton possessed by the Earl of Kingston was worth £60 per annum, and issued forth to Lincoln Cathedral £10 17s 4d per annum. The Vicar of Orston preached once a fortnight, and had for his salary the small tithes which were worth 40 shillings per annum.

It would seem that Thoroton’s history was quiet, and St Helena’s was quiet as well, with the church quietly falling into disrepair, as in 1715 the chancel was in need of rebuilding, but nothing was done.

By 1743 the parish of St Helena was, for ecclesiastical purposes, a chapelry of Orston. As such it was served by the curate who deputized for the vicar of Orston, who was now an absentee, and in 1776 the church was transferred from the Hundred of Thurgarton to that of Newark.

With the Enclosure Acts of the late eighteenth century, nearly 2,157 acres were enclosed in Thoroton and Orston. This was in 1798, although there had been unofficial enclosure taking place for five to ten years before that. As a result of the enclosure, a sum of £195 31d was allotted to the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln in lieu of the great tithes which were lost, and a sum of £19 1s 5d was allotted to the Vicar of Orston for the loss of the small tithes.

In 1799 one Thomas Abbott bequeathed a sum of £25 for the use of the poor. Unfortunately a prolonged law suit meant the loss of a third of this sum.

With the nineteenth century, White’s Directory of 1844 showed Thoroton to be a parish of 730 acres with an annual value returned at £920. The population was fairly stable, being 145 in 1821, 143 in 1831, 152 in 1841, and 177 in 1851. In the religious census of 1851, the curate conducted a single service, on the evening of census Sunday, when he recorded that 50 parishioners were present.

Sir Stephen Glynne visited the church on 12 April 1866, when he wrote the following description:

A small church consisting of nave, with south aisle Chancel and western tower with elegant stone spire. The nave had once a north aisle also, destroyed at an early period, and a clerestory on both sides, also a South porch.

The aisle is very narrow and ... the Chancel is tiled. Between the nave and aisle is an arcade of 3 pointed arches, on octagonal columns. The Chancel arch is somewhat elliptical in form, springing from imposts. The northern arcade now built into the wall is Norman and has three wide round arches on circular columns. The Clerestory windows are Perpendicular square headed, of 2 lights. The aisle has small Perpendicular windows, of 3 lights. In the north wall a lancet window, and one square headed later one of single light - with perhaps moved from the original wall.

The western niche

The chancel windows are bad and modern, none on the north side. The east gable of the Chancel is patched with brick, The steeple is a beautiful composition of excellent masonry, and far superior to the rest of the Church. The tower seems to be earlier in the lower part, which is rough masonry and there is an octagonal stair turret at the SE not reaching the whole way. The buttresses are set at right angles. There are single light windows on the N and S to the second story. On the west side near the door slot window, but a very fine canopied niche, of ogee form with feathering and finial and flanked by crocketed finials and surrounded by a crocketed lofty canopy ... it is a high pedestal but the image is gone. On each side of it is a statue with 2 angels, under triangular canopies. The belfry windows are excellent, of 2 lights with fine decorated tracery and hoods. The spire is octagonal, not ribbed. The steeple is of excellent decorated work.

27 April 1868 is a dramatic date in the church’s history, being the day when it was struck by lightning. Again, the Association of Architectural Societies, writing in 1882, said the tower and spire were ‘much injured’.

This disaster prompted a major restoration to be set in motion under John Hakewill of London. The faculty, dated 23 April 1869, requested permission, since the church and chancel were ‘out of repair’ and in need of ‘immediate restoration’, to ‘take down the whole of the said chancel and rebuild the same together with a new vestry and organ chamber on the north side. To take off the roof from the nave and re-roof the same, to take down so much of the clerestory walls as will be necessary to reduce the same to the required pitch for the new roof, to take down the porch and rebuild the same, to take down the north wall of the said church and build a new north aisle setting it out to the extent shown upon the plans, to remove the seats and take up the floors and re-floor and reseat the whole of the said church, to restore the tower spire, the nave and the south aisle, to remove the font to the position shown upon the plans and restore the same and to make certain other alterations and improvements according to certain plans and specifications.’

The restoration included repairing the tower and spire damage, re-roofing the building throughout, rebuilding of the north aisle, chancel, porch, and the north and south clerestories. The wall of the south aisle and windows were also thoroughly repaired. Four of the painted windows were also presented to the church at this time, and the altar cloth and kneeling cushions were made by the Misses Mellish, sisters of the Vicar.

There is some dispute as to the entire cost of this restoration. Hakewill estimated the cost of the renovations at £728 14s 6d, which was raised by voluntary subscriptions before the faculty application was made. Another estimate put the cost at £850, but White’s Directory of 1885 stated that the restoration cost £975. Kelly’s Directory of 1922 offers a possible reason for this disparity by saying that the church seating dated from the 1869 restoration. It is conceivable that this was not included in the £850 figure.

In the late nineteenth century the rateable value of Thoroton was £1,060 and the population in 1881 was still at 152. A Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1870 and charities for the poor were assessed at £30 per annum. Moving into the twentieth century, Kelly’s Directory of 1922 noted that the population of Thoroton was 100 with a rateable value of £1,200, an increase set against a decline of a third of the population.

Further work in the church took place in 1937 when the vestry was divided from the chancel by a modern oak screen. Chancel furniture, pulpit and lectern were also all put in to commemorate the coronation of George VI.

In November 1984 the church determined to raise £12,000, which it succeeded in doing. The Department of the Environment had refused grant aid on the grounds that the church was considered not sufficiently interesting. The money raised was used to re-point the tower and roof.

Since then money has been raised towards restoring the bells, and the total required has almost been reached in 2007.


1093William II gives church to See of Lincoln

1325Licence for two chaplains

1583First register

1715Chancel in need of rebuilding

1776Church transferred from Hundred of Thurgarton to that of Newark

1798Enclosure of 2,157 acres

1868Church struck by lightning

1869Restoration by John Hakewill

1937Chancel furniture, pulpit and lectern put in commemorating coronation of George VI

1984Tower and roof re-pointed