Burton Joyce
St Helen


Domesday Book records a church and priest at Burton (not as yet Joyce). There is no evidence as to when the first stone church was built, but there are visible remains of earlier building in the local skerry stone in the exterior wall of the north aisle. The north aisle is unusually wide and may represent the extent of the Norman church. In the 13th or early 14th century the building was extended southwards into the present plan, and according to Glynne and Wyatt was in the early English style with some decoration on the capitals of the arcades. The chancel was subsequently rebuilt in the late Perpendicular style.

The expansion of the church coincided with the brief rise to prominence of the Jorz (or Jort) family, Lords of the Manor in the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1307 Robert de Jorz was granted 20 oaks fit for timber of the King’s gift, which may possibly have been used for the church.

In the mediaeval period the church was dedicated to St Oswald. It was changed to St Helen’s sometime before the 18th century.

The living was closely connected with the Priory of Austin Canons at Shelford across the River Trent, and in 1348 the Priory purchased for £20 a crown licence to impropriate the living. The Priory became responsible for the maintenance of the chancel and until the Reformation for the appointment and stipend of a Vicar.

Thoroton, writing in 1677, was not impressed by the church. The main timbers of the North Aisle roof were ‘thin and weak and have no character worth preserving’. The Tower Arch, although ‘of good lofty proportion’ was ‘quite blocked up and the Tower is a receptacle for all kinds of old lumber and rubbish, coal etc. etc’. The Chancel Arch he described as ‘very rough’, and having ‘no good architectural effect’, while the south aisle he described as having been rebuilt in ‘a very clumsy and ugly style’.

Evidence of the gradual decay of the church fabric comes from a number of sources. In 1718 the Churchwardens reported that ‘the Church (is) not repaired in the out walls, roof and pavement. Item it wants beautifying’. Some repairs were carried out as the following year the churchwardens reported a more satisfactory state of affairs.

Unfortunately the building was liable to damage from floods when the River Trent, only 160 yards away, overflowed its banks. In 1725 there was a particularly damaging flood and a brief went out to churches throughout the country for help in raising the £1,021 needed for repairs. A number of churches, including Newark, responded. As a result the south aisle was virtually rebuilt in ‘a very clumsy and ugly style’ (Wyatt) with ‘ugly Italian windows’ (Glynne).

From the seventeenth century the village was changing and nonconformist influence was apparent. Puritan influence may well have been strong in this area, and it is interesting that John Gifford was Vicar from 1627 until 1663 without interference from the Commonwealth authorities, and was evidently much liked. In 1676, of the 192 people of age to receive Holy Communion, thirty-six were nonconformist dissenters. By 1743, in reply to Archbishop Herring’s questions the Vicar reported one family of Anabaptists and two of Presbyterians, who had recently built a Meeting House. Christmas and Easter Communions were very poorly attended - about 15 from a population of around 240. In 1710 the Vicar, the Rev Thomas Tye, was so disgusted with the villagers that he wrote rude comments about them in the Parish Register.

Burton Joyce was a tiny village in the Middle Ages, its population reaching only about 150 in the 17th century and rising to 447 at the first census of 1801. Until the mid-18th century it was a purely agricultural community and the open fields were enclosed in 1769. The introduction of Framework Knitting gradually transformed the situation until by 1851 most of the population was engaged in some aspect of this trade. The village specialised in high-class silk hosiery for the aristocracy and even royalty, and the industry continued until the 1920s.

Methodism arrived in 1823 when the first Wesleyan Chapel was opened. In 1851 it had an afternoon congregation of 60 and an evening congregation of 120. Sunday Scholars at the two services numbered 40 and 20 respectively.

The Rev John Rolleston, vicar in 1832, reported that the church supposedly held between 300 and 400 people, and that he conducted a service every Sunday, alternately in the morning and afternoon. He did not live in the glebehouse, which he described as ‘unfit for the residence of a clergyman, being but of stud and mud with part brick work’. This inadequate accommodation was let to three poor tenants, while Rolleston lived in a house provided for him rent free by the Earl of Chesterfield, who held the advowson. Rolleston put his income at about £160 a year. In 1851 Rolleston returned a congregation of 60 in the morning and 70 in the afternoon, with a further 90 Sunday Scholars at the two services. He noted that the Earl of Chesterfield had given the parsonage, and about four acres of land.

Most of the information about the church at this period comes from the description by Sir Stephen Glynne in 1848 and especially from the report prepared by the prominent Victorian architect Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1874. Evidence was of increasing decay. In the north aisle the windows had lost their mullions: the chancel had a low flat ceiling and the east wall had broken away from the sides, leaving a gap of six inches only roughly repaired, so that the gable leaned threateningly. The nave was filled with very high box pews of various shapes and sizes and was lit by candles. The south aisle which had stucco on the outside contained a ‘hideous’ chimney stack, and the tower needed repair and was full of rubbish. Between 1848 and 1874 a crude doorway of which an early photograph survives, was cut in the west wall of the tower. But the worst feature was the dampness. According to Wyatt, ‘the earth has accumulated almost all round the walls, so that there is an immense amount of dampness and most unwholesome exhalations throughout the interior - the walls are literally saturated with wet, and their condition can only be described as disgusting - numbers of toads live in holes of the brick floor all around, invading the pews.’

Wyatt recommended a straightforward repair of the building, and at a meeting held to discuss the matter a generous offer from the Earl of Carnarvon, Lord of the Manor and Patron of the living to pay for the work was thankfully accepted, the parish being asked to pay for an organ (£160) and a few lesser items. The arches supporting the roof had to be almost entirely rebuilt, and the roof was restored to its original pitch. The Chancel was improved by being re-roofed with a panelled pitched ceiling. The windows were improved, and fortunately the one fine window at the east end of the north aisle was retained. Pevsner later described this as ‘the spectacular early geometrical east window of four lights with three circles at the top but no trefoils or quatrefoils in them’. The monuments re-arranged, and the old high-square pews replaced by low seats of polished pine. A new south door, lectern and pulpit were carved out of oak taken from the old roof. Although the available money ran out before any carving could be put on the capitals, the end result of the restoration work was not unpleasing. The church was reopened in May 1879. In 1922 it was said to have accommodation for 220 people.

The top of the spire was replaced in 1895, gas lighting was installed, then replaced with electricity in 1935. Central heating was installed with a boiler under the central aisle, to be replaced by a gas boiler outside the building about 1940. The vicarage was described in 1922 as suitable to the needs of the vicar with three sitting rooms, a kitchen scullery and pantries, five bedrooms, a bathroom, two box-rooms and, externally, a coach house, stable, cowshed, cow stall and coal house.

In 1967 a Vicar’s Vestry was added on the north side of the Chancel in matching stone. The tower arch was enclosed by a screen of wood and glass in 1984 to form a Choir Vestry, and at the same time the Font was moved to the east end of the north aisle.

The major development of the late twentieth century has been the building of the Church Centre completed in 1993 giving accommodation for children’s groups and meetings of all types, with toilets and kitchen. It is linked to the south porch by a corridor of wood and glass. In 1997, the 47 year old boiler was replaced and a system of under-floor heating installed, pews made free-standing and new carpeting laid including the specially designed centre aisle carpet

Today, St Helen’s serves a village of about 4000, which, whilst mainly a dormitory village still retains a strong identity. By contrast with conditions in the past, the church is warm, welcoming and well-maintained.

Relevant Dates

1086A church is recorded in Domesday Book

1204Earliest named Rector

1348Impropriated by Shelford Priory

1879Major restoration by T H Wyatt completed

1967Vicar’s Vestry added

1993Church Centre built

1997Major refurbishment of interior - new floor, new heating etc.

Church Registers

The Church Registers date from 1559. They are very simple, giving the minimum of detail, eg date, names of people, baptised, married or buried.