St Helen


Although the oldest visible parts of St Helen’s church are from the 12th century, the hilltop on which it stands had been a significant site for the local community for many years previous to this, and a standing stone in the churchyard may be a remnant of a prehistoric site.

The Roman occupation has left little physical evidence in the immediate vicinity, but place name evidence suggests increasing population and cultivation by settlers of both Norse/Danish and Saxon descent. A church probably existed here in the Anglo-Saxon period; indeed it is said that the three acres of meadow lying north-east of the churchyard were allotted to the church in Saxon times. It is suggested by some writers that the dedication to St Helen itself suggests great antiquity.

Domesday Book tells us that Selston had six households, a church and three acres of meadow and was held by Gladwin, Wulfmer, and Wulfric in 1066, but by 1086 the tenant-in-chief was William Peverel, and the manor was increasing in value. Wansley, which is in Selston parish, has its own entry in Domesday Book. Today there is only a ruined medieval manor house, Wansley Hall, and its large barn which has been converted into a dwelling, but in 1086 ‘Wandeslei’ equaled Selston in size and value, having six households, a priest and half a church, four acres of meadow, woodland and ploughland. The tenant-in-chief of Wansley in 1086 was Ralph son of Hubert.

The church at Selston appears always to have been dedicated to St Helen. The feast day is 6 July, and is still celebrated on the Sunday nearest to that date.

The stone structure which now comprises St Helen’s church was started in the middle of the 12th century, and it seems to have been built in its entirety over a fairly short period of time. Several items within the church date from this early period of its history, including the Norman font and two carved stone slabs. It would seem that Selston was fairly wealthy at this stage, as in 1171 the parish was sending two shillings a year as a Pentecostal offering to Southwell, a high amount compared to other parishes in the area.

A board near the south door carries a list of vicars dating back to 1176. At this early date, the church had rectors rather than vicars, and the earliest name for which evidence exists is Roger de Essex, who had died by 1249. The patronage of St Helen’s has been closely linked to the land owning families in the area. By 1251 Alexander de Wandesley had recovered the rectory from Hugh Fitz-Ralph and he seems to have made use of the privileges this brought, as in 1252 the new Rector was John le Vavasur, also called Verasour de Wansley, who remained rector for 35 years. By the end of the 13th century the Wandsleys had surrendered the advowson to the descendants of William Peverel, namely William de Ros (or Roos) and his wife Eustachia.

From the late 12th to the 14th century, the church building changed very little. Selston itself was changing, however, and it is certain that coal mining was becoming an important part of the village’s economy as it is mentioned in property transactions as early as 1306/7. The Gratton, Cressy, and Cantelupe families were landowners at this time. It was may have been during the medieval period that three coats of arms were installed in the east window of the south aisle. Thoroton, in his Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, describes seeing the arms of Cressy, Vavasour, and Aram in the window in 1677, but they have since disappeared. Taxation documents show that Selston continued to be a prosperous church in the 13th and 14th centuries. The ecclesiastical taxation assessment of 1291-2 valued the 'Ecclesia de Seliston' at £10 13s 4d, and by the time of the Nonarum Inquisitiones in 1341 this had increased to 26 marks (£17 6s 8d). In addition to this amount, the ninth of sheaves, lambs and their fleeces was worth 11 marks (£7 6s 8d), and there were also other items with a total value of 66s 8d (£3 6s 8d) per annum in 1341.

A development of major importance to St Helen’s occurred in 1343. Nicholas de Cantelupe founded a Carthusian Priory at Beauvale, and endowed it with £10 per annum rent, various properties in Selston, around 2,400 acres of land and the advowsons of the churches of Greasley and Selston. In exchange for the advowson of Selston, the Prior had to pay the Archbishop of York 13s 4d for himself and 6s 8d for the dean and chapter each year, as the Archbishops of York had been patrons up to this time. After this date, neither Greasley nor Selston had a resident rector: the Prior of Beauvale was the Rector, and each parish had a vicar. A monk of Beauvale was to become the vicar, and the first vicar at St Helen’s was John de Hill, instituted on 26 July 1344. A vicarage was built across the road from the church, paid for by Beauvale Priory (the vicarage remained on the same site until 1956, when a more modern building was erected next door). The expenses of the church were to be met by the Priory, as was the vicar’s stipend of six marks per annum (£4). The vicar had the tithes of wool and lamb and other small tithes, but the priors, as rectors, received the greater tithes. It may have been at about this time that the tithe barn was built to the north-east of the church. Fragments of this timber framed building are preserved to this day within the structure of Tithe Barn Cottage.

The 14th and 15th centuries were a turbulent time, and occasionally national events made themselves felt even in Selston. The Hundred Years War had been going on since 1337, and in 1346 Hugh de Cressy of Selston was fighting in France for Edward III. Life at home was not always peace and quiet either: in 1327 William de Selston was one of a band of outlaws whom the sheriff was commanded to capture and imprison because he had been robbing, injuring, and murdering the King’s subjects in Nottinghamshire. Richard Helde of Selston was another outlaw; he received a pardon in 1421. In 1403, King Henry IV arrived in Nottingham en route for the crucial battle which took place at Shrewsbury in July of that year. After the Battle of Shrewsbury, the king was entertained by Richard Selston at Mansfield, so some of the men of Selston may have had the opportunity to see their king; some may well have fought alongside him.

Roof boss from the nave
roof, now displayed on
the tower wall

Major alterations in the appearance of St Helen’s Church occurred in the 15th century. The height of the roof over the nave was increased with the addition of the clerestory, and a new roof was installed, which survived into the 20th century. This roof included decorative bosses, including depictions of God the Father, an angel with a shield and naturalistic carvings, among others. Two of the bosses are still preserved, mounted on the wall beside the tower arch. The new roof was supported on corbels carved with a variety of different grotesques and faces, several of which are still in place. The large triple lancet windows were installed at the east and west ends of the church, allowing more light into the building. It may have been at this time that the south aisle was widened and re-roofed, and the porch moved to its present position.

The tower was completed during the 15th century. Internally, the tall tower arch was constructed. The outside of the battlements, facing south, were decorated with the letters I and M, to stand for Jesus and Mary, and also a shield with the letters T S, the arms of the Samon family. The Samons were benefactors of St Mary’s Church, Nottingham, and a descendant, Thomas Samon, may have provided stone for the building of the tower from his quarry at Annesley. Documents among the papers of the Dukes of Portland relate to property exchanges between Thomas Samon and the Prior of Beauvale in 1490. Thomas Samon would have been a useful benefactor as he was descended from a very wealthy Nottingham family and linked with other prominent families in the area including the Babingtons.

It has been noted that St Helen’s has a partially defensible tower. Both the west door and the door at the base of the spiral staircase could be barricaded from the inside. Considering the uncertainty of the early 1400s, the Wars of the Roses from 1455 to 1485, followed by the Battle of Stoke in 1487 less than 30 miles from Selston, it is perhaps not surprising that the builders of the tower were experiencing some anxiety and felt it necessary to add these security measures.

Coal mining continued to play a growing part in the economy of the area in the 15th century. In 1457, Beauvale Priory was able to take out a 99 year lease at a rent of 13s 4d on all the coal in Selston parish, and the right to sink shafts and take timber for punches and props. In 1462 the vicar, John Day, confirmed the lease.

In 1528 Edmund Pilkington, of St Nicholas' parish, Nottingham, willed a torch be left to Selston church following his request to complicated burial rites involving the burning of torches around his hearse for seven days.

The next event to have a major impact on St Helen’s was the dissolution of the monasteries during the 1530s. After initial resistance, Beauvale Priory was surrendered in 1539, when all of its possessions, except the coal mines, were granted to Sir William Hussey, who also held the manor of Selston. One source adds that the tithes were sold to a lay purchaser at this time, and the recipient accepted responsibility for the maintenance of the chancel of the church. This person appears to have been Sir Michael Stanhope of Shelford, who was beheaded in 1552. The Valor Ecclesiasticus gives a straightforward valuation for Selston church of 110 s (£5 10s) at the Dissolution. Several new landowners became prominent in Selston over this turbulent period. In 1545, the King granted property to Richard Willoughby, and in 1550 Sir William Hussey’s property passed to Richard Moryson. It may have been the Willoughby family who built Selston Hall later in the Tudor period.

In 1539, 44 men of Selston were certified as fit to bear arms. By this time, the economy of the village was a mixture of agriculture and industry. At its demise, Beauvale Priory had been earning about £400 per annum from its mining interests, and the village had already been supplying 'pytte coals' to Nottingham for decades. Hussey’s property included 'mines of coal and lead', and by the reign of Elizabeth there were also iron works in the parish. The population continued to grow, and by 1600 there were over 600 people in Selston. Attendance at the parish church was compulsory, but on two occasions late in the 16th century the churchwardens felt it necessary to report individual parishioners for their negligence in attending church, and a few years later a collier was cited in the ecclesiastical court for draining water from his coal pit on the Sabbath Day.

After 1539, the Crown had retained the advowson, but this was transferred in October 1558 to the Archbishop of York. It was at about this time that the oldest bell still hanging in the tower at St Helen’s was installed, and parish registers began to be kept. The vicar from December 1550 was Nicholas Walker, but when he vacated the living, it remained vacant until 1573. Perhaps the question of the stipend for the vicar had become a problem, as previously this had been paid by the priory. However, in 1579, the vicarage was endowed with the small tithes, and these were valued at £7 per annum.

The first decades of the 17th century appear to have passed quietly at St Helen’s. Vicars and curates came and went; a new bell was installed in 1622; in 1630 Selston was one of the parishes sued by Southwell Chapter for non-payment of the Whitsun offering. In 1630, William Willoughby died at the tender age of 21. His family installed a memorial plaque praising his 'great perfection' and 'noble ways', and his funerary helmet was hung on the south wall of the chancel, where it remained until 1988. They were later to install the dramatic alabaster monument which stands beside the altar. It may have been at around this time that the chapels to the north and south of the chancel were removed and the chancel arches blocked. There is evidence that the south chapel was still standing during the early 17th century, and it may have been the original site of the Willoughby monument, but by the time Thoroton described it, in 1677, it was in its present location north of the altar in the sanctuary.

As the 17th century progressed, tensions between King and Parliament, between the Church of England and non-conformists, were becoming evident; the non-payment of the Whitsun offering may have been a sign of these tensions. Henry Denham, curate since 1631 (although he refers to himself as vicar in the parish registers), made his exit in 1642, the same year that King Charles raised his standard in Nottingham at the start of the Civil War. It is possible that Denham was compelled to leave; perhaps he, like many others, refused to sign the Covenant of 1640. The conflict affected Selston financially too: in 1647 Selston was assessed to pay £2 10s 6d towards the cost of maintaining the Parliamentary forces, an amount which was even higher than the assessments for Kirkby, Sutton or Hucknall. It also had to meet a Royalist levy of £100, which was a huge sum, when the vicarage was only valued at £10 per annum in 1650.

From the 1640s to 1662, St Helen’s had two 'preaching ministers'. Lady Dixie had surrendered the advowson, probably because she was a royalist, and the church’s income was sequestered until the Restoration. Charles Jackson, who became vicar in 1654, was a Presbyterian. In the parish register he refers to himself as a 'sinner and preacher of the word'. He reviewed and increased the tithes soon after his induction, a move which must have been unpopular with many people. This may have been the cause of a disagreement with the Quakers which led to a remarkable incident, described in Joseph Bresse’s book of 1753. No Quakers are recorded as living in Selston in the 1650s and 1660s, but Elizabeth Hooton, reputedly the first woman preacher of the Quakers, lived nearby at Skegby. One day when she was 'passing quietly on the road, she was met by one Jackson, priest of Selston, who abused her, beat her with many blows, knocked her down, and afterwards put her into the water'.

Changes introduced during the Commonwealth led to much destruction in some churches, but St Helen’s seems to have been let off lightly. It was may have been during this period that the Norman font was removed from the church, as in 1656 the clergy were forbidden to baptise people. The font was taken to Blackwell in Derbyshire before being returned, decades later, to Selston and used variously as a water trough and knife sharpening block at the Bull and Butcher public house. Charles Jackson remained as vicar throughout the Commonwealth, but despite conforming at the Restoration, he was ejected two years later in 1662. He went on to become the Congregationalist minister at the first non-conformist chapel to be built in Selston in 1670.

The Hearth Tax returns of 1664-1674 give a picture of a community of 76 households, of which 68 were living in small houses with one or two hearths and only two were living in such poverty that no charge was made. Four households had three hearths each, but the two wealthy landowners of the area lived a very different lifestyle: Wansley Hall was taxed on 9 hearths, and Beaumont Dixey had 21 hearths in his grand house, Selston Hall. The parish continued to be relatively prosperous, and when the county was asked to contribute to the subsidy of 1689, 86 people in Selston paid just over £122 in total, almost as much as Kirkby and considerably more than Hucknall Torkard. The wealthy again paid much more than most: Thomas Rawson’s charge for Wansley was £4 19s 0d, while most contributions were less than £1.

In August 1662, William Pearson became the vicar of St Helen’s. After this there was a gap of 87 years before the next vicar was instituted, as the living was held in commendam until 1749. A series of curates served in the parish, mostly for only a few years each. The exception was John Cooper, curate in Selston from 1699 to 1741, who was also vicar of Greasley parish from 1728 to 1741.

Very few changes happened in the church during these decades. A new bell was installed in 1704, known as the Wardens’ Bell. A musicians’ gallery was installed at the west end in front of the tower arch at some time during the 18th century. Archbishop Herring’s visitation report of 1743 gives no information about Selston, merely noting the vacancy and the names of the churchwardens, as no return was made from the parish. Finally, in 1749, Antony Carr was instituted as the first vicar for 80 years. But by this time, as Carr himself reported in 1764, 'The living of Selston is much too small to support a clergyman with any decency'. Some efforts were made to improve the situation; land in Derbyshire had been acquired in 1771 to augment the vicar’s income, and in 1790 Throsby stated that the vicarage had a clear yearly value of £6 7s. It was clearly insufficient and Carr did not take up residence in Selston. He lived in Alfreton, Derbyshire, where he ran a school, and after 1754 he was also curate at Denby. He went on to become curate at Duffield Holbrook Chapel in 1767, then vicar of Alfreton in 1768. He remained as vicar of both parishes until his death in 1799.

Archbishop Drummond’s Visitation Report (1764) gives further information about Selston. It states that there were 100 families in the parish, of which nine or ten were Presbyterian, two or three were Methodists and one was Quaker. There was a monthly meeting at the Presbyterian Meeting House, but most of those attending came from outside the parish. In the parish church, divine service with a sermon took place every Sunday, alternately in the morning or afternoon. The catechism was taught for six to eight weeks in the summer, and the sacrament administered three times every year, with notice being given in the preceding week. The vicar estimated that about 200 people in the parish were of an age to take Holy Communion, but only about 30 did so, and the figure was below 30 the previous Easter.

The low number attending the church and the absence of the vicar may go some way towards explaining why, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the church seems to have been neglected and falling into disrepair. The next three vicars were largely absent, but there was a long-serving curate in the parish. John Pepper’s name first appears in the parish registers in 1803. He continued to complete the registers and officiate at nearly all of the baptisms, marriages and burials which took place at St Helen’s until the beginning of 1836. The register chest installed in the church in 1815 bears the name of this curate, not the vicar’s name.

It seems that two of the 19th century vicars may have been related to the patrons of the living. In 1749 the patron was the Crown, by lapse, but in 1790 Throsby stated that the lordship was owned by Lord Melbourne, Lady Dixey and others, and by 1836 the patron was Sir Willoughby Woolstan Dixie by permission of his guardians. The vicar from 1810 was Joseph Dixie Churchill, and when he died in 1836 his son Fleetwood Churchill became vicar. Both of these men also held other livings, some as far away as Suffolk, and they seem rarely to have attended St Helen’s. Joseph Churchill’s signature does not appear in the parish registers, and Fleetwood Churchill’s only appears between August 1838 and April 1839, although he remained as vicar until his death in 1855. After April 1839, parish duties appear to have been shared between the Rev J Hides, Vicar of Greasley, and his curate, William Hides, until James Foottit was appointed as curate for St Helen’s in 1843.

During the 19th century, the population of Selston and the surrounding villages grew rapidly as industrialization continued apace. From a total of 833 in 1801, the population of Selston had grown to over 2,000 by 1851 and more than doubled in the next 30 years. Mining and quarrying continued, and the need to transport heavy goods led to the development of canals and early tramways. In 1817 a horse-drawn railway was constructed to link Mansfield with Pinxton Wharf, and it passed through Selston. Framework knitting became an important source of employment, and there were around 200 stocking frames in Selston by the middle of the century. The parish boundary has been altered several times, the earliest known instance being in 1813, when 25 acres were enclosed by Act of Parliament and the parish boundary was moved to the River Erewash. By 1850 another new parish map was being drawn as the district of Ironville was created. However, the parish still included the hamlets of Bagthorpe, Underwood, Westwood, and Jacksdale.

Some major work was carried out to the church in 1811 when a faculty was granted for the 'rebuilding' [though often a term used for major repair rather than total rebuilding] of the south side of the chancel, inserting new windows, rebuilding the 'loft', and re-pewing.

The Religious Census of 1851 shows that, like many industrial areas, Selston had a range of chapels in addition to the parish church and, compared to Archbishop Drummond’s visitation in 1764, there had been a huge growth in the numbers attending chapels. The Original Methodists’ Chapel alone expected an average attendance of 100 for each service plus 100 Sunday scholars. In addition there was a Baptist Chapel at Bagthorpe and the Primitive Methodist Chapel. These three chapels had all been built between 1824 and 1839, and the Congregational Chapel had been enlarged during the same period. Although the parish church had seating for 350, the average attendance was only 20 in the mornings and 73 in the afternoons, and the Sunday School had been discontinued until the funds could be raised for a schoolroom. On the financial side, the following endowments are listed for St Helen’s: land £39, tithe £100, glebe £3 and others £6.

In 1856 a new vicar arrived in Selston, but his role in the village was very different from his immediate predecessors. By this date, the Pluralities Acts had been passed, and vicars could no longer hold far distant parishes. Almost immediately on his arrival, the Rev R J W Wright signaled his intention of residing in the parish by setting in motion the rebuilding of the vicarage. Henry Stevens of Derby was the architect appointed, and the contractors were Dennett’s of Nottingham. The Rev R J W Wright lived here with his family until his death in 1887, when the Mansfield and North Notts Advertiser commented that he was 'highly esteemed' and that he had founded two national schools and two infant schools in the parish. The following week’s newspaper carried a report of his funeral and burial in St Helen’s churchyard. Two memorial plaques in the chancel commemorate Wright, his wife and his daughter Eliza; his surviving daughters dedicated a lectern in his memory. Wright is the first vicar of St Helen’s of whom a photograph exists.

The churchyard immediately surrounding the church building was formally closed in 1857. Burials continued to take place, so it must be assumed that a new area was in use, and a further one acre was added and consecrated in 1893. The Post Office Directory of 1876 gives a very brief description of the St Helen’s, and states that the patronage has been purchased by the Wright family, who continue as patrons to the present day. It adds that the vicarage has a yearly value of £150. Although the value was increasing, it still appears to have been insufficient for the needs of the incumbent, and in 1884 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners granted £170 per annum in augmentation of the living.

In was in 1877, while Wright was still the Vicar, that the Selston Enclosure Act was passed. The was the last Enclosure Act in Nottinghamshire, and it led to many acres of the former common land being fenced, a move not entirely approved of by Selston’s residents. In Wright's Directory of Nottingham of 1894-95 it is reported, 'In 1878 a great agitation was caused in the parish as to the rights of the people on the vast area of forest and pasture land known as Selston Hall Green. Both the owners and the people took strong means to vindicate their rights, the fences being more than once torn down and replaced. 'Citizen de Morgan' was one of the prime agitators, and managed to steer very close to the wind, but the law was eventually a little too strong for his friends.'

Following the death of the Rev R J W Wright, the new vicar was the Rev Charles Harrison. He also lived in the parish throughout his 28 year tenure, and was buried in the churchyard. Harrison arrived in Selston at a time of very rapid population growth linked to the huge expansion of industry in the area. Moorgreen Colliery had been established in 1865 and a second shaft was being sunk at Brinsley Colliery in 1872. At Pye Hill Colliery in 1876, Barber Walker re-sunk the Selston shaft some 319 metres down to the hard seam, and the New Selston Colliery, ‘The Bull & Butcher Pit’, was sunk in 1892. Several local collieries were owned by Messrs Barber and Walker. Many local people were employed by the Butterley Company and by James Oakes and Co, both of which continued to expand, and in 1900 James Oakes opened their new pipe works and clay works. The population of the parish increased from 4,373 in 1881 to 8,982 in 1911, so the number of people more than doubled in 30 years.

There was a great deal of concern about how the church could cater for all the people in the parish. In addition to the chapels listed in the Religious Census of 1851, a further Congregational Chapel was built at Westwood in 1869. Residents in the rapidly growing settlements of Bagthorpe, Underwood, Westwood and Jacksdale still looked to St Helen’s as their parish church, but from each of these places it was quite a walk, not conducive to attending regular worship, especially during the winter. In 1890 a new church, St Michael’s and All Angels, was opened at Underwood, largely thanks to a donation of £5,000 by Earl Cowper. In 1899 St Mary’s was opened at Westwood and Jacksdale, on land donated by the Earl and with the financial support of James Oakes and Company. Over the following decades, St Mary’s had a succession of curates and Church Army Captains, but it has remained within Selston parish with the vicar of Selston as its vicar. In contrast, St Michael’s and All Angels is now part of the parish of Brinsley with Underwood.

At the end of the 1890s, the Rev C. Harrison turned his attention to the condition of St Helen’s, and saw the need for extensive repair, restoration and enlargement. An 1894-5 directory had described how 'several pillars in the south side are slightly out of the perpendicular, owing, it is supposed, to the subsidence of the fabric several hundred years ago.' In June 1904 a faculty was granted for major works which would considerably change the appearance and size of the church. A new aisle was to be erected on the north side of the nave, and this was to extend along the north side of the chancel, where an organ chamber and vestries were to be constructed. To facilitate access to these, the blocked arches on the north side of the chancel were to be reopened. To the south of the chancel, a new chapel was to be constructed, and access would be created by reopening the blocked arches along the south of the chancel and by constructing a new chancel arch leading from the south aisle. The faculty also covered restoration of unsafe parts of the building, (presumably including the unstable pillars,) but stated that due care must be taken for the preservation of the old parts of the structure. New pews and heating were to be installed. Some old lead was to be removed from roof, and proceeds from the sale of the lead used towards the cost of the work. The construction work necessitated the repositioning of two memorial plaques and the reburial of the remains of 13 persons.

On 3 July 1904, St Helen’s was closed, becoming a building site for almost a year. The cost of the work was approximately £5,000, and the stone was donated by the 7th Earl Cowper and the Butterley Company. Other donors were the Bishop of Southwell, Messrs J Oakes and Company, Messrs Barber and Walker and Company and members of the Wright family (patrons of the church). The architects were J A Chatwin and Son of Birmingham and the construction work was carried out by Messrs Collins and Godfrey of Tewkesbury. The old bells were re-hung in a new frame, and to commemorate the restoration 3 new bells were installed. On 6 May 1905 the church reopened, although not all of the furnishings had been completed and installed by this date.

The church before restoration
in 1904-05
The interior of the church
before restoration
The church, c1910 The church interior, c1920

Photographs taken of both the interior and the exterior of the building before and after the restoration clearly show the changes which had taken place. All of the limewash and plaster which had covered the interior walls had been removed and a new opening had been created in the wall above the chancel arch. The 14th century window which had been in the south wall of the chancel near the chancel arch had been moved to its current position in the sanctuary. The windows in the south aisle had been replaced in a more ornate style and the roof line above the nave and chancel had been raised. A newspaper report of 1905 describes how the floor had been lowered by six inches, columns reset and the roof repaired. It also comments on an ancient altar which had been discovered at the village school 'where it was used for lamp trimming'; this had been taken to the vicarage and repaired, and the intention was to restore it to the church, (later sources do mention a Jacobean altar in St Helen’s, but it is no longer in the church. It is possible that the faculty granted in 1923 for a new holy table marks the date at which the old altar was removed). The Norman font, which had been in use as a garden ornament following its time at the Bull and Butcher public house, was returned to the church at this time. It was mounted on a new base and installed at the west end of the south aisle, where it still stands.

It was around the time of the reopening of St Helen’s that the Rev Charles Harrison instituted a tradition which still continues. The Tower Service takes place on the Sunday nearest to 6 July, when the congregation gathers in the churchyard to hear the Vicar (or a courageous visiting preacher) preach from the top of the tower. In the early years of the Tower Service, the congregation was known to overflow from the churchyard to a field across the road. The flat roof of the south aisle was used as a platform; a harmonium was hoisted up onto it, and the choir, fully robed and wearing straw hats, climbed a step ladder to the roof to lead the singing. Nowadays everyone except the clergy stays firmly on the ground, but it remains an event which attracts a large crowd.

The visitation of Edwyn Hoskyns, Bishop of Southwell, to Selston took place in 1911. The Bishop included Selston among those parishes which he believed needed more clergy. It was noted that St Helen’s could accommodate 450 people, and that the Sunday School had 356 children on its roll.

Photographs commemorating
the Rev C Harrison

The Rev C. Harrison lived long enough to see the beginning of the First World War, but he died in May 1916. Photographs show his grave covered with an enormous display of floral tributes, evidence of the high regard in which he was held. When the War ended, a new pulpit was installed in the church as a memorial to him, and two years later the war memorial was installed in the new side chapel which includes the names of 42 men of Selston who had fallen in the Great War.

During the years between the world wars, the church continued to be modernized and altered to meet changing demands. Electricity was installed early in the 1930s allowing electric lights for the first time. Pews near the font were removed in order to create a children’s corner, while in the chancel the choir stalls and reading desks were added. The new holy table was made by Mr Percy Langton, a local craftsman who was also for many years a churchwarden. The organ was reconstructed in 1927, and the churchyard was once again enlarged.

Soon after the end of the Second World War, a survey of the church revealed devastating news: death watch beetle in the 15th century roof. Between 1950 and 1955, the nave, chancel, south aisle and porch were all completely re-roofed, the tower roof repaired and a new floor installed in the ringing chamber. While this work was going on the entire building was painted and washed with a solution to protect it against pollution in the atmosphere. The east window underwent major repairs at this time, and a lightning conductor was installed. Also during the 1950s, the memorial to men who fell during the Second World War was placed in the Lady Chapel and the memorial window to John and Kate Laverick replaced one of the plain windows in the south aisle. A plaque at the entrance to the Lady Chapel commemorates the completion of ten years of restoration work between 1949 and 1959.

Also during the 1950s, the Victorian vicarage was sold and a new vicarage built next door to it. The Victorian building, with later additions, is now a nursing home.

During the 1960s and 1970s only minor alterations were made inside St Helen’s. The exterior appearance was greatly altered by the removal of many gravestones from the oldest part of the churchyard in 1963-1964. Some of the stones were used to create paths, while volunteers created ten flower beds and planted nearly 500 rose bushes, an effort celebrated by a Rose Festival in 1967.

By the 1980s, the lack of modern facilities was becoming an ever more urgent problem. In 1983 five pews at the back of the church were removed to create a space for Sunday School and similar children’s activities, and a platform was created at the entrance to the chancel. Eventually faculties were obtained for the removal of all the pews from the north aisle, and for the installation of a public address system. In 1984 kitchen facilities were installed at the west end of the north aisle so that refreshments could be offered at events in church. But toilet facilities could not be provided within the church, and the brick outhouse at the end of an uneven path across the church yard was far from user friendly, so discussions began about the possibility of extending the church yet again. Fund raising began, and a faculty was obtained, but planning permission was refused in 1992.

In 1988, a theft occurred in St Helen’s. William Willoughby’s funerary helmet, which had been on its hook high up on the south wall of the sanctuary since the middle of the 17th century, was taken. Little hope was held out for the recovery for the item, but in January 1989 the owner of a Nottingham armoury shop was able to return it to the church. He had purchased the helmet in good faith, carried out a restoration on it, then sold it, but on discovering that it had been stolen, he bought back the helmet, returned it to the church and helped the police to catch the thief. Sadly, the helmet is no longer on display in St Helen’s.

The need for improved facilities continued to be the most pressing issue during the 1990s. A second faculty was obtained in December 1992, but the work could not be done. However, fundraising continued and the plan was never completely abandoned. Early in the new century, the decision was made to proceed with building a new extension on the north-east corner of the church, to include a parish office, community room, kitchen, toilets and storage space. The east end of the north aisle was to become the way into the new building, so first the organ had to be moved. It was dismantled and completely refurbished by Henry Groves & Sons Ltd, then the pipes were installed in the west tower, and the console was relocated to a position between under the second arch of the north arcade.

Work then commenced on clearing the site and constructing the new building. This caused a great deal of local interest, and articles about the construction work were featured in local newspapers. The architect for the project was Mark Stewart of Nottingham and the stonemason was Paul Mendham of Newark. After 30 years of fundraising the vision was realised, and the new extension, named St Helen’s Centre, was formally opened by the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham at a joyful celebration on 3 July 2011. Many people who had faithfully supported the project over the years were able to attend, including the Rev John Jacklin who had been Vicar of Selston at the time the idea was first seriously considered. With these new facilities, St Helen’s Church is well-equipped to continue playing its part in the life and worship of the village in the 21st century.

The parish registers for St Helen’s are in Nottingham Archives and record baptisms from 1557, marriages from 1557, and burials from 1558.