Sunday, 17 November 2013


Here we go again - I pretty much wrote off SS Helen & Giles, locked no keyholder, as a Victorian - or at least a heavily restored - church but it transpires that it is "a complete Late Norman church with aisles and W tower - a rarity in the county". In my defence it sounds like the major clues are internal and as they're inaccessible the exterior lets it down. This is also one of the hardest externals in the county to photograph with trees obscuring most angles. It would be nice to have found it open but, as previously noted, I was, despite its very accessible location, unsurprised to find it locked.

ST HELEN AND ST GILES. A complete Late Norman church with aisles and W tower - a rarity in the county. The diagonal buttresses of the tower and the brick battlements are a Perp addition. The tower itself is short and broad. Small Norman windows, even as bell openings. Original small Norman N aisle W window, and plain N doorway. Inside arcades of three bays with big square piers with shafts at the four angles. These have shaftrings - a sign of late date. Many-scalloped capitals. From the W responds these run on as a frieze to connect with the tower arch. This and the arcade arches are unmoulded. The chancel on the S side has a small Norman doorway with decorated waterleaf capitals. The upper windows of the E wall - one round flanked by two of arched shape - are also original. The chancel arch has three-dimensional zigzag decoration. The chancel S wall had lancet windows inserted in the C13. Late in the C13 two blank arches were made in the NE corner of the nave, perhaps for secondary altars; one faces S, the other W. The curiously shaped clerestory windows are probably an C18 alteration. The chancel roof is C15 work with tiebeams, king-posts and four-way struts. - PAINTING. Ornamental C13 and C14 remains in the chancel, and on the nave N, S, and especially W walls. - PLATE. Paten of 1563; Cup on baluster stem of 1653; Paten on foot of 1713. - BRASS, to a Civilian c. 1500; to a Lady with butterfly headdress c. 1480.

SS Helen & Giles (2)

RAINHAM. It has stood for many centuries, a compact little place by the Ingrebourne river. Saxons dwelt here, some of their work, among the finest glass drinking horns ever found in Britain, having been discovered in a sandpit close by.

In the heart of Rainham stands a  perfect Norman church, chancel, nave, tower, and aisles all built about 1170. The 13th and 16th century additions to the tower have not  spoiled the dignity of this charming church. It is impressive to stand under the tower and look up the nave with its massive arcades, each pier with banded shafts and neatly scalloped capitals. The chancel arch is ornamented with chevrons, and through it gleams the light of six east windows. The priest’s doorway has a grotesque face above it, and one of the other doors is still hung on an ornamental hinge of the 12th century. A rough Norman font rests on a panelled 15th century base, and the edge of the bowl has the marks of the fastenings of the cover in the days when the holy water was kept locked against witches. The modern screen has a little woodwork from the 15th century screen, but the best carving of that age is in the sanctuary, where a crouching lion from the shoulder of a bench-end is now part of a chair.

There are three brasses, a small one of 1480 showing a woman in a butterfly headdress and two larger ones with a solemn-looking civilian and his wife, whose costume shows how fashions changed in 20 years. Fragments of colour on the walls show us how glowing this church must have been when these people worshipped here.

Charles Churchill, poet and satirist, became curate here in 1756, and of his own preaching he wrote that “Sleep at my bidding crept from pew to pew.” But the people of Rainham did not suffer in this way long, for after two years he succeeded his father at St John’s, Westminster. He loved the theatre and in 1761 leapt into fame with a masterly satire on the actors of the day. He joined Wilkes’s party, wrote many satires, and led a wild life till he died at 34. Cowper called him the “Great Churchill, with a certain rude and earth-born vigour” and Garrick said of him “Such talents, with prudence, had commanded the nation.” But he had nothing in him to outlast the popular whim of his age, and his verse is forgotten.


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