St Helen's Church Building and History

(To view the photographs larger, click on an image, then click 'back' to come back to this page.  Photographs 1 to 16 by kind permission of Geoff Buxton, 2006, photograph 17 by Ray Tew, 2000)

There is believed to have been a church dedicated to Christian worship on the site of St Helen's for over 1000 years.  The first actual record of a church on the site is in the Domesday survey of 1097.  Three acres of meadow were allocated to it at that time.  It is thought that Ulmer, Gladwin and Ulric, the three Danish holders of Selston, must have been involved in its construction, having been converted to Christianity during their time here.  This simple building (probably of wood) dedicated to Christian worship would be the one recorded in the Domesday survey.  The land now known as Selston was originally held by William Peverel, and the land now known as Lower Bagthorpe (at the time was Wansley), was held by Baron Ralph Fitz Hubert of Crich in Derbyshire.  Peverel lived at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire.  Both Peverel and Fitz Hubert held many estates in the area.  A knight of Fitz Hubert was given Wansley, including the Hall.  He took up residence there and the assumed the name for his family.  Although the reason is unknown, Lord Wansley held the Patronage of St Helen’s at Selston for 134 years.  Perhaps the fact that Peverel had been given the job of building the castle in Nottingham by the king detracted him for some of his duties in Selston. 

The erection of the present church made of stone was commenced in the first half of the 12th Century. The first part to be built was the north arcade/ nave.  This was followed by the south arcade/nave including the porch and the south door.  The Chancel arch was also built at this time, with a solid wall above the arch.


During the 14th Century the window head of the East window of the South chapel and the 2-light windows in the South side of the Sanctuary were built.  The 3-light window in the East wall of the Chancel was constructed in the 15th Century.  At the same time the tower was built with, it is thought, a flat top.  The present battlements of the tower were added later.


The East Window and detail


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On the battlements on the South side are the letters J and M (Jesus and Mary).  There are also the letters T and S with a shield of the Samon family.  The Samon family were of Annesley Woodhouse and it is thought that the ‘S’ – also represents the family and that they had some role in the construction.

Battlements detail    5.

The North wall of the church includes the carving of a dog and some ten feet beyond the North wall there was a stone monolith which probably predates the present building and may well mark the site of pre-Christian worship.  This stone was relocated in 2010 to facilitate the building of the church extension; it now lies to the north of its original position, close to the churchyard boundary wall.

Dog and monolith

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Inside the church, on the North side of the chancel, is an alabaster monument erected in the memory of William Willoughby and his wife Elizabeth. The inscription reads:

 Here Leith William Willoughby Esq Sonne and Heire of Sir Rotherham Willoughby Kt Sonne of Sir William Willoughby Kt and Dame Ann his wife, one of the daughters of Sir Richard Wortley Kt and of Elizabeth his wife, Countess of Devon

He married Elizabeth, one of the daughters of Timothy Pusey who made the monument in memory of her husband who by her had four children. He was aged 21 and died on 12 November 1630.

Willoughby Memorial and detail

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Originally mounted above the chancel arch - it now hangs on the wall of the North arcade - is a copy of the Royal Arms. The practice of displaying a copy of the Royal Arms within the church was introduced by Charles II in 1660. It later became mandatory, signifying the acknowledgement that the Monarch was the head of the Church of England.

In the Church yard near the West End of the North arcade is the last resting place of Dan Boswell, the King of Gypsies. His epitaph reads:

I’ve lodged in many a town,

I’ve travelled many a year,

but death at length has brought me down,

to my last lodgings here.

       Dan Boswell headstone


On the floor of the chancel is an incised slab showing the figure of a priest in Eucharistic vestments with an amice over his head, holding a chalice.  On his right is quadrilateral representing his service book.  This is said to be the only one of its type in England and is believed to pre-date the present building.

Priest and detail

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At the West end of the South arcade is a bucket shaped Norman font with its single band of cable moulding.  In the reformation it was removed and taken to Blackwell.  It returned to the Bull and Butcher public house at Selston and was then used as a garden ornament before Rev Charles Harrison had it returned back to the church at the beginning of the last century.  The indentations in the rim are believed to have been caused by it having been used for sharpening knives and similar implements.

Font and detail

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There are now eight bells in the belfry.  The oldest is inscribed 'Gabriel IS' is believed to have been cast around 1530.  The next oldest bell is the Tolling Bell – I sweetly toling men do call, to taste on meats that feed the soule – cast in 1622.  The Warden’s Bell, which is the heaviest of the bells (the tenor) dates from 1704.  At that time the Wardens were Francis Cheetham and William Wood.  Three more Bells were installed during the restoration under the Revd Charles Harrison in 1905 .  the Children’s Bell – The children did well to purchase this bell.  The Bible Union bell – Let music be heard in  praise of the Word.  The Church Council bell, dedicated to Charles Harrison – For the church restored give thanks to the Lord.  This ring of six bells was rehung in a steel eight-bell frame in 1983 and subsequently augmented to the present ring of eight by the addition of two new treble bells: one was cast in 1983, in memory of Vera Wood and the most recent was cast in 1985, dedicated to James Rawson, Church Warden 1862 – 1949.  (See the new Tower page for more information.)

From an article researched and written by Ralph Mills – July 2000 

Click on the following link to see a list of the vicars of Selston, as recorded on the board just inside the south door.  Further information concerning the history of St Helen's church and its architecture can be found on other websites.  The former Old Notts website included some lovely photographs of the churchyard, including another of Dan Boswell's headstone.  The Notts History site also features this last item.

The altar at the Flower Festival, July 2000    17.