History

A brief history of our church

St Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great, who was proclaimed Emperor by the Roman Army in York in 306 AD. St Helen is believed to have influenced Constantine in his decsion to ae Christanity the official religion off Rome.

1252 records show that there was a medieval church of St Helen situated on the west side of Escrick Hall.

In 1781, by a private Act of Parliament, the site of that church was granted to Beilby Thompson to further his plans for improvements to the surrounds of the Manor House, on condition that he built a new church elsewhere. In consequence, the church and rectory were demolished and replaced by an ice house, and a new church was built on the present site.

The church was designed in the classical style and was constructed of brick with stone quoins and dressings, and was consecrated in 1783.  This church was replaced in 1857 by a stone church built in the Gothic curvilinear style and was designed by Francis Cranmer Penrose, architect and surveyor to St Paul's Cathedral, at a cost of £26,000.  The money was contributed by the Reverend and Hon. Stephen Willoughby Lawley, together with the second Lord Wenlock and members of the family in memory of the first Baron Wenlock.

Notes on Escrick Church by Revd M S Walker and Revd G D Harris

The church Architect was F C Penrose of Londonin 1857. It was consecrated by Archbishop Thomas Musgrave, 85th Archbishop of York.

The church was built with money given by the Revd The Honourable Stephen Willoughby Lawley (with contributions from other members of the family).  He was the youngest brother of the then Lord Wenlock.

The church was built of the best materials without too much regard to cost, the amount being £26,000.  Most churches of this period were utilitarian affairs which was necessary because most of them were built to accommodate growing populations, particularly in towns.

St Helen's is slightly unusual in that it is apsidal at both ends.  The west end takes the form of a mortuary chapel and baptistry combined.  Eight members of the Wenlock family were buried in the vault below the baptistry with monuments above. The vault is the only part of the Georgian church which pre-dates the present building.  The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Lords Wenlock preferred burial in the churchyard.

The font in the baptistry is Italian, sculpted by Sr Tognoli of Rome.  In the corner of the north aisle lies the recumbent figure of Caroline Lady Wenlock, carved in marble by His Supreme Highness Prince Victor of Hobenlohe, Langenburg, who adopted the title "Count" Cleichen when in this country. The figure was badly damaged in the 1923 church fire.

The central monument on the baptistry wall is by the Dane, Bertel Thorwaldsen (1768-1844), a leader of the neo-Classical movement.  Much of his work is modelled on antique Greek sculpture.

The church might be described as "curvilinear" in the style of Gothic architecture. The nave roof is vaulted and made of oak.  The chancel and sanctuary roofs are also of oak, the latter being semi-hexagonal and groined.

The columns in the body of the church supporting the nave roof used to be of dark Devonshire marble like those of the baptistry but were destroyed in the fire of 5 February 1923, when a workman was using a blow torch on the roof and left it on while he went for lunch.  The roof caught fire and crashed down, together with the bells.  Everything not of stone perished in the fire. The church was rebuilt, the architect very cleverly choosing a pink sandstone to replace the fire damaged stones internally to blend in with the rest of the internal masonry which had been turned pink because of the blaze.

The choir vestry was added in 1896 as a thanks offering for recovery from serious illness by Lady Wenlock.  There is a fine ring of eight bells which replaced the five destroyed in the fire.  in 1996 a new ring of 12 bells plus a semitone were installed.

There is a porch south west of the church and a north aisle divided from the nave by an arcade of 5 bays springing from the stone pillars.  The tower is 100 ft high, embattled with crocketted pinnancles.

Before the current church was built Beilby Thompson had a church constructed on the same site in 1783.  He had to get an Act of Parliament to change the site of the church from Escrick Park (where an ancient medieval church stood).  Sadly the old church in the Park is marked by little more than a hollow depression in the ground.  Beilby Thompson's church was destroyed by fire.

The 6 stained glass windows in the sanctuary are good, made by Powell of London, whose mark, a small white monk, is in the bottom right hand corner of the most southerly window.  Stained glass makers are modest and mark their work by minute signs.

In the North aisle there is an effigy of a Knight, the only surviving artifact from the old church in the park.  It is mutilated, possibly at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century or by Roundheads in the Civil War in the seventeenth century.  It is not known who it is, most likely one of the Lascelles family who are known to have lived in Escrick Park in 1250 (possibly Sir Roger Lascelles).