St Helen's Church

Photograph of st helen's church, saxby

Very little is known of the original church which was on the same site as the present building. Parish records show that the old church was the last resting place of several members of the Saunderson family and the 3rd Earl of Scarbrough. The Parish registers date from 1666.

Firsby had a church, St. James, mentioned in the Domesday book, but nothing remains on the site of the medieval village of Firsby, which is alongside the River Ancholme, about 1 mile south west of Saxby. It is believed the old church at Firsby finally closed in 1786.

The present church of St. Helens was completed in 1775 and was built as the parish church and Mausoleum  chapel for the Lumley Saunderson family, Earls of Scarbrough. The architect is thought to be Thomas Lumby who rebuilt the roof of the Chapter House at Lincoln Cathedral or his son William who worked on the refitting of the Cathedral in 1777-9 and was architect of the County gaol in the grounds of Lincoln castle. He is known to have worked with John Carr, the renowned Georgian architect, who was responsible for the design of Norton Place and carried out work at Harewood House. Unfortunately no plans have ever been found and the Scarbrough archives at Sandbeck have no record of any building fees. Thomas Lumby was declared bankrupt in 1775 so possibly there is a reason for no evidence of the building costs to be found.

The present church stands in an elevated position overlooking opening countryside to the West. It is built in a classical style of stone and brick with a lead roof, with a timber and leaded cupola. The magnesium limestone used in the building of the base, portico, column window surrounds and copings is thought to have been quarried and cut at the Roche stone quarry on the Sandbeck estate in South Yorkshire. The red brick would have most likely come from a local brick works.

The interior consists if a central aisle leading to the semi circular altar apse. When the church was built there was a widow in the east end behind the altar. The apse was altered in 1869 and the widow was filled in and plastered over. At this time the apse was given its present boss and acanthus leaf pattern. There was also a Victorian mural painted on the wall behind the altar. In 1869 one of the south windows was replaced with a stained glass window to John Wheelwright Robinson, who lived at Saxby Manor and is buried in the churchyard.

The memorials in the church are to the 6th, 7th, and 8th Earls of Scarbrough and the 7th Countess. The 7th Earl donated the organ to York Minster.. The hatchments a the rear of the church are the armorial bearings of Richard the 6th Earl, who died in 1832, and John the 8th Earl, who died in 1856.

In 2004, Mr. Nigel Leaney carried out detailed paint samples in the church and was able to produce the original colour scheme of the church when it was built in 1775. In 2005 with a generous  grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund the church  was redecorated to the original colour scheme so it is now possible to appreciate the beauty of this unique building as it was in 1775. 

At 01.05 on the morning of 27 February 2008 North Lincolnshire was hit by a small earthquake. Unfortunately the interior of the church was badly affected. The church was redecorated in April 2009 and is now fully restored.