St Helen’s being publicly used for the first time since 1985 as the setting for a memorial to Dr Frank Atkinson.
On Saturday afternoon St Helen’s Church became the setting for a memorial to the life of Dr Frank Atkinson – our founder director and the creator of Beamish. Although the church will not be completely finished, and opened to the public, until November, it seemed appropriate to hold the event in an ongoing project. Frank passionately felt that the Museum would never be completed, but would continue to grow as it recorded and collected the heritage of the North East.
Shaun, Keith and John completing the tricky task of hanging the chandeliers.
Jim and Clara ringing the bells to signal the start of the memorial.
The Buildings Team and our local contractors were working hard last week to get the Church ready for the event. This included everything from installing and glazing the metal window in the chancel, to hanging the chandeliers, to repairing collections, to fitting the altar and gallery rails, to even fixing a leak in the roof! The final touch was to fill the church with items from our collection, including the huge Georgian commandment boards which were hung either side of the arch in the nave.
A huge thank you for everyone’s hard work!
The bell hanging in the belfry.
Today, was an exciting day at St Helen’s Church as the two ancient bells were finally installed into the bell frames of the belfry. They will soon be set up with ropes and pulleys, so that the sound of bells ringing from the tower will be heard for the first time in half a century.
The newly hung priest’s door.
The priest’s entrance in the chancel has now been hung with a reclaimed lapped oak door, complete with a iron Suffolk latch decorated with a pheasant head.
Our traditional lime plasterers from NEPR have nearly finished the top coat in the nave of the Church; gradually transforming the building’s shell.
The nearly completed plaster in the nave.
To help inform us about how to interpret the inside of St Helen’s, we have looked at other contemporary churches. A couple of weeks ago, Jim and Clara visited a beautiful church in Lincolnshire. St Mary’s has Anglo Saxon origins, including an intriguing cat carving on one of its external window lintels.
St Mary’s Church at Barnetby le Wold, Lincolnshire.
Like St Helen’s, St Mary’s was greatly altered in the late Georgian period, and was again changed by the Victorians. The Georgian gallery and box pews (to the rear of the church), as well as the lime-washed walls and exposed roof trusses give a real sense of how St Helen’s should appear once it is completed.
The interior of St Mary’s.
Before they’re sent away for reconditioning we thought we’d test the bells intended for the reconstruction of St Helen’s Church from Eston.
Deciphering old notes shows that the original late mediaeval bell – “Sancta Maria Ora Pro Nobis” developed a crack and was scrapped in either 1834 or 1884. This bell must have pre-dated the building of the Tower in the 17th century, so must have been a rather small one from the earlier bell cote. A second bell was given to the church in the 18th century. During the 20th century this bell was moved to another local church.
When the museum deconstructed the Church in the 1990’s the charred remains of the ancient oak bell frames survived to be recorded and were carefully replicated in the 2012 reconstruction of the building. One piece of oak was even still serviceable enough to re-incorporate in the new frame. We’ve since been looking for bells to bring some noise to our reconstructed church!
This is the older of the two, it dates from 1598 and was bought by the museum at auction in 2011. It’s almost certainly by the northern bell and mortar founder, Robert Orwell. Like the Eston original, it’s clearly initially from a bell cote.
This is the younger of the two, it dates from the 1760s and was donated to the museum more recently.
We’re excited to hear them when they’ve been reconditioned, and are really looking forward to them making their way to the St Helen’s tower!
The reclaimed panelling that will be used on the front of the church’s gallery.
The work on St Helen’s Church is continuing. Yesterday, a section of panelling arrived, which has been reclaimed from a chapel in Butterknowle, County Durham. This panelling is remarkable similar to that which originally made up the front of the gallery at St Helen’s and will be used as in its place. In the afternoon we also received a very exciting delivery of cylinder glass (an early method of producing sheet glass), which will be used to glaze the replica Georgian lancet windows in the nave.
Shaun and Dan unpacking yesterday’s delivery of cylinder glass.
As well as glazing the windows in the nave, our local specialist glazier Barry Swinburne, will also be working on the two much older windows in the chancel.
The view from the church’s gallery. The replica Georgian lancet windows are visible to the side, and the 15th tracery window at the end of the chancel.
The first is a lovely 15th century tracery window which sits behind the site of the altar on the east end of the church. This will be glazed with leaded glass in a diamond pattern, as was typical of the date. The second window was reputedly inserted into the south wall of the chancel by the Tudors. There is no record of what this window looked like, other than that it was a stained glass window that depicted an image of St Helen. Using research done by John into other 16th century windows that showed the saint, Clara has created a design that will be used by Barry to recreate the window using traditional methods. The window design includes a small homage to the Reverend Peck, our resident owl.
Clara’s design for the recreated Tudor stained glass window at St Helen’s.
Additionally, the two bells that will be installed into St Helen’s tower are being sent away this week to be restored by our heritage blacksmith, Andy Basnett. Before the 17th century tower was added, the church had a small medieval belfry with a single bell. Subsequently, another bell was installed into the tower as part of the church’s Georgian refurbishment. We have collected two bells, one which dates from 1598 and another from 1778, to represent St Helen’s originals. Eventually these will be hung in the belfry to be rung for special events at the church.
The belfry at St Helen’s.