II.—HISTORY: POST-REFORMATION PERIOD
The parish records of St. Helen's do not, as in the case of several
City parishes, include any of pre-reformation date. The Vestry Minutes
begin in 1558, but there is a serious gap between 1578 and 1676. The
churchwardens' accounts begin in 1563. These records contain a certain
amount of information relative to the fabric, and the material portions
have been printed in Cox's work. (fn. 1)
The nuns' church, together with the rest of the priory buildings,
was granted in 1542 to Sir Richard Williams (alias Cromwell). (fn. 2)
The Leathersellers' Company acquired their property in St. Helen's
in 1543, and with it the nuns' quire. (fn. 3) In 1561 the Vestry Minutes refer
to a conference with the Leathersellers' Company as to "the repairing
and amendement of certaine decayeed places on the outside of the north
Ile of the church." Some time therefore between these two dates the parish
had come into possession of the fabric of the nuns' church, but whether by gift
or purchase does not appear. It is likely, however, that the transfer happened
very shortly after 1543, as otherwise the nuns' church would probably have
been stripped of its lead and unroofed as of no use for domestic purposes.
In 1548 the church was considerably affected by the dissolution
of the chantries. The chantry certificates give the following particulars
of St. Helen's (fn. 4) at this date:—
The paroche of Seint Ellens.
The kinge's majeste findeth within the saied churche two chauntry
prestes and payethe them out of thaugmentacions xiij li xiijs. iiijd.
Ther is of howsling people within the same paroche the nombre
The kinges majestie is parsone of the same churche and no vicar
there but a parysshe prest.
|John Goldesburgh by lycence of
king Edward the thirde founded one
chauntery within the seid churche and
gave certen quitrentes to the sustentacion of a priest ther oute of dyverse
tenements in the tenure of the
parischeners of Saint Bennet ffynckes
of the yerely value by yere.||iiij li vjs
whereof||To Sir John
Bedell Incumbent for
his Salary iiij li vjs. viij
and then remayneth
|Thomas Wilforde by lycence of
Kyng Henry the ffourthe founded one
chauntery in the seide churche and gave
for the mayntenaunce of a priest to syng
ther for ever landes and tenementes by
iiijd.||wherof To Sir John
for his salary lxvijs.
iiijd. and ther remeyneth clere nil.|
The religious changes of the early years of Queen Elizabeth are
reflected in the following entry in the Minutes under the date 14th January,
1564–65: "It is ordered and agreade be the whole assent of the parishioners
here present that the residue of oure roode lofte yet standinge at this daie
shallbe taken downe according to the forme of a certain writing made and
subscribed by Mr. Mollyns, Archdeacon of London . . . . And further
that the place where the same doeth stande shallbe comelie and devoutlie
made and garnished againe like to St Magnus Church or St Dunstone in
the East." Other indications of the arrangements of this period are provided by various entries: a mention of the price of burials indicates that
the chancel was flanked by Sir Thomas Gresham's pew (probably on the north)
and the vestry (probably in the south chapel, its later position); a further
mention of burial in the porch seems to indicate that the western part of
the nave was used for that purpose. In 1568–69 the roof at the west end
was repaired, and the "cloke house" moved (possibly from the apex of the
west gable) for greater safety to "the corner of the wall so as ytt shall be
borne uppon the wall and not to beare any pt of ytt on the roof of the
churche"; this position is still occupied by its successor. Small alterations
included the taking down of the organ and the removal of the two upper
steps of the altar-pace in 1576.
Sir Thomas Gresham (d. 1579) promised to build a steeple "in
recompense of ground in their church filled up with this monument,"
but this was never done. Stow, writing in 1598, (fn. 5) mentions that the partition
between the nuns' church and the parish church had then been taken down.
In 1632–33 a general repair of the church became necessary, and free
subscriptions were obtained towards the cost, from the City of London
Corporation (for Gresham's College), the Merchant Taylors', East India,
Skinners', Mercers' and Leathersellers' Companies, Sir Julius Caesar, Sir
Henry Machin, Mr. Thomas Audley and others. The indications of the
work undertaken, from the churchwardens' accounts are very meagre,
but the disbursement of £122 to the carpenters, £35 to the bricklayers,
the same sum to the smiths, £139 to the plumber, £78 to the painters,
£299 (part payment) to the masons and £463 to the joiners, indicates
considerable structural alterations, including large repairs to the roof.
Mention is made separately of the new font and cover (£20), 10½ ells of
canvas for the "commandements," the clock tower, the church porch
(£23 10s. 9d.), and the glass painter (£15 16s. 6d.). Of the last two items
it seems probable that the first refers to the cost of the existing south doorway
and the second to the cost of the stained-glass shields of contributors, some
of which still remain in the nuns' church. The total cost of the restoration,
entered under the date 1632, was £1322 3s. 2d. It has been asserted that
these alterations were made under the direction of Inigo Jones (vide Cox,
op. cit., page 40), but the statement, apparently, rests on no contemporary
The religious troubles of the middle of the 17th century are
reflected in two entries in the churchwardens' accounts of 1643–44,
relating to the taking down of the cross on the belfry, and the defacing of
"superstitious" inscriptions. A sundial was set up on the church in the
Few alterations seem to have been made to the fabric or its fittings
during the second half of the 17th century. There is, however, mention of
a new organ in 1683, and to the pulling down of the old engine house (for
the fire engine), in 1694. At a vestry meeting held on 8th October, 1696,
it was agreed that Sir Christopher Wren should be consulted about the
repairs of the church. Something was done and finished in 1697, but no
particulars of the work are available.
In 1696 an agreement was entered into between the parish and
Thomas Armstrong that, in consideration of the sum of £100 and taking
down the bells, wheels and ropes in the belfry (over St. Helen's Gate in
Bishopsgate Street), and delivering them safe and sound in the church,
Armstrong should have the lease of the belfry for 61 years, evidently with
a view to rebuilding the structure. From this it appears that the bells
hung, and probably had hung since the 16th century, over the gate-house
at the entry to Great St. Helen's, and that only a clock bell hung in the clock
tower, or steeple, over the church. On 18th June following it was decided
to sell three of the four bells for the repair of the church, the best of the four
to be kept for the use of the parish. In 1699 the belfry and church were
repaired and a bell hung up to give notice of burials. (fn. 6)
The church was repaired in 1710 at a cost of £155 10s., and in
1722 a further sum of £127 was expended. In 1736 an estimate of £550
3s. 1d. for repairs, was referred back for reduction. There is no evidence
as to the work done on any of these occasions.
In 1742 a new organ and organ loft were built from the specifications
of Mr. Thomas Griffin at an estimated cost of £500, including a
"compleat butifull outside case or frame of mahogany, the work to be
masterly finished with beads, mouldings, carvings, frees, cornishes, and
In 1763 a partition was set up across the western part of the church,
under the organ loft, forming an ante-chapel (it is represented in the
engraving reproduced in Plate 7). At the same time (1764) £1000 had to
be raised for the repair of the church.
At the end of 1764 various inhabitants of Little St. Helen's had
leave to open a door out of the garden of Leathersellers' Hall into the
church at the east end. This doorway was covered externally by a small
porch of renaissance design which figures in several late-18th-century views
of the east end of the church. This feature is not shown in Ogilby and
Morgan's map (1677), and was almost certainly added when the door was
pierced. It was destroyed soon after 1799.
The various restorations of the 19th century have very materially
altered the internal aspect of the church, but though much of interest
has been removed and much 17th and 18th-century work has been wantonly
destroyed, the Gothic revival has not swept the church so bare of nonGothic features as in many another instance.
The following are the details of the restorations and of the principal
alterations effected thereby.
In 1809–10 £2994 17s. 3d. was spent, an external roof covered
with slates being erected over the existing roof. At this time the staircase
in the north wall of the nuns' church was discovered, and the outside
repaired with brick. An ancient window was uncovered on the south side
and another on the west side; these were probably both in the south
transept or chapels. The seating was rearranged and the pavement
In 1841 the outer roof of 1809 was repaired and recovered
with slates, and subsequently the external walls were protected by
In 1865 the screen at the west end was removed, the organ repaired
and removed to the Holy Ghost chapel; part of the floor of the nave was
lowered and the nuns' stalls moved from the nuns' quire to their present
position in the parish chancel.
In 1874–76, at a cost of £1560, the chapels were restored, the floors
lowered and the roofs renewed.
In 1888 the most important restoration took place. The external
walls were stripped of plaster and repointed; the floors of the parts of the
church, not previously dealt with, were lowered to their present level;
the outer roofs of 1809 were removed and the old roofs repaired and
covered with lead, the parapets rebuilt and the belfry restored or rebuilt.
The vestry in the south chapel was removed and the new vestries on the
south side of the nave built; new windows were inserted in the north wall
and various alterations and additions made to the fittings.
By Order in Council dated 5th May, 1873, the benefices of
St. Helen and St. Martin Outwich were united, and on the demolition
of the latter church 18 monuments from it were transferred to St. Helen's.