This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes another look at St Helen’s Church ruins, believed to be one of the oldest surviving buildings in Hastings.
He writes. The old church of St Helen in Ore lies just off The Ridge to the west of Elphinstone Road in an ‘Archaeologically Sensitive Area’ and a designated Conservation Area.
This old church and Hastings Castle are the only structures in the town from the 1066 period.
The ruins have features dating from the 11th to 14th centuries with subsequent alterations and the dedication to St. Helen and a nearby holy well are typically Saxon but, by the mid nineteenth century the church was declared unsound and, as the building was closely surrounded by graves, rebuilding would disturb the graves so the last service was held in the old parish Church of Ore on Sunday 6 June 1869.
The memorial corner-stone for the new St Helens Church was laid on Wednesday 30 June 1869 on a fresh site adjoining the main road about a quarter of a mile distant and the ancient parish church of St. Helen Ore, became ruinous, because much of it was pulled down to provide fabric for the new church.
Eventually, after more than a century of neglect and deterioration, the ruins of this Grade II listed building and scheduled monument were finally conserved and restored in 2012 and are now open to the public at all times with access to the top of the tower via its new internal staircase during open days and other special occasions.
Ion Castro visited and photographed the neglected site on several occasions after the millennium and before the restoration and all the 21st century pictures are his.
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk.
Harper, Hastings Road.
The ancient tiny window in the north wall is not depicted in any of the drawings of the old church. It must have been blocked up and plastered over on the outside, but on the inside it was obviously visible, for it is mentioned as a feature of interest in “Ross’s Hastings and St. Leonards Guide “ in the editions of 1849 onwards. It was opened up some time between 1859 and 1906, when it is clearly shown in a drawing in “The Hastings Road,” (1906) by Charles G. Harper (1863–1943) the English author and illustrator who wrote a number of self-illustrated travel books, that explored the regions, roads, coastlines, and historical and literary connections of Britain.
Inside the tower, 28-2-05.
Photographed in February 2005, before restoration and looking northward. Vast amounts of pigeon guano were removed from the stairway and flat surfaces during restoration and now a purpose-built modern fire-escape type staircase gives access to the top of the tower and its amazing views.
Old St.Helens Ruins at Ore.
Dating from the end of the 19th century the image depicts the original siting of tall upright memorial ‘slabs’. Their subsequent fate is unknown. Notice the invasive ivy that is now covering the north wall.
Ore Ancient Parish Church,
This pre first war photograph shows the north wall at near full height and the window mullions still in situ. The following hundred years saw a huge gap in the wall and the disappearance of the window mullions. The Norman lancet window can be seen between these windows and above the blocked door.
Ore, Ruins of Old Church.
Pictured in the second decade of the last century ivy has already taken hold and will later destroy a section of the north wall. The tower appears to still have a roof.
Protected Windows 28-2-05.
Photographed on 28th Feb 2005 this picture shows the windows on the north wall boarded over to protect them. The Norman lancet window with its larger internal aperture can be seen between them above the blocked doorway and note the doorway on the left that would have led to the vestry.
This photographed was taken a century after the pulpit was first built on Sunday, September 7, 1902, when as open-air service was held in the ruins of the ancient church; an event which proved to be the first of a number of such occasions, usually one or two each year on Sunday afternoons in the summer when wooden benches were supplied for part of the congregation. The services stopped during the war of 1939 — 1945, but they were revived in 1948, when two were held and occasional services have been held since then.
Snow view 28-2-05.
Photographed on 28th February 2005 showing the unrestored church in a picturesque setting. The pulpit from 1902 can be seen on the left and part of the north wall is down to ground level.
Snow view 2-3-05.
Covered in a light sprinkling of snow on 2nd March 2005 this view shows part of the site fenced off and the arch under the tower before it’s top was restored. The outline of the early church can be traced on the tower.
Tower and north wall, 30-8-02.
This image dated 30th August 2002 shows the two large windows have been boarded up to help preserve them and note the Norman lancet window between them.
A classic view of the tower taken through the ruins of the east window, taken 30th August 2002 it show the tower arch and two different rooflines as well as the circular windows that pre-date the tower. The corner of the 1902 pulpit can be seen lower right in the window and the protective barred gate can be seen closing off access to the tower.
Tower, about 2001.
A western gallery was erected in 1816 and in 1821 the new south aisle also had a gallery; the former was entered from the tower staircase and the bricked-up access door can be seen lower right. Note the ancient circular windows and Normanesque arched window between the