Over the years this church has had many people associated with it but its most famous son
was Captain John Smith and his life is
celebrated in three of the church windows. Smith was baptised in the
church font on 19th January 1580 and educated under the guidance of his
father, a yeoman farmer at Alford and for two years at Louth. After his fathers death he became a soldier of
renown under the patronage of Lord Willoughby, eventually becoming a
gentleman and joining the Virginia Company. He became the first Governer of Virginia
to complete a full one year term of office and, in later life, an author.
The main Structure of the church is early 14th to early 15th Century with a major
restoration by the famous Lincolnshire architect, James Fowler of Louth around 1880.
It is large for a village of around 500 souls and is light and airy.
The tower has some interesting features :
On the west side is a niche with nodding ogee head containing a figure of St. Helena. She is holding her symbols, a cross in her right hand and a church in her left. a bishop. Above that is an ogee headed light and a lozenge clock face.
At the base of the arch over the tower window you will notice a pair of stone heads with crowns - a king and a queen. These are common on the end of arches, inside churches as well, but not St Helena's.
On the south side of the tower on the left hand edge, if you look carefully you will see a carved stone showing a face with fingers pulling the mouth wide open.
At the top of the tower there are also some stone heads that are part of the guttering. These are normally ugly and they were put there to ward of evil spirits. Those that are water spouts are called gargoyles while those that are just carved stones are grotesques. Inside the tower, the ladder up to the bell floor is a very ancient affair. Made of riven (split) timbers, it may have been constructed from surplus roof timber during one of the rebuildings in pre-Reformation times.
To the right of the gate is a path that leads to the Old Rectory. This path is made up of old grave stones from this churchyard. If you bush the leaves away you can read the inscriptions.
There is large monument is to the Hurdman family who have been in the parish since 1532. There are still Hurdman's in the village. The inscription shows Bombay as "East Indies" not India as it is today. Going south from the monument there is a "war grave" to W Luffman. This is maintained locally but there are war grave cemeteries that are maintained by the war grave commission. There is a list of other men involved in the first World War from this parish in the north aisle of church
Entrance to the church is through the gabled 15th century porch and the South doorway, which is thought to
On the wall to the left of the entrance, (The West end of the church), can be found a list of past Rectors of Willoughby. The first of these was the Revd.D T. De Willegby who took up his post in 1227. Also in this area is the font which is dated c.1450. The carvings in the panels are believed to be later 19th century work. On the wall by the font can be found a copy from the Baptism Register showing the entry for Captain John Smith.
The north aisle has five 14th Century light cusped ogee headed windows in rectangular surrounds and the window at the West end is 15th Century. Directly opposite the South door can be seen a curtain covering the North door. This was made by ladies of the village to welcome visitors. It depicts an arch like those within the church looking out over a scene of the Wolds. The world is depicted by the globes at the top of the pillars and the word 'welcome' in six world languages down the sides. There is a book at the back of the church detailing the process of making and hanging this curtain and the matching banners on the nave pillars. Note also, the book of photographs of events by the church community.
To the left of the North door is the vestry and the mid-Victorian screen which forms it was originally the baptistery screen of the church of the Holy Trinity, Gainsborough, which is now an arts centre.
On the wall of the North aisle can be found various rolls of honour and memorials to the members of the parish who perished in the two world wars. At the East end of the North aisle is the garden of remembrance and prayer corner. Any names left here are prayed for at the Sunday Eucharist. The plants are there as symbols of ever present life.
The east window, dating from 1846, is a blocked semi-circular headed three light window with panel tracery and moulded surround. The two 14th century windows in the south wall have 20th century stained glass, commemorating the association between Willoughby and America. While in the Chancel notice the fine balance of the pillars. On the arch of the Chancel, repairs to the stonework indicate that there was a screen at one time. It is believed that it was lost in the refurbishment in the 19th century. This was carried out by Fowler, an architect who removed ancient work from thirteen north Lincolnshire churches.
The north chapel is off the chancel and the entry is through an early 14th century double chamfered arch with sunk wave shafted reveals. Immediately behind is a probably repositioned original double chamfered arch with octagonal responds and capitals.
The organ was originally sited at the west end of the church by the tower but is now in the North Chapel. Various organ pumpers have written their names in pencil on the panelling behind, recording their efforts in the last century. The organ was built by Messrs. Foster and Andrew's of Hull. In 1856 it cost £300 and is original apart from the electric pump.
The nave has five 14th century nave arcades, octagonal piers and capitals, double chamfered arches. The tower arch is 14th century, double chamfered, dying into the reveals. Above the arches on both north and south sides have five 14th Century paired lights cusped to both sides. The Chancel arch matches the arcade.
The Nave has Welcome Banners on the pillars. There are twelve of these each saying Welcome in the languages of the EEC (there were only twelve counties when they were made). They are made in the four liturgical colours of the church.
The pulpit lectern rests on a small brass eagle. This was originally a counterweight for a font cover and may be medieval though probably not from Willoughby. The free standing lecturn on the other side side of the nave is a fine example of its type, taking the form of an eagle with its wings spread wide. Unfortunately nothing is known of its history.
There are two Staves (or Stapps) decorated with a crown and a mitre traditionally used by Churchwardens. This pair are dedicated to the memory of the Reverend Wickham Rector of St. Helena's from 1945 to 1959. (You will find a list of Rectors to the north of the south door).
The south aisle has a single three light 15th Century Window in the east and west walls and in the south wall four three light windows matching those in the north. In the south east corner of the south aisle is a curious gravestone dating from the 13th century.
At the east end is the Lady Chapel, the alter of which was formerly in the little church of East Heckington, now redundant.
The two Standards by the east of the south door (the Stars & Strips & the State of Virginia) frames a plaque to the memory of John Smith. This was erected by the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation of Virginia in 1960. The map to the left is a reproduction of Virginia at time of John Smith.
The Virginia Windows, the John Smith Window and the St. Helena Window were all gifts to this church from
Philip L. Barbour of Kentucky U.S.A. in 1974.
The then Rector of Willoughby, Rev Rosendale, was responsible for the fitting of the windows in the Church, donated by Mr. Barbour. The two windows in the chancel were fitted later in 1985 when Rev Taylor was incumbent. He, with members of the village, arranged a luncheon for His Excellency the Governer of Virginia, Governer Robb, and his Lady plus the American party who travelled to England for the launching of the Godspeed and the dedication of the new windows.
The John Smith Window - South Aisle - By the Font
The centre panel shows the baptism of John Smith in the font, which stands before it. The record of the baptism, which took place on 9th January 1580, is still held in the church.
In the top left-hand panel the boy John is shown studying at Louth Grammar School, and at the top right learning the arts of war in a Willoughby pasture at about the age of 20. In between them is a portrait head of Sigismundus Bathory, Prince of Transylvania, who made Smith captain of 250 soldiers and awarded him the coat of arms seen below the centre panel. The three Turks Heads in the emblem are a recognition of his having killed three Turkish warriors in single combat.
To the left of the centre panel is a portrait of Princess Pochohontas, daughter of the Indian 'Emperor' of Tidewater, Virginia, who saved Smith's life in December 1607.
To the right is a picture of Frances Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, whose first husband was a patron of John Smith and who herself was responsible for the publication of his major work 'The General Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles' in 1624. At the bottom left of the window is the arms of the Virginia Company who made Smith President of the Council of Virginia, and on the bottom right the arms of the New England Company who made him Admiral of New England.
The St Helena Window - West wall - By the Font
The small panel in this other window by the font commemorates St. Helena, to whom this church is dedicated. She was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine and was the person who re-discovered the site of the Cross and Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The panel depicts the first church on that site.
The Virginia Windows - Chancel - South Side
The Eastern Window
The centre panel has as its centrepiece the arms of Robert Bertie, 1st Earl of Lindsey, 13th Baron of Willoughby. He was Lord of the Manor of Willoughby and John Smith's father was his tenant.
Top left - Robert Hunt. This panel depicts the first recorded celebration of Holy Communion on the American Continent on Sunday 21 June 1607. John Smith described the scene as follows:- 'When I first went to Virginia we did hang an awning (which is an old sail) to three or four trees to shadow us from the sun, our walls were rails of wood, our seats unhewed trees till we cut planks, our pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two trees'. It should be noted that the worshippers were obliged to have their arms at the ready in case of sudden Indian attack.
Bottom Left - William Crashaw. The scene shown here is of William Crashaw preaching to Members of the Council of Virginia, Lord de la Warr, shareholders and colonists. The date was the 21 February 1609 in the Temple Church in London. It has been claimed that there is no nobler sermon of this period expressing colonisation in terms of Christian Mission - part of the text is displayed in bottom right panel of the other window. He was born in Yorkshire in 1572, became a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, and ordained in 1597. He was Rector of Barton Agnes in Yorkshire and from 1605 - 1613 served the Temple Church. He was the father of Richard Crashaw, the poet, and died in 1626.
Top Right - Matthew Sutcliffe. He was a wealthy man who helped John Smith with funds for fitting out the New England Venture. Matthew Sutcliffe founded a college at Chelsea for polemical writing against the Roman Church but despite the support of King James it never became permanent.
Bottom Right - William Symonds. He became a preacher at St. Saviours, Southwark, and was the editor of the first account of the proceedings of the English Colony in Virginia which was published in 1612. The panel shows William Symonds reading proofs at the printers.
The Western Window
The centre panel is the arms of Peregrine Bertie, Knight of the Bath. As a youth in 1599 he travelled to France with John Smith as his companion, thus being the occasion of Smith's first venture abroad. Peregrine was on his way to join his brother Robert on a continental tour. Smith only stayed with them for a few weeks. He later met the brothers again near Sienna in Italy where he found them 'cruelly wounded in a desparate fray, yet to their exceeding great honour'.
Top Left - Alexander Whitaker. He was minister at Henrico, a new settlement 55 miles up river from Jamestown. Born in Cambridge in 1585 he was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He answered a call from the Governor of Virginia for 'four honest and learned ministers' and sailed in March 1611. It was he who prepared the Princess Pochohontas for Baptism and is shown in the panel teaching her in his parish. According to Sir Thomas Dale she "renounced publicly her country religion, openly confessed her Christian faith stating she desired to be baptised". Alexander Whitaker was drowned in the James River.
Bottom Left - Samuel Purchas. He was born c. 1577 at Thaxted in Essex. He became Vicar of Eastwood near Southend in 1604. He is shown reading in his study there. Philip Barbour has suggested that his interest in exploration may have been due to meeting George Berkeley, a friend of John Smith, and also Andrew Buttel of Leigh. He obtained many of Hakluyts papers on his death and built upon it to produce 'Purchas his Pilgrimes', a massive work which is one of the major sources of our knowledge of the 16th and early 17th century voyages. He died in 1626.
Top Right - Richard Hakluyt. He was born near London about 1552 and from boyhood was fascinated with geography. He was ordained and began writing about voyages of exploration at the age of thirty. He is shown in the panel presenting a copy of his 'Discourse of Western Planting' to Queen Elizabeth 1 in October 1584. He wrote this book during a five year term of office as chaplain to the English Ambassador in Paris. The Queen rewarded him with a canonry in Bristol Cathedral. There is only one remaining copy of that book in the New York Public Library. Hakluyts Voyages was a profound stimulus to the early explorers of America. He died in 1616 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Westminster Abbey.
The Chancel Window - Chancel - East Side, above the alter
This is the only other stained glass window placed in the 19th century. The flames depict from the left; the Nativity with the shepherds, the Crucifiction and the Resurrection.
The inscription reads "Im memoriam Thomae Brown Chirurgi vir fuit in iis artibus duae (or
ouae) omnibus prosint maxima partitus obiit 5 November 1847 aetatis sua 49.
Translated: "In memory of Dr Thomas Brown, a man (of whose patients) by whom everyone benefited through both his great skill and care, died 5 November 1847, aged 49.
(Thanks to Andrew Tyler, Gordon Plumb and Peter Mullins for assistance with translation)