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Church Post Code  LN5 0SN

Open to visitors

Visited April 2022

It was a bright and sunny Sunday, early April 2022, and a return visit to the church of St Helen at Brant Broughton. The original visit here, late in the previous autumn, came at the end of a full day’s churchcrawl, in poor lighting with it starting to rain a minute of two after I arrived. The church was closed that day, perhaps due to it being late in the day or perhaps to covid concerns.

The church here was one that I had wanted to visit for some time; considered to be one of the finest in Lincolnshire. Simon Jenkins, in his book ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches gives this a four star rating, making this one of England’s top hundred in his view. Of the Lincolnshire churches included only St Wulfram at Grantham is given a higher rating with the churches at Heckington, Louth and Stow all given the same four star rating; with each of these three being featured on pages in this site.

It was a journey of a little more than 40 miles from my home to the west of Peterborough. Google maps suggested that I could walk this in 17 hours; I am pretty sure that I couldn’t! The village itself can be found in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, alongside the A17 which connects Sleaford to Newark. Sleaford is some 12 miles off to the south east, with Newark eight miles or so away to the west. Lincoln is 12 miles away to the north east. The River Brant flows by to the east of the village, with the name of the village meaning ‘Fortified Settlement on the River Brant’.


The village also has a Quaker Meeting House of some age and interest which was converted from an old thatched barn and which has been in use as a place of worship since 1701; and which has a Grade II Listing.

At the time of the 2021 census the population of the village, along with neighbouring Stragglethorpe, with which it forms a joint parish, was 786.

The church of St Helen sits at the south western edge of the village, a little isolated from the rest of the village. The structure that we see today dates back to the 13th century but a church and a priest were mentioned at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, indicating that there was a previous church here.

At the time of the Domesday Survey Brant Broughton recorded 72 households, making it amongst the largest 20% of villages at that time. There is nothing to indicate though that the village here has ever been of any great size but is hosts a large and impressive church. A reflection back to the wealth of this area in medieval times; with a magnificent church built by those of wealth, to the glory of God, but with also more than half an eye on spending less time in purgatory as a result in those pre reformation catholic days.

Externally and internally, this is an exceptional church; a real statement piece, with tip of spire rising up to 198 feet according to the official listing; with this figure contested in an architects survey which stated a height of 167 feet. Tall enough whatever the height to dominate the landscape!


The structure that we see today consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south porches, north chapel, vestry and chancel.

The oldest parts of the current church are windows at the west end of the nave, with these dating from the very late 13th century. The majority of the rest of the structure dates from the late 14th century. The chancel was rebuilt in 1812, and rebuilt again in the 1870’s by GF Bodley, this being part of major restoration which also saw the north chapel and vestry added.

The three stage tower leads to the slender octagonal, crocketed broach spire, described by Pevsner as being ‘one of the most elegant spires in Lincolnshire’. There are crocketed pinnacles at each corner of the tower, with the church clock facing out from the east wall which was added in 1881, at which point the restoration of the 1870’s and the slightly later work in restoring the bells had been completed.

A parapet at the top of the tower incorporates a repeated pattern of shields, with this pattern extending out across nave and clerestory. The clerestory itself consists of five three light windows, the rebuilt chancel has three tall elegant four light windows with intricate tracery; the east window is of five lights.

The north and south porches are each highly decorated. The south porch has an image niche over the door which has a defaced depiction of what I think is Christ in majesty, which no doubt fell foul of the reformers. A similar empty niche over the door in the north porch now holds a security light! A little datable graffiti in the porches show people leaving their initials and dates as far back as the 1630’s.


The exterior here is covered with carvings of a mixture of human grotesque creatures, the scale of which reminding me of the exterior at Heckington just to the east of Sleaford. Two gargoyles support water chutes on each side of the tower. Lower down we see a variety of carvings, with several human figures playing musical instruments; with one headless figure playing a drum. Another figure without a head is at prayer with a grotesque beast alongside, open mouthed with eyes encrusted with lichen, appearing to be carrying a baby on its back. A fearsome creature, wide eyed and showing a fine set of teeth, peers out from high to the south east. Over a doorway, we see just a single set of claws remaining; the attached beast long since gone.

A frieze of carvings includes a tethered bear, a horse, a wild haired man with sightless eyes and a man exposing his buttocks!

When Thomas North compiled his study of the church bells in Lincolnshire, which was published in 1882, there was a ring of six bells here, all of which were cast by Norfolk bellfounder Thomas Osborn, who operated out of Downham Market. The third of the ring had the interesting inscription ‘Beg ye of God your soul to save before we call you to the grave’. In 1881, at roughly the time that North’s notes would have been at the publishers, Taylor of Loughborough recast three of these six, with this still being the situation today.


The church was open to visitors and is filled with stained glass, including high up in the clerestory windows, which were originally designed to let natural light through. As a result, even though it was bright and sunny outside, it was quite dull inside; and the thought passed through my mind as to how dull it would have been inside on that previous visit.

There are three bay arcades to north and south, each having octagonal piers and moulded capitals. Looking towards the west we see the outline of the previous roof line over the tower arch. The nave roof is restored, dating from the 16th century, the time that the clerestory was added, and features angels with gilded wings unfurled, holding shields.

As mentioned earlier, there was a major restoration here in the 1870’s, with the chancel of 1812 being rebuilt, with the north chapel and vestry being added at that time. The architect involved was George Frederick Bodley, who was a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott. He was prolific between 1854 and 1907, the year of his death and included among his work was the rebuilding of the tower at Long Melford in Suffolk, which can be seen on a page in this site, and the designing of the Cathedral of St David in Hobart, Australia.


Chancel is separated from nave by an oak screen, which dates from the Victorian restoration; over which is a coloured depiction of the crucifixion, with Mary the mother of Jesus and John in their usual positions at the side of the cross. The rebuilt chancel is dominated by the elaborate, gilded reredos. This shows the four gospel writers who each stand under intricately carved ogee headed canopies. Smaller figure holding shields are close by. Shields run along the bottom which show the instruments of Christ’s passion, including the crown of thorns, hammer, nails, spear, scourge and hyssop stick. Gilded scrollwork with a repeated design of grapes runs throughout.

Against the south wall of the chancel is a triple sedilia, the seating for the priests during the mass, with each seat under an ogee headed canopy, with a piscina for washing the holy vessels used in the mass immediately to the east of that. These look to be medieval and would have survived the two 19th century chancel rebuilds.

The story behind the glass in interesting; being produced by amateurs, the Sutton brothers; namely the Revd Augustus and Canon Frederick Sutton, who was the rector here between 1873 and 1889, with the glass being produced in a glass kiln situated at the rectory in Brant Broughton! The majority of the stained glass found here is from the Sutton brothers, with their work being of such quality that they also produced windows for Lincoln cathedral.


Throughout the church we see glass illustrating Biblical characters, from Old and New Testaments, lined up alongside saints and a few angel musicians. Several characters are seen with their associated symbols. St Peter is shown with the key to the kingdom of Heaven. St John carries a chalice from which emerges a serpent. This is a reference to Christian legend, which stated that John was given poisoned wine whilst in Ephesus. John prayed over the wine and the poisoned left in the form of a serpent.

Andrew is shown with a saltire cross, which denoted the manner of his martyrdom; similarly Simon the Zealot is shown with a saw. Philip is shown carrying a fish, a reference to John chapter 6 where Jesus asks him how the crowd were to be fed during the feeding of the 5,000 whilst ‘doubting’ Thomas is shown with set square, but can also be shown with a spear. St Paul is shown with receding hairline and sword.

The east window is of five lights and is the work of Burlinson and Grylls, who Bodley often used when involved in a restoration work. This has Christ crucified at the centre. Mary the mother of Jesus and John are in their traditional places alongside the cross. John holds a chalice, out of which again emerges a serpent.

Up in the tracery of this window we see Christ in majesty, crowned as the King of Heaven, hand raised in blessing whilst holding a globe in his other hand; being surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists.


One interesting window tells the story of Jesus’ birth in five panels; starting with the annunciation’ moving on to Mary meeting Elizabeth then three panels depicting the nativity, which includes a charming panel that shows an angel of the Lord talking to two shepherds, pointing upwards towards Heaven. The sixth panel jumps ahead a little, showing Jesus teaching in the temple as a 12 year old. I always find the depictions of the temple elders interesting; with here one of the elders reaches out his hands towards his Old Testament scroll while Jesus points upwards towards Heaven.  These panels are accompanied by text from the Magnificat; ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoined in God my saviour for he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden’.

Close by we see the scene on Easter morning with the risen Christ, with crucifixion wounds visible on feet and side, meeting Mary Magdalene, with long hair flowing as usual.

We also see Jesus, who wears a blood red tunic symbolic of the blood that was shed for us, talking with Mary and Martha of Bethany. Mary list listening intently to what Jesus is saying but Martha is distracted, turning to look at Jesus whilst doing something else.

A further three light window shows John the Baptist with the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, St Paul, Noah with an angel of the Lord, with the ark in the background, the baptism of Jesus and Moses parting the Red Sea. Interestingly, making for a very eclectic mix, we also have St Augustine of Hippo, who brought Christianity to England.


This is a fine church; open to visitors and well worth taking a look at if you are in the area; one of the most striking churches that I have visited in Lincolnshire with much for the interested visitor to see. The stained glass is a delight but it does come at a price with the natural light levels inside being quite low in places. As I was looking around the interior thoughts turned to the church of Holy Trinity at Tattershall, also in Lincolnshire, where an 18th century vicar was so frustrated by the low light levels in his church that he had the medieval stained glass taken out and replaced with clear glass! It was time to hit the road again and we headed west towards Sleaford with no clear set plan; just trying to find a few open churches whilst enjoying the sun. A pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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