A Short History of St Helen's Church

Although there is no evidence to prove it, it seems probable that there was a settlement, south of the present village, by the Whemley Burn, as the old church is situated there, in the field of Ellage. The Norman stone building possibly replacing a wooden one.

The first stone church was a Norman building of an unknown date. The church is mentioned in the Will of William Baron Greystock, who died in 1289. ( he married Mary de Merley). A son of the vicar is mentioned in the lay Subsidy Roll (a sort of rateable values list) of 1296 and in the same roll a vicarage and a rectory are listed. The first known vicar was Robert Dathenorth, who was appointed in 1299 by Walter Grey the Archbishop of York. That appointment was made after the church had been destroyed by William Wallace on a raid in 1297. The National Archives holds a letter from the bishop of Durham to Edward l asking that the lay force that had entered his church of Longhorsley be removed, the letter is dated 29 October 1275. Nothing now remains of this building, which was covered with lead, it had a low Norman arch, with marble pillars.

In about the year 1385, a licence was granted by Richard ll to the prior and convent of Brinkburn, to receive the advowson (Advowson: in English law the right of patronage or the ecclesiastical benefice of a church ) from Ralph Lord Greystoke, the appropriation of the benefice was not confirmed until 1391, when Bishop Skirlaws of Durham ordered that the church be served by a vicar, presented by the priory, being a canon of their own order. The advowson remained with the priory until the Dissolution in the reign of Henry Vlll.

In 1585, a claim was made for the benefice of the church by both Henry, Earl of Northumberland and Sir John Foster, however, upon an inquisition it was found that it did not belong to either. The vicar, Humphrey Greene, immediately secured the presentation for Elizabeth l, but afterward having doubted his right, resigned from the Vicarage. The Earl pursued his cause, probably encouraged as the tithes of Brinkburn had passed to the family. He evidently won the case, as the patronage was passed to the 6th Duke of Somerset when he married the only child of Joclyn, Earl of Northumberland.

In 1692, by Act of Parliament, the advowson of Petworth, Surrey, where the Earl of Somerset lived, and which belonged to the crown, was exchanged with Longhorsley, and so it has remained, the presentation being made by the Lord Chancellor.

In 1723, it was decided that the church bell was to be new cast or exchanged, and it came into use before Easter 1725. A gallery was built about 1731, at the expense of the parish, by subscription, and the seating was divided, by lot, for each village quarter.

In 1737, when vicar Cockburn came from Aberdeen to take up his duties here (he had held the living here since 1727, but had left the parish in charge of a curate) he started the warden's book. Since then there has been a continuous record of events in the church and village, even if not always very complete.

In 1763 the marble pillars being broken were replaced by ones made of freestone, and two stone buttresses were built to support the north wall.

The building must have still not been in good repair for a note in the back of the Wardens Book recorded the following: 'On the 20th February 1783, at a meeting of the Vicar (Rev. Joseph Middleton), churchwardens and the Twenty-four (The Parish Council of the day), it was unanimously agreed that a cess (tax) of £50 be collected, towards defraying the expense of rebuilding the church.'

In April a further cess of 3d in the pound was agreed. The Church Wardens, and some gentlemen were nominated for inspecting the workmanship of the building. It was to be a plain structure, built on the old foundations but extended to the north, to allow for another aisle, but without a gallery.

In 1820, C.W.Bigge Esq. of Linden Hall contributed to the comfort and convenience, and elegance of the church, by building a new vestry, repairing the chancel and enlarging the arch between church and chancel, which before was so small as literally to divide them into two separate apartments. He also made an elegant Altar and rails from part of an immense oak tree dug out of the peat moss on his estate. He was responsible for the trefoiled arch, which Pevsner said was the one feature that makes everyone remember Longhorsley. Charles Bigge also, at the same time repaired and rebuilt the causeway, which leads from the village to the church.

The east-end windows held glass, designed and executed in diaphane in 1868, by Sarah Elizabeth Ames, of Linden Hall, and given in memory of her husband.

The first organ was installed in the church in 1870, presented by Henry Metcalfe Ames of Linden Hall. Before this, for some time, the singing was accompanied on a fiddle, played by the sexton, then being incapacitated by a bad accident, Thomas Morrison took over the task. The following exchange took place in 1850.

'This is to certify that the mass Fiddle, belonging to the parish of Longhorsley, has been received from Matthew Gallon in good repair, and is now lent to Thomas Morrison for the purpose of performing church music, and who is accountable for the same'. To give more volume to the accompaniment Adam Scott used to ride over from Whinney Hill, for each service, to play his clarinet.

On July 18th 1751, at a meeting of the vicar, Church Wardens, the twenty-four and the Principle inhabitants of the two quarters belonging to Longhorsley it was unanimously agreed that a cess of one shilling and sixpence be immediately collected for the building of a new school house. The building to the east of the schoolhouse, to which it is attached (now a holiday cottage) was the school, which was also used for meetings, baptisms for churching women, etc., and for services in the winter, from an early time until about 1964.

The Church of England school, attached to the west end of the schoolhouse, was built in 1848. In the early 1960s, a new school was built in Drummond’s Close. The old church to the south of the village was closed, the old school building was then converted into the parish church. The first service, after its consecration, was held on Friday 4th November 1966.

In 1981, a new entrance was made in the west wall, and an entrance porch was built with the stones, slates, and doors were taken from the old church, which was, after some stabilising work, left as the ruin you see today.