Saxby is a small village situated nine miles north of Lincoln, overlooking the upper Ancholme valley. There is evidence that the areas was occupied in Roman times. The name “Sassebi” is recorded in the Doomsday book, and thus probably occupied by Danish invaders in the ninth century. Saxby passed into the ownership of St Katherine’s Priory, Lincoln, during the twelfth century. St Katherine’s was a hospital for the poor and sick, and was administered by Gilbertine canons and nuns.
For 450 years Saxby has had close connections with the Earls of Scarbrough and their predecessors, the ancient family of Saunderson. The estate was finally sold in 1917, but the connection was continued until the death of the 12th Earl in 2004. He was the last Scarbrough Patron of St Helen’s Church and Lord of the Manor.
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St. Helen’s Church
Little is known about the original church which was on the same site as the present building. Parish records indicate that the old church was the last resting place of several members of the Saunderson family and the 3rd Earl of Scarbrough. The nearby village of Firsby had a church, St James’ mentioned in the Doomsday Book, but nothing remains of the site of the medieval village of Firsby, about one mile south-west of Saxby. The church of St Helen was completed in 1775 and was built as a parish church and mausoleum chapel for the Lumley Saunderson family. The architect is thought to have been Thomas Lumby, who also rebuilt the roof of the Chapter House in Lincoln Cathedral. In 1869 one of the south windows was replaced with a stained glass memorial window to John Wheelwright Robinson, who lived at Saxby Manor and is buried in the churchyard.
Over the years the interior decoration had altered considerably from its original colour scheme. In 2004, Nigel Leaney carried out detailed paint samples in the church and was able to produce the original colour scheme from 1775. In 2005 the church was redecorated with this authentic colour scheme with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, and it is now possible to enjoy the church as it was in 1775.
The memorials in the church are to the 6th, 7th and 8th Earls of Scarbrough and the 7th Countess. The hatchments at the rear of the church are the armorial bearings of Richard the 6th Earl who died in 1832, and John the 8th Earl who died in 1856.
The present church stands in an elevated position overlooking open countryside to the west. It is built of stone and brick, in a classical style, with a lead roof, and a timber and leaded cupola. The magnesium limestone used in the building for the base, portico, columns, window surrounds and copings was probably quarried and cut at the Roche stone quarry in South Yorkshire. The red brick most likely came from a local source.
The interior consists of a central aisle leading to the semi-circular altar apse. When the church was built there was a window in the east end behind the altar. The apse was altered in 1869 and the window was filled in and plastered over. At this time the apse was given its present boss and acanthus leaf pattern. There was also a Victorian mural painted on the wall behind the altar.
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