Lancashire Churches

St. Helen’s Church in Overton

A small Norman church overlooking the River Lune.

The village of Overton is at the southern end of a peninsula of land formed by the estuary of the River Lune where it flows into the Irish Sea. This gives it a certain remoteness, and consequently the church is one of the less visited Norman remains in Lancashire.

The original Norman building would have been smaller than the present church which has been extended east and (slightly) south, as well as north (in the form of a transept). In 1902 the foundations of an apse were discovered showing that the building conformed to a common Norman plan.

The south doorway immediately states the church’s Norman origins. It is a semi-circular arch of three orders. It has a protecting hood mould with small chevron ornament on the soffit. The outer arch has beak heads, the middle arch chevron moulding, and the inner arch shows evidence of both sculpture and chevron. The arches are on square jambs. Unfortunately time and the weather have eroded much of the detail of the doorway.

The windows of the nave were deeply splayed, and round headed in the Norman manner. However, rebuilding in the 1770s led to them being remodelled in what was then a contemporary style. At the same time the chancel was extended. It was probably at this time that the pulpit was moved to its present position. Originally a three decker, probably in the chancel, the pulpit was reduced in size and placed partly in a recess cut into the wall. It now has a desk, back and tester. This is a most unusual arrangement. The west gallery appears to date from the C18. It housed the usual “minstrels” who played for the services. Accounts of 1814 for the purchase of musical instruments show that the band included bassoon, oboe and clarinet.

The long north transept was built in 1830. This feature gives the church an odd feeling of imbalance. Pevsner suggests that it was built to house a family pew. Certainly anyone who wanted to be part of the congregation, and see the pulpit, but remain unseen by those in the nave could feel secure here.

The church had box pews but these were removed during the work of 1902 mentioned earlier.

Like nearby Heysham, the church has no tower. Instead, there is a bellcote that holds a single bell of 1878 made by Blews of Birmingham.