Building » Ongar – St Helen

Ongar – St Helen

High Street, Ongar, Essex CM5

A small Gothic Revival church built in 1868-69 under the patronage of the twelfth Lord Petre and Countess Tasker, extended and re-orientated in the 1970s. The church makes a positive contribution to the Chipping Ongar Conservation Area.

A Mass centre was established in Ongar in 1862, which by 1865 was located in a barn behind the King’s Head public house. This was served from Brentwood (1862-63), then by a resident priest (1864-65) from Brook Green, Hammersmith, by the Servites from Chelsea (1865-66) and from Barnet (1866-68). The twelfth Lord Petre and Miss (later Countess) Helen Tasker bought the site and paid the construction costs of £400. (The dedication was chosen in memory of Countess Tasker.) The foundation stone was laid in December 1868 and the church was opened and consecrated by Archbishop Manning on 21 April 1869. The architect was Daniel Cubitt Nichols, who in 1856 had built St Edward the Confessor, Romford (qv), also under the patronage of the twelfth Lord Petre, and in 1863 had extended the chapel at Ingatestone Hall. The builders at Ongar were Messrs Joseph Bostock of Brentwood.

In about 1973 the sanctuary at the original west end and probably the porch were added by T. G. B. Scott and the orientation of the church reversed. The sanctuary was presumably reordered at the same time and the historic furnishings removed. In 1982, the present organ was moved to the church and in 1999, the bell installed.


The church faces northwest. This description follows conventional, liturgical orientation.

The church is built in red brick, laid in English bond (porch and sanctuary in Flemish bond), with stone dressings and a slate roof. The brickwork on the north side has decorative burnt headers. The plan is rectangular, originally of a single cell, with a narrower sanctuary and a north porch (both of c.1973). Both are in a sympathetic style to the rest of the church. There are timber bargeboards to the east and west nave gables and the north porch gable. The north porch has two square windows to the north; the remaining windows and original doors in the church are shoulder-arched, apart from the west window. In the apex of the west gable is a small timber bellcote holding a bell cast in 1869 by John Warner, Spitalfields, installed at St Helen’s in 1999 and first rung on 1 January 2000.

The nave is five bays long, with a half bay at either end. The roof has exposed scissor rafters, reinforced with metal braces. The wall posts rest on stone corbels, of which the four at the west are carved (female heads on the north side and male heads on the south). The west end has a large circular window (the original east window) filled with stained glass depicting the Virgin and Child surrounded by seventeen saints, which looks like the work of Lavers & Westlake and was given by the Jump family. In the southwest corner is the organ, a Bishop organ of c.1825 which was given to the church in 1982 and restored in 2000.

The north wall of the church has a two-light shouldered-arch window to the north porch and, further east a three-light window filled with stained glass by John Hardman. The window is dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Thomas Byles, parish priest 1905-12, who died on the S.S. Titanic. It depicts St Patrick, the Good Shepherd and St Thomas Aquinas. A brass plaque dated 1913 between the north windows records that the altar rails (removed) and the confessional were the gift of Mrs Catherine Probst in memory of her son Aloysius Gonzaga Probst, who drowned in 1883. A door at the northeast corner of the nave used to be the main west door.

On either side of the sanctuary arch are a statue of Our Lady (presented by the Catholic Women’s League, 1981) and, to the south, the tabernacle (which came from the pre-1972 Lady Chapel of Brentwood Cathedral). The sanctuary is side-lit by two two-light windows, shoulder-arched like the other windows in the church. The blind east wall has a small crucifix. The lectern and presidential chair are modern and of timber; the altar is of stone.

The south wall has a three-light stained glass window of St James the Great (possibly by Mayer of Munich) and a further three-light window with clear glass. To the west are a small disused door with a glazed trefoil (possibly leading to a former confessional) and the door to the sacristy and presbytery. The Stations of the Cross are unframed reliefs. The nave floor is covered in modern linoleum printed with the pattern of domestic tiles.

Amended by AHP 21.7.2023

Heritage Details

Architect: D. C. Nichols

Original Date: 1868

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed