St Helen and St Giles, Rainham, Essex

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Feature Sets (4)


Rainham is a suburban town in the London Borough of Havering, but traditionally in Essex. It is on the N bank of the Thames, E of Dagenham and separated from the river by Rainham Marshes. The church is in the old centre, and is the only medieval building still standing. 20thc expansion has largely proceeded to the W. St Helen and St Giles is a remarkably complete later 12thc church, consisting of a chancel, a nave with N and S aisles, and a S porch, and a W tower with some 12thc lancets and a replacement brick parapet with a pyramid roof. Construction is of flint and stone rubble with ashlar dressings. The church was restored by Rev. Ernest Geldart (1897-1910).  Romanesque features covered here are the doorways in the N nave aisle and on either side of the chancel as well as the E oculus on the exterior, and inside, the nave arcades, chancel and tower arches, font and a piscina in the S nave aisle.


There were 4 holdings recorded in Rainham in 1086, the chief one, which later became the Manor of Rainham, held in demesne by Walter of Douai and assessed at 8 hides. It was held in 1066 by Leofstan the Reeve. Walter died c.1107 and the manor passed to his son, Robert of Bampton, and thence Robert’s daughter Gillian who married William Paynel (d.c.1165). She subsequently married Warin de la Haule, who was in possession until he died in 1176. In that year Rainham passed to Gillian’s son Fulk Paynel, who fled the country after getting into financial difficulties in 1185; his lands passing into the king’s hands. Rainham was given to Gilbert de Vere in 1179-90, and he gave most of his lands to the Knights Hospitallers when he entered that order.

Gillian Paynel’s second husband, Warin de la Haule presented to the rectory in 1170, but when Rainham was in the king’s hands the advowson was exercised by Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London. Subsequently the advowson was given to Lesnes abbey (Kent) at the request of the abbey’s founder Richard de Lucy, the justiciar, and it remained in the abbey’s possession until its dissolution in 1525.


Exterior Features


N chancel doorway

The N chancel doorway is single order, round headed, plain and continuous and blocked with brickwork.

Height of opening 1.55m
Width of opening 1.13m

N nave doorway

In the N nave aisle is a single order segmental headed doorway blocked with wooden slats. The plain jambs carry quirked hollow chamfered imposts shaved flush with the wall on their fron faces. The arch is segmental and of 8 chamfered voussoirs.

Height of opening 1.59m
Width of opening 0.91m

S chancel doorway

Round headed, 2 orders. All the carving is blackened and there are alarming signs of stone flaking.

Height of opening 1.90m
Width of opening 0.56m
1st order

Paired engaged shafts with no bases carrying paired capitals. On the W jamb both capitals are fleshy waterleaf with fine basketweave between the leaves. The inner capital and the upper part of the outer is badly spalled with irreparable losses and the exposure of the friable interior of the stone. The E capitals, also waterleaf but with trilobed leaves between the notched lobes of the leave, are in better condition. The capitals have plain roll neckings and the impost blocks are quirked hollow chamfered with major losses. The arch is carved with centripetal lateral chevron, consisting of an angle roll and a face hollow with a row of nailhead between them, and a cogwhell inner edge. Like the imposts and the W capitals it has major losses due to spalling.

2nd order

Polygonal engaged nook-shafts with no bases. The W capital is a shaft swallower in the form of a grotesque human head with curly hair, ears correctly placed, drilled almond eyes with heavy brows and a small doglike nose with, apparently, a long handlebar moustache extending almost to the earlobes. The necking is plain and the impost largely lost. The E capital is a shaft-swallowing bird with a hawk’s beak, round drilled eyes and an overall covering of hooked feathers. The necking is plain and the impost largely lost, although a trace of the hollow chamfer remains. The arch is as the 1st order but without the row of nailhead. Outside each capital and on the same block is carved a double scallop with wedges between the cones. This curiosity apparently supports the extrados of the 2nd order. The label is badly eroded, as would be expected owing to its exposed position. It is chamfered with a row of dogtooth on the chamfer.


E facade oculus

The gabled E facade is lit by 5 round-headed lancets, all apparently replacements, with a stepped group of 3 below a smaller pair. Between the two upper windows is an oculus of 2 orders.

1st order

Of 8 chamfered voussoirs, each with a small disk in the centre of the inner edge projecting into the light.

2nd order

Double chamfered with syncopated hyphenated zigzags projecting inwards and outwards.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

The arch is round headed with 2 orders to the W and 1 to the E.

1st order (shared)

The 1st order has plain, unmoulded jambs and arch to E and W. There are frieze capitals carved with rows of scallops in low relief under the arch but not on the E and W faces, and these are topped by quirked hollow-chamfered imposts that extend along the W chancel wall on the E face.  The order has been modified by the introduction of 13thc arcading on the N side of the W face.

2nd order (W face only)

On the S jamb there is no support, but what is above suggests a lost shaft. A moulded capital on the angle continues as a frieze along the E wall of the nave. It has no decoration, and above it is a quirked hollow chamfered impost block. On the N jamb there is also no support and this side of the arch has been modified by the introduction of the 13thc arcading mentioned above. The arch itself is carved with 3 rows of frontal chevron on the face. The inner row is an angle roll, then a face hollow and at the extrados a double row of nailhead. Outside the arch is a plain chamfered label.

Tower/Transept arches

W tower arch

The round-headed arch is of a single order to E and W. Jambs and arch are plain and unmoulded, and separated by capital friezes carved in low relief with a row of scallops topped by quirked hollow chamfered imposts. This arrangement continues as a stringcourse, on the W wall of the nave to either side of the arch, forming the W responds of the N and S arcades.



N arcade

The arcade is of 3 round-headed bays; the arches carried on square piers with shafts at the angles. The E and W responds are similar but halved (with only 2 shafts). All shafts have attic bases, and those towards the main vessel have shaft-rings at mid-height in the form of a keeled roll with roll neckings above and below. All the shafts but one have double scalloped capitals with conical wedges between the cones. The exception is the S shaft of the E respond, which has a waterleaf capital. In all cases the scallop decoration of the capitals continues as a frieze in low relief around the pier. As noted above, this frieze continues the capital frieze and stringcourse of the tower arch on the W respond.

S arcade

As the N arcade except that all the shaft capitals are of the scallop type.




Centrally placed at  the W end of the nave is a font consisting of a cylindrical bowl on a square, arcaded Perpendicular support with diagonal buttresses, with a modern octagonal plinth. The bowl is deeply chamfered around the bottom, with the remains of projecting lugs at the NE and SW of the rim. The NE lug is better preserved and contains the remains of a lead fitting, suggesting a function in connection with an earlier font cover. The SW lug is largely broken off. The upper rim of the bowl has been shaved level and there is no lining to the basin.

Height of bowl 0.43 m
Height of font (without plinth) 1.015 m
External diameter of bowl at rim 0.625 m
Internal diameter of bowl at rim ).485 m

Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


The piscina is set in the S aisle wall of the nave towards the E end. It is of an unusual type consisting of a bowl in the form of a crocket capital with a square basin in the top, carried on a modern convex conical corbel, and set centrally below a roughly shaped rectangular niche in the wall.


The E wall was restored by Rev. Geldart, and all of the lancets appear to be his work. The oculus may be too, but is includes since it probably reproduces the Romanesque design.  The N doorways are too plain to be of much interest, but the rapidly deteriorating S chancel doorway is important. The use of dogtooth on the label suggests a date closer to 1200 than 1180, but the employment of two orders of elaborate chevron, stylish waterleaf capitals and the shaft swallowers of the 2nd order is evidence of the importance attached to this tiny Priest’s doorway.

Inside, the arcades and the chancel and tower arches are certainly contemporary, linked as they are by scalloped stringcourses. The one odd feature of all this is the single waterleaf capital at the E end of the N arcade. The font is of interest for its lugs, and the lead they contain, removing any doubt that this may have had a secular use originally. A 12thc date is suggested by RCHME, but it is not mentioned by Pevsner or Cherry et. al. RCHME  offers a late-12thc or early-13thc date for the piscina bowl. The crocket form suggests 13thc to the present author, but it is included here as it was presumably a pillar piscina originally - very much a Romanesque furnishing type.


  • B. Cherry, C. O'Brien and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5 East, New Haven and London 2005, 185-86.

  • Historic England Listed Building 201549

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 292.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 4, South east. (1923), 116-19.

  • Victoria County History: Essex VII (1978), 126-42.

Exterior from SE
Interior to SE
Interior to W


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TQ 521 822 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Essex
now: Greater London
now: Rochester
medieval: London
medieval: St Helen and St Giles (pre-Reformation)
now: St Helen and St Giles
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
20 July 2016