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St Helen and St Giles, Rainham, Essex

(51°31′5″N, 0°11′26″E)
TQ 521 822
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Greater London
medieval London
now Rochester
  • Ron Baxter
20 July 2016

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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



Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches





Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


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.