St Michael’s Church, Helston
Church Street, Helston, TR13 8NJ
OS grid reference SW 658277
St Michael’s Church sits high above the Cornish town of Helston, its tower visible from many points in the town and beyond. It is a replacement for an earlier church struck by lightning in 1727, and which became unsafe. The old church was pulled down and rebuilt between 1756 and 1763. The chosen architect was Thomas Edwards and the interior design is that of a Georgian London church, very similar to St. Alphege’s church, Greenwich designed by the celebrated architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and where Edwards is buried. The church foundation stone was laid on 8th May 1756 but progress was slow and it was five years before the building was opened for public worship on 18th October 1761. The interior of the building has been much altered since it opened in 1761. In 1837-8 the church was renovated and extended by the Plymouth architect George Wightwick, who added the south porch and the north apse. These contained stairways to new galleries either side of the nave, supported by short iron columns. The upper doors to the galleries can still be seen in the walls today.
The arch separating the nave from the chancel originally had a high elliptical crown supported by prominent vertical pilasters, echoing the shape of the east window. But in June 1970 a structural fault was found in the chancel arch and the building was condemned as unsafe and ordered to be closed. The closure lasted for two years, during which the chancel arch was stabilised and the present arch inserted. At the same time, the side galleries, the rood screen and the pulpit were removed. The east end of the nave was cleared of pews and re-ordered to reflect changes in the practice and liturgy of the Church of England. A movable raised nave altar platform with two lecterns and surrounding communion rails in wood were installed in the created space. The style and materials of this controversial transformation reflected the clean and simple design philosophy of the 1970s.
In the succeeding years, less dramatic alterations and improvements have been made to take account of general concerns about energy conservation and public safety. In 2011 the whole of the church roof was replaced using Cornish slate, and insulation and access above the suspended ceiling were improved. In 2018 the blind solid entrance doors from the south porch were replaced by part-glazed oak doors. In 2020 the whole of the nave floor, was excavated and replaced by an insulated and breathable floor of fossil limestone flagstones.
An illustrated Guidebook (published 2021) is available in the church.