St Helen’s Church on Lundy Island was completed in 1897 for the Reverend Hudson Grossett Heaven. The Heaven family had owned the island since 1834, buying it as a retreat and hunting estate. Their claims that it was outside the boundaries and jurisdiction of the County of Devon earned the island the moniker, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’.
The cost of building roads and houses on Lundy hit the Heaven family hard, at a time when income from their sugar plantations in the West Indies was diminishing. The Heavens exploited Lundy’s natural resources by setting up the quarries on the east side, but the Lundy Granite Company failed to prosper and shut down before the end of the century.
The church was a somewhat quixotic endeavour, being large enough for a congregation of around 200, yet built at a time when the population of the island was around 60. Allegedly, H.G. Heaven had a choice between spending a bequested sum of money on a proper harbour for the island, or on a new church (there was already an adequate and indeed sizeable church, made from corrugated iron). The expenditure on this (admittedly beautiful) vanity project was a final blow to the Heaven family’s fortunes. Lundy was sold to a new owner in 1918.
Today, the church is looking somewhat worn around the edges, with plenty of mould and damp wood visible inside; plenty of costly restoration work will be needed if it is to survive long-term.