Rutland – a small county with lots to see!
As my internship draws to a close, I still feel as though I haven’t seen as much of Rutland as I would have liked (after working here for 6 months). It is such a beautiful county, with a unique heritage. Therefore, I’m going to write about the heritage options around England’s smallest county and then I’m going to try to visit the ones I’ve yet to see.
A Few Rutland Facts
- Rutland has an area of 151 square miles
- It was reinstated as a county in 1997 after being part of Leicestershire from 1974
- It is the only county not to have a fast food chain
- The National Leg Wrestling Championships are held in Oakham each year, during the late May bank holiday
Rutland County Museum, Oakham
Obviously I’m biased as I work there, but this museum is so great and unique. It tells the story of the county, mostly through archaeological collections and social history.
The museum is very large and includes a vast number of large agricultural / rural objects (i.e. turnpikes / wagons). The museum’s building itself is historically impressive – it was the old Riding School of the Rutland Fencible Cavalry in 1794-95.
The object that catches the eye of most visitors is the New Drop Gallows. We think it is the only surviving gallows of its type in the UK. It was first used in 1813. This New Drop design was not great, as the drop was too short to break the neck quickly.
Dating back to 1180, the castle is one of the finest surviving examples of Norman architecture anywhere in England. It was originally built as a manor house and was heavily fortified with walls, a moat and a drawbridge. However, by the 16th Century, much of the castle was in ruins.
A unique tradition has been maintained over the past 550 years – monarchs and peers of the realm have traditionally given a decorative horseshoe to the castle on their first visit to Rutland. These are all on display at the castle and collectively make an impressive sight! Surprising to most, the castle is the oldest continually operated court in the county and is still in action (every 2 years).
Lyddington Bede House
Originally the Medieval wing of a palace belonging to the Bishops of Lincoln, it became an almshouse for 12 poor ‘bedesmen’ in 1600 after it was given to Sir Thomas Cecil (son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister).
Now as an English Heritage site, visitors can wander through the bedesman’s rooms with their tiny windows and fireplaces. You can also see the former Bishops’ Great Chamber, with its beautiful ceiling cornice.
Normanton Church | Rutland Water
This beautiful church is the iconic image of Rutland. Originally St. Matthews Church, it served as a parish church until the early 1700s when a large part of the village was demolished to create an estate for the Heathcote Baronets. These wealthy aristocrats used the church as their private chapel and mausoleum.
There was a public outcry in the 1970s which saved the church from destruction, as the surrounding areas were flooded to make Rutland Water – one of the largest reservoirs in Europe. The church now appears to float on the lake when the reservoir is full. It formerly housed a museum recording the history of Rutland Water, which is now located in the visitor centre – another site I’d like to visit. The church opens to the public every so often in the evenings. I hope to get to go to one.
If the opportunity arises to visit Rutland, perhaps these heritage sites will help you decide what to do!
By Ellie Cooper, Resilience Syndicate Intern at Rutland County Museum