OAKHAM, RUTLAND

Grid Ref: SK 860 089
25 and 26 April 2003

 

Oakham Castle spacer Castle Door
Oakham Castle   Detail of castle door
Horsehoes   Castle interior
Some of the enormous horseshoes on the east wal   View inside the castle looking west

 

Rutland may be the smallest county in England but has some fine old buildings set in beautiful countryside. This is hunting country with gentle rolling hills and farmland suitable for raising horses and cattle. Oakham and Uppingham are the two towns with Oakham the county town.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Oakham and much of Rutland was part of the dowry lands of the Anglo Saxon queens, the last of whom was Edith, the wife of Edward the Confessor (1042 to 1066). Edith remained in possession until her death in 1075. At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, Oakham belonged to the King. William II granted the church to Westminster and possibly some of the land but the castle remained in the possession of the crown. As a result the town became split into two manors known as the Deanshold and the Lordshold. The Lordshold came into the hands of Henry de Ferrers about 1130, and his family retained it for about 130 years until a later Henry de Ferrers, in 1205, returned to his lands in Normandy.

Oakham Castle is unlike other castles in appearance both inside and out. The current building is the great hall of a Norman fortified manor house built by Walkelin de Ferrers about 1180. He died in 1201. It is a tradition that peers of the realm visiting Rutlandshire must leave a horseshoe for the castle. There are more than 200 horseshoes, the earliest is from King Edward IV ( 1461-1483) and the most recent, on my visit in April 2003, was from the Prince of Wales. The Ferrers family, who were originally farriers (blacksmiths), had the horseshoe as their heraldic emblem and it is also the emblem of Rutland. The castle is the site for the magistrates court and sometimes a county court sitting. It was restored in 1621 and again in 1911.

Oakham is also known for its school, which lies just west of the castle. The school was founded in 1584 by Robert Johnson, who was rector of North Luffenham and later Archdeacon of Leicester; he also founded the school at Uppingham that year. The town has two market places and there are markets twice a week. The butter cross dates to the early 17th century. Under it is an unusual set of stocks with five leg holes. Was this an accident or an early example of creating improved access for the disabled?

Oakham school spacer All Saints
Part of the school buildings near the market place      All Saints, Oakham
Nave   Ceiling
The Nave of All Saints   Part of the ceiling of the nave and chancel
Butter Cross   Stocks
The Butter Cross with the spire of All Saints behind   The Stocks
County Museum   Weights
The interior of the Rutland County Museum.   Rutland Standard Weights

 

All Saints church is the third stone church on the site, the first being built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 14th century. Further modifications took place in the 15th century and there was extensive restoration in the middle of the 19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott. At the time Scott may have been regarded as a moderniser but he is now much criticised for the destruction of antiquities in churches during his restoration work. The South Doorway dates from about 1190 and the bowl of the font is also late 12th century. The columns and arches of the nave and the chancel arch are 14th century work in the Decorated style. The column capitals are all different with a range of carvings depicting such scenes as The Fall of Man, the Restoration of Man and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The tower is 160 feet high; its building spans the 14th and 15th centuries. One of the contributors to the cost of the spire was a local man, Roger Flore, who was Speaker of the House of Commons on four occasions between 1397 and 1419. The weather cock dates from 1430 but was repaired in 1632 and 1737. The clock was made in 1858. Two of the bells were originally made in 1677 and one in 1723 with four others added in the middle of the 19th century. They were all recast in 1910.

The Rutland County Museum in Oakham was originally built by the Noel family for the Rutland Fencibles to exercise their horses. The fencibles were the local yeomanry cavalry regiment, raised in 1794 during the Napoleonic Wars. Among the exhibits are the standard Imperial Weights and Measures made for the county. The volume measure are inscribed 1825 and standard weighs are inscribed 1858. On the left hands side in the picture is the standard for 56 pounds avoirdupois, which as every schoolboy and schoolgirl used to know, is four stones. Eight stones, equivalent to 112 pounds, made the rather misnamed "hundredweight or cwt" in those pre-decimal days.

Sources:

Oakham Heritage Trail by Brian Waites, booklet available in the county museum.
Oakham Castle, A Guide and History, by T. H. McK. Clough, Curator of Rutland County Museum, produced by Rutland County Council Libraries and Museums, 3rd edition 1999, and available at the castle and the museum.
Oakham Parish Church, a pamphlet available in the church, based on a guide produced by the Rev. Stephen Haddesley with additions by Canon Alan Horsley and then abridged by H. S. Aubury, with drawings by Canon J. R. H. Prophet and photographs by B. and E. Nicholls.

Note: Pictures may be taken in the museum if permission is sought and if the pictures are not for commercial use.

 

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