Rutland may be geographically slender, being the smallest historic county in England, but its history is deep. This part of the East Midlands houses a worthy collection of Neolithic artefacts at its county museum, while sites such as Normanton Church, the Great Hall at Oakham Castle and Whissendine Windmill are unique and celebrated in their own right.
Here are the best historic sites and attractions in Rutland.
1. Rutland County Museum
The history of the smallest county in England is represented by Rutland County Museum in Oakham, which draws from rural life and archaeology to explore the history of Rutland. It exhibits include an ice age bison horn and extinct oysters from the Triassic and Jurassic periods.
The museum also features a find discovered on the surface of ploughed soil: an alpine jade axe, which is one of about 120 of its kind known in Britain. The jadeite rock was familiar to Neolithic craftsmen in Italy’s Alps.
2. Oakham Castle
The place currently known as Oakham Castle was originally the Great Hall of a much larger fortified manor. Originally built in the 12th century by Oakham’s lord of the manor, Walkelin de Ferrers, the castle is one of the longest-running seats of justice in England.
The Norman hall is a fine example of surviving domestic architecture from the period, and would have once hosted banquets and courts. The hall is decorated with over 230 ceremonial horseshoes donated by various Peers of the Realm, a custom of uncertain origin which nonetheless continues to this day.
3. Normanton Church
Normanton Church is Rutland’s most famous landmark and a relic of the landscape prior to its flooding in the 1970s to create Rutland Water. The first church was built here in the 14th century, and a later iteration was constructed in the 18th century.
When the reservoir was created, the floor of the church was raised to accommodate for its partial submersion under the water, while rubble and concrete was filled into the deconsecrated lower level. Surrounded by an embankment and connected to the shore by a causeway, Normanton Church is today a unique site and event space.
4. Whissendine Windmill
Whissendine Windmill is one of England’s few remaining 19th century windmills that is fully operational. Built in 1809, the windmill has overlooked the village of Whissendine for over 200 years. The mill is equipped with four sails and a set of fine machinery, including a roller mill from 1877. The mill produces bread and pastry flours, spelt and barley flours, ryemeal and oatmeal.
5. Lyddington Bede House
The Grade I listed Lyddington Bede House sits in the ironstone village of Lyddington in Rutland and was once part of a palace belonging to the Bishops of Lincoln. It stands beside St Andrew’s Church, and features a watch tower and boundary walls, each individually listed at Grade I and Grade II. The Lincoln Diocese was once the largest bishopric in England, and the palace at Lyddington served as a rest stop along the north-south road.
6. Exton Church
St Peter & St Paul’s Church in Exton, Rutland, is a large medieval church which contains a wide set of monuments. Located several miles east of Oakham, the church was recorded in 1225 though most of the structure dates to the 14th century. It stands apart from the nearby village, though from the east end of the church the ruins of an old Tudor hall can be seen.
7. Wing Maze
The maze in Wing, Rutland is a circular turf maze 12 metres in diameter, though is properly defined as a labyrinth. The origin of the peculiar design is variously dated to the Iron Age, medieval period and even attributed to Viking settlers. The pattern repeats that found on the pavements in some European cathedrals, however. The maze became a haunt of folklore fans in later years.
8. Oakham Signal Box
Oakham Signal Box is responsible for bringing fame to Oakham’s railway station, thanks to its use as the model for Airfix’s signal box modelling kit. Oakham’s station opened on 1 May 1848, during which time signally was entirely mechanical, with points and signals operated locally by individual levers and handles.