St Edmund, Egleton, Rutland
At last, the days were long enough to return to Rutland. I had explored forty of the county’s churches in the dry heat of the previous late summer, but now the rolling countryside was full of spring greenness, light-dappled shade scattering across the stone walls and rough fields of the pitched landscape. I cycled out of Oakham onto the long road which runs up the peninsula into Rutland Water. The road climbs through woods, and there are occasional glimpses of the water below and the feeling that you might be coming onto an island.
The pretty village of Hambleton crowns the hill, water on three sides, and its church sitting at the highest point in the village. The name of the village was formerly Upper Hambleton. The roadsign outside the church points back to Oakham in one direction, but the other two boards say simply No Through Road. These roads once led to Middle Hambleton and Nether Hambleton in one direction, and to Edith Weston in the other, but both roads, and both other Hambletons, were submerged beneath Rutland Water in 1976.
I spent twenty minutes or so wandering around Hambleton’s deliciously Arts-and-Crafts-furnished church, and then there was only one way onwards, back the way I had come, but turning off just before I got back to Oakham for Egleton.
Many must be those who pass this lane on their way to the leisure and pleasure of the Water, but as soon as you turn onto it you are presented with the attractive sight of Egleton church’s lean spire and stone walls rising half a mile off above a boiling of trees. The building’s faded elegance unfolds as you approach, the north side containing the arches of a now-blank arcade where an aisle has at one time been demolished. The view from the south reveals two impossibly large 15th Century windows in the south side of the nave, separated by a blockish porch below the one surviving double light of the former clerestory. Above that, the nave roof has been flattened and the tower rebuilt, its bell windows reformed, probably in the 18th Century after a period of neglect.
And now things get even more interesting, because the porch conceals one of the most spectacular south doorways in the county, a large tympanum depicting two beasts flanking (or fighting over?) a wheel, with apparently useless corbel heads to either side. It does not fit the Norman doorway below, and you get the feeling that the whole thing has been butchered, perhaps assembled from parts taken from elsewhere. The tympanum is clearly older than the doorway which it surmounts, in that style handily known as Saxo-Norman, suggesting locals still untouched by a sophisticated foreign invasion of new ideas and working practices.
You step through into a church which is delightfully rough and ready, old stone, old woodwork, dusty light falling through the air from the huge nave windows, crude corbel heads grinning down. The late medieval roodscreen now sits below the tower arch, but it is the view to the east which captivates, because the chancel arch is all of a piece with the south doorway, an apparently butchered Saxo-Norman affair with decorated shafts. The font seems slightly later, late Norman perhaps, square and perfunctorily decorated with roundels. I wonder if this is a good date for the rebuilding of the nave, and the south doorway and chancel arch being brought to the state they are in now?
Above the chancel arch are the remains of a large painted royal arms for the House of Hanover, presumably covered up by the Victorians but later revealed again. The most interesting thing about it is the figure of Aaron standing to the right of it. Presumably Moses is still under the plaster on the other side, but where would the decalogue boards have gone which they would conventionally flank? Could they have hung down within the arch?
The chancel beyond is a simple and refreshing 19th Century refurbishment, a fitting counterpoint to what has gone before, the east window by T Cox & Co depicting the Miracles of Christ. The company was probably also responsible for the lovely decorative glass in the nave. Frowning upon this Victorian elegance, four large and sombre slate memorials, mostly to members of the Crofts family, return stern stares from along the north walls.
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