As part of my self-drawn up Fifty before Fifty challenge, I have decided to visit every church on the Churches Conservation Trust list. There are 341 in total (and until yesterday I think I had passed one and visited two). This is because I like a challenge, religious buildings are nearly always great examples of architecture (cos that’s where the money was) and I like travelling around the country to see what I can discover.
I first came across the Churches Conservation Trust when I was working in Esher in Surrey where, tucked away behind the High Street is this tiny little gem called St George’s Church of Tudor origins and with a pulpit and pew designed by Vanbrugh.
Then, while in York, Man and I came across a little alleyway inauspiciously stuck between Poundland and another shop that led to the amazing Medieval church of Holy Trinity Goodramgate, which has box pews and a stained glass window from 1490.
So, however, dull, boring and nerdy you may think I am, I don’t care, these are my challenges and I’m having fun :).
Yesterday we selected a little cluster of churches around Melton Mowbray and headed off to see what we could find.
The first thing I discovered was England’s smallest county – Rutland. It’s longest length north to south is only 18 miles and it’s widest 17 miles and it only has two towns, the county town of Oakham, which I have to admit I had never heard of, and Uppingham (nope, no bells ringing there either).
So another box is ticked. I also want to visit every county in the country (no, please don’t ask why … it’s my nerdiness again, although this is not on the Fifty before Fifty list).
Anyway, here is our little journey from yesterday.
We started off in Burley, just outside Oakham, where we found High Cross Church next to the Baroque estate of Burley-on-the-Hill. The church is believed to date from the late 1200s.
It had an amazing stained glass window and a memorial to Lady Charlotte Finch who was a governess to the children of George III but, more interestingly, invented the wooden jigsaw puzzle – how cool is that?
Next stop was St Michael and All Angels at Edmonthorpe, Leicestershire, which is described as a medieval church with a battlemented tower.
Inside was an amazing alabaster monument to the Smith family, including this three-tiered one to Sir Roger Smith who died in 1655.
But I also found this memorial in the graveyard.
They might be brothers, or cousins, who knows? Whatever the relationship, this family lost Trooper WT Rawding of the 1st Lincolshire Yeomanry at just 20 years old, who was ‘accidentally drowned’ in 1915 and then three years later lost Private Bert Renshaw Rawding of the South Staffordshire Regiment at the same age. Killed in action and buried in France. So sad.
Just a mile up the road we found Wymondham WIndmill and stopped to climb to the top and take in the views (we also had coffee and a huge slice of coffee cake lol). Pretty place, but the windmill had no sails. Nice views though.
Church number three was St Mary’s at Garthorpe. This one was closed. A note on the door said the key could be collected from the house next door but we didn’t want to bother them, so we had a quick scout round and found this lovely little sundial.
The most modern of the churches we found yesterday was the 18th century Gothic revival church of St Mary Magdalene in the manicured grounds of Stapleford Park in Leicestershire.
This was bright and airy, the pews faced each other down either side of the aisle and it had the most magnificent monuments to the first Earl of Harborough and someone called Lord Sherrard.
Set into the floor in the middle of the aisle is a great brass, commemorating Geoffrey Sherrard, his wife Joan and their seven sons and seven daughters. I wanted to do a brass rubbing, but lacked the necessary equipment. It was a school trip when I was about nine or ten to do some brass rubbing that first got me interested in religious buildings and religion – although I do not consider myself to be religious, I am fascinated by religion.
But the marble reredos – an altarpiece or a screen or decoration behind the altar – was my favourite part of this church.
Designed by Richard Brown of Derby and installed in 1795, the arch and the decorative line at the top is set with Blue John. This rare, semi-precious stone has purple and brown streaks and is only found in one place in the world – a tor near Castleton in Derbyshire’s Peak District,
It is the stone in my engagement ring and various other pieces of jewellery Man has given me and I love it.
The reredos was created to give the impression of opulence.
Our final destination was another St Mary’s – in Brentingby, Leicestershire.
The saddle-backed tower and spire is the only part of the church that remains in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust, the rest of the church has been converted into a family home. I wonder who is buried beneath them.
So there you have it, a whirlwind tour of five of the churches on my list – you do realise that means there are still 336 to share with you don’t you? :)