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Rut­land (or Rut­land­shire) is some­thing of an anom­aly. It is the small­est his­toric county in Eng­land – a mere 17 miles wide by 18 miles high at its cor­ners, perched be­tween Le­ices­ter and Peter­bor­ough – and has some­times been side­lined or, in­deed, en­tirely abol­ished. It is so small that it only has two towns – Oakham and Up­ping­ham – and even the Dis­cover Rut­land web­site ( www. dis­cover-rut­ de­votes much of its space to the joys of Stam­ford, which is in fact just over the bor­der in Lin­colnshire. The county has also been gen­tly satirised in the form of Neil Innes and Eric Idle’s 1970s com­edy show Rut­land Week­end Tele­vi­sion and the spinoff par­ody band The Rut­les.

How­ever, Rut­land has fought its small cor­ner – and rightly so. Back in 1949, in his Shell Guide to the county, the fa­ther of lo­cal his­tory stud­ies WG Hoskins wrote: ‘Rut­land is a small part of Eng­land as she used to be be­fore the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.’ He praised its ‘un­spoiled quiet charm’ and ‘com­pact rich­ness’, traits which are very much ev­i­dent nearly 70 years later.

Rut­land was al­ready a quiet, agri­cul­tural area when the Ro­mans ar­rived in 45AD. It was home to the Celtic tribe of the Corieltauvi, who quickly in­te­grated with Ro­man ways of life. The Ro­man road Er­mine Street passes across the north­east­ern edge of the area. Af­ter the Ro­mans left, the re­gion re­mained fo­cused around small set­tle­ments – the ‘ham’ end­ing of many lo­cal places such as Emp­ing­ham and the

two towns re­flects the Saxon name for a home­stead. The old­est house found in Oakham is a sunken-floored Saxon ‘gruben­haus’ dat­ing to the 5th cen­tury.

The ori­gins of the name Rut­land, and in­deed its orig­i­nal sta­tus as a re­gion, re­main open to de­bate. The­o­ries for the ori­gin of ‘Rut’ in­clude the Corieltauvi’s word ‘ratae’ for a for­ti­fied set­tle­ment and a 10th cen­tury Mer­cian of­fi­cial called Aethel­stan Rota. One folk­tale sug­gests that some­one called Rut was granted what­ever land he could ride around in a sin­gle day; and another the­ory still re­lates the area’s name et­y­mo­log­i­cally to its red soil.

The first writ­ten ref­er­ence, to ‘Rote­lante’, dates from 1002, and the area was also men­tioned in Ed­ward the Con­fes­sor’s will and the Domes­day book – but not as a full shire, rather a ‘soke’ (a smaller area with the right to hold its own court) of Not­ting­hamshire. The first ref­er­ence to Rut­land as a sep­a­rate county was in 1159, although it was still re­ferred to as a soke in some doc­u­ments 200 years later.

Henry I cre­ated a royal for­est in Rut­land in the 12th cen­tury, cov­er­ing most of the county now south of Rut­land Wa­ter. How­ever, by the 15th cen­tury al­most all of this had been re­placed by farm­land.

The Nor­man era has left one re­mark­able legacy in the county in the form of Oakham Cas­tle (see ‘top three’ box) – com­pleted in 1190, this is one of the finest sur­viv­ing pieces of Nor­man do­mes­tic ar­chi­tec­ture in Eng­land. The build­ing was also home to for­est courts and, in later cen­turies, to hold the county’s As­size Courts and Quar­ter Ses­sions. Oakham has had two other gaols, the last clos­ing in 1878.

The county’s vil­lages are no­table for their at­trac­tive stone, with a sim­i­lar feel to Cotswold ar­chi­tec­ture but in a slightly more tof­fee- coloured hue. Royal grants for quar­ry­ing stone were be­stowed in the late 13th cen­tury, and from the early 7th cen­tury Ket­ton, in par­tic­u­lar, be­came known for its stone. Much of this was used in build­ing col­leges at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity.

Another key trade in the county in me­dieval times was wool, with lo­cal wool mag­nates Wil­liam Dalby and Roger Flore ex­port­ing to Calais via King’s Lynn, and sup­port­ing char­i­ta­ble causes in the Oakham area. Oakham suf­fered when Calais was cap­tured by France in 1558, but its for­tunes later re­cov­ered.

The 16th cen­tury saw the foun­da­tion of two no­table in­de­pen­dent schools in the county, at Oakham and Up­ping­ham, both cre­ated by the Archdea­con Robert John­son and with a close ri­valry ever since.

Rut­land has mostly been a peace­ful place, although

it played a part in the 15th cen­tury Wars of the Roses, al­beit be­tween two fac­tions of York­ists. In 1470, Ed­ward IV es­caped from prison and fought the Bat­tle of Emp­ing­ham in the county, although it was an easy fight with the 30,000 York­ist rebels flee­ing af­ter a sin­gle vol­ley of can­non­balls.

The Rut­land Mili­tia was first raised in 1759 and as­sisted forts along the south coast dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars; it was amal­ga­mated with Northamp­ton­shire in the mid-19th cen­tury. The Rut­land­shire Reg­i­ment – the 58th Foot – was founded in 1782. Its dark­est time was be­tween 1816 and 1821, dur­ing which pe­riod 380 of 600 men died of dis­ease in Ja­maica. In 1881 it be­came the 2nd Bat­tal­ion of the Northamp­ton­shire Reg­i­ment. Mean­while, Rut­land Fen­ci­ble Cavalry was formed in 1794 but only lasted five years. Other mil­i­tary groups have in­cluded the Rut­land Corps of Gen­tle­men and Yeo­manry Cavalry (1794-1828), the Rut­land Vol­un­teer Ri­fles (180314) and the Rut­land Vol­un­teer In­fantry (1798-1809).

The 1834 Poor Law Amend­ment Act cre­ated two unions in Rut­land, in Oakham and Up­ping­ham. Each had a work­house, and to­gether they could ac­com­mo­date 325 peo­ple. Oakham Work­house In­fir­mary later be­came the Vale of Cat­mose Hos­pi­tal, then a board­ing house for Oakham school; Up­ping­ham Work­house sim­i­larly served as a hos­pi­tal in World War 1 and later be­came a board­ing house for Up­ping­ham School.

Rut­land County Po­lice was formed in 1848, with only a sin­gle po­lice con­sta­ble; a decade later there were seven sergeants and con­sta­bles in ad­di­tion to the chief con­sta­ble.

In gen­eral, Rut­land has al­ways been a ru­ral county and, as Hoskins ob­served, the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion mostly passed it by. The 1851 cen­sus for Oakham re­veals that men typ­i­cally worked as ‘ag labs’, and women as knit­ters and dress­mak­ers. One of the few oc­cu­pa­tions the area was par­tic­u­larly no­table for in the 19th cen­tury was sock knit­ting. Oakham, Ket­ton and Whissendine saw the foun­da­tion of sev­eral brew­eries in the 19th cen­tury, and Rud­dle’s (now brewed in Suf­folk) was founded in Langham in 1858. Horse­shoes ap­pro­pri­ately ap­pear on the county’s crest – the 1871 cen­sus, for ex­am­ple, listed

3277 agri­cul­tural horses at work in Rut­land, one for ev­ery seven peo­ple. Up­ping­ham now has Eng­land’s old­est live­stock mar­ket still to be held in the town mar­ket­place.

Rut­land’s first turn­pike was cre­ated in 1739 along the Great North Road, which passes through the eastern side of the county. Around 70 miles of Rut­land’s roads were op­er­ated by turn­pike trusts by 1773 but a cen­tury later they had stopped tak­ing tolls.

Canal ma­nia reached Rut­land briefly, and in 1793 an Act of Par­lia­ment gave royal as­sent for the cre­ation of Oakham Canal. This was about 15 miles long, run­ning to Mel­ton Mow­bray in Le­ices­ter­shire, and opened in 1802. A pro­posed ex­ten­sion to Stam­ford was never built, and Oakham Canal lasted less than 50 years, bought up by the Mid­land Rail­way. The lat­ter’s Sys­ton and Peter­bor­ough Rail­way served five sta­tions in the county, but only one sur­vived Dr Beech­ing’s axe, at Oakham. Three other sta­tions, also now closed, served the London and North West­ern Rail­way and Great North­ern Rail­way. One im­pres­sive legacy of the rail­way era is the Wel­land Viaduct which spans 82 arches be­tween Seaton in Rut­land and Har­ring­worth in Northamp­ton­shire.

In mod­ern times Rut­land has seen two ma­jor changes. The first was the cre­ation of Rut­land Wa­ter (for­merly Emp­ing­ham Wa­ter) in 1971 by flood­ing the Gwash val­ley and much of the Vale of Cat­mose in or­der to pro­vide wa­ter to the Mid­lands – this re­sulted in the largest man-made lake in Europe and a haven for water­sports en­thu­si­asts and bird­watch­ers, but it came at the price of the de­struc­tion of the vil­lage Nether Ham­ble­ton and much of its neigh­bour, Mid­dle Ham­ble­ton. Up­per Ham­ble­ton re­mains ma­rooned on what is now the Ham­ble­ton Penin­sula. It also cre­ated Rut­land’s most iconic scene – the al­most wa­ter­bound church of Nor­man­ton (for­merly a pri­vate chapel mod­elled on St John’s, Smith Square in London). It was saved from de­struc­tion by the cre­ation of a new floor at ground level, and has oc­ca­sional use as an ex­hi­bi­tion space and wed­ding venue.

The other big change was Rut­land’s abo­li­tion as a county. It fought off var­i­ous at­tempts to swal­low it up in the 1940s and 1960s, but Ed­ward Heath’s ex­ten­sive county re­forms of the 1970s fi­nally won over and it be­came a dis­trict of Le­ices­ter­shire in 1974. How­ever, lo­cal re­sis­tance con­tin­ued, and with the dis­trict coun­cil able to prove it could stand on its own, Rut­land was re­stored again as an ad­min­is­tra­tive county in 1997. The Royal Mail fi­nally gave in and agreed to re­gard it as a postal county again in 2007.

Although Rut­land is not strictly speak­ing one of the an­cient An­glo-Saxon shires, it has a good nine cen­turies be­hind it, and hope­fully many more ahead.

Rut­land re­mains a firmly ru­ral county

‘Rote­land’ in the Domes­day Book

Rut­land in 1766

Oakham Cas­tle, ac­tu­ally a for­ti­fied Nor­man great hall

A fight be­tween two bare-knuckle box­ers in 1811 at­tracted 20,000 spec­ta­tors

Oakham High Street in 1910

A sock knit­ting ma­chine

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