Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tixover, Rutland

A church, a meal, a view

Shared experiences, and the common frames of reference that they create, are among the boons of friendship. Sharing particular memories – of an event that happened long ago, a book, a piece of music, a place – with someone else strengthens social bonds and makes vivid recollections brighter still. There are times when the merest allusion can click the connection firmly in place. Mentioning to the right person one surname from childhood, a single line from a book, a specific image from a description, can do it.

Something like this happened chez my friend Mr A the other day. ‘Where haven’t you been, round here?’ he asked, wondering what what architectural delights, in his neck of the woods, he could introduce me to. I replied: ‘You know that bit in The Shell Guide of Rutland where the author, W G Hoskins, says that the churchyard at Tixover is a good place for a doze? Well, I’ve not been there.’* Mr A is the only person I know who would respond to this allusion with instant recognition and approval, so off we went to Uppingham, to buy food, including an excellent pork pie from Culpin and Son,† and made our way through the October sunshine to Tixover.

It is obviously one of those villages that relocated centuries ago, leaving the church isolated and the few houses along a lane a few fields away. So when you arrive in the village you pick up the key to the church from a farmhouse and drive on, through a farmyard, along a track, and across a field. You come to a halt in front of a small church with a squat Norman tower and a nave and aisles with rectangular, Tudor-looking windows.‡ There’s no noise apart from a distant mechanical whine¶ that could be an aeroplane but may also be some sort of farm machinery; other than that nothing, apart from an intermittent, faint tapping coming from one of the trees, as if of a woodpecker who couldn’t be bothered to peck really hard. The ideal setting for an alfresco meal of pork pie, samosas, and ginger beer in the churchyard.

Inside the church we enjoy medieval carved capitals of various dates, a Jacobean monument, and the pattern of quatrefoil windows projected by sunlight on to the walls. And some interesting 17th-century stained glass panels, which we admire and scratch our heads over – they look imported from elsewhere.§ Then the bonus – a view of the church from the other side of the River Welland. This view involves another trip across a field, this time on foot – to appreciate its setting among farmland, trees, tussocky grass, and water. It was all even better than I’d imagined from Hoskins’ description in the old Shell Guide that had set us on our way.

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*If it seems to you eccentric of two grown men to be reading an old guidebook to England’s smallest county, think again. The Shell Guide to Rutland, being by the great landscape historian W G Hoskins is very well informed and well written. Rutland has changed less than most English counties in the last 50 years too, so the traveller can still learn much from this guidebook’s account of the place and its descriptions of its towns and villages.

†This butcher does produce seriously good pork pies. As someone born in Lincolnshire, a county that prides itself on its pork products (especially its outstanding sausages), I know what I am talking about.

‡ There’s a debate about these domestic-looking windows. They could be Tudor or Jacobean; they’re unlikely to be 13th-century, which was the date proposed by the antiquary Thomas Rickman.

¶ It’s rarely perfectly quiet in the English countryside. There’s usually someone not far away driving a tractor, using a chainsaw, or shooting pheasants: people at work, and a good thing too.

§ Pevsner says nothing about them.


Peter Ashley said...

A truly memorable day in one of Rutland's most delightful hidden corners. And thank you.

Chris Partridge said...

Down here in Sussex many village churches are in isolated positions not because the village decayed but because churches were built on pagan sacred groves. The idea was to prevent them being used by the opposition,but it had the added benefit that everyone knew where they were.

bazza said...

It's interesting that you say that little has changed in fifty years in Rutland. I thought it has ceased to be and than reappeared rather like Brigadoon! Is it still a county these days?
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s capricious Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: Yes, absolutely. I've come across the phenomenon of churches deliberately sited outside their village. In this case, though, I think there are lumps and bumps in the ground somewhere that suggest an original settlement that is no longer there, habitation having moved for some reason.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yes. Rutland got axed as a county in one of those periodic local government reorganisations, in 1974. The people of Rutland did not take kindly to their ancient and tiny county being abolished and being absorbed into neighbouring Leicestershire. After 20 years it got its status as a separate county back. So yes, it did reappear, it is still a county, and as you drive out of eicesershire you see a sign telling you you are in 'RUTLAND'.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: PS. There's a good image of a Rutland roadside sign over at Unmitigated England, here: