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Church Post Code  LE15 7FH

Open to visitors

This church is redundant and is card for by the Churches Conservation Trust.


It was a cold. Sunny Saturday afternoon in December 2022 and the church of Holy Cross, Burley on the Hill was the tenth church in what turned out to be a 12 crawl of churches surrounding Rutland Water.

Burley is as far to the north west of Peterborough that my two sites cover; being roughly 25 miles from the centre of Peterborough. Oakham, the largest town in Rutland, is a couple of miles off to the south west. Rutland Water is a similar distance to the south. It had a population of 325 at the time of the 2011 census.

The village was mentioned at the time of the Domesday Survey, but there was no church or priest recorded at that time. In medieval times, this was a fairly large village by the standards of the day, but much of the village was destroyed by fire in 1375.

The church of Holy Cross stands at the southern end of the village. To the east of the church stands Burley on the Hill House, not to be confused with Burghley House close to Stamford in Lincolnshire. This fine mansion was built between 1694 and 1708, replacing an earlier structure which had been burned down during the English Civil War.


There has been a church on this site since the 12th century. These days, the church of Holy Cross is closed for worship and has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust since 1988, the church having been declared redundant four years previously.

This is one of four Rutland churches cared for by this worthwhile charity; with Tickencote, Ayston and Wardley all being cared for by them. Interestingly, and worryingly to be fair, each of these three were open for worship when I started travelling and have fallen since.

This was a revisit, having previously visited here late on a Sunday in August 2015. It was after 8pm and we had come from an evening prayer at Oakham. The church was still open and it was good to watch the colours and patterns in the sky change as the sun set on a warm and humid evening.

The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north porch and chancel. A quick look at the exterior suggests that there has been a great deal of external restoration  on all but the tower, and this does turn out to have been the case with the church restored by JL Pearson, a famed architect who went on to build Truro Cathedral, the first Anglican cathedral to be built since 1697.


The church is set back from the road, at the end of a gravel path; the visitor passing a delightful old stone cottage by the side of the path and the 14th century battlemented west tower comes in to view. That is a scene that hasn’t changed much over the last three hundred odd years or so!

Looking at the exterior, the tower appears to have been pretty much untouched by the restoration but appears to have been patched up somewhat back in history. There are tall lancet windows at the belfry stage; with a frieze running across the top the tower containing a variety of ancient grotesque heads. Gargoyles peer out from each corner.

The nave and chancel appear to have been substantially rebuilt. Windows throughout all date from the time of the restoration; albeit of different designs; the chancel is wide, extending out across the north and south aisles with a steeply pitches sloping roof covering the whole. To the east end of the north aisle, there is a chimney, which leads down to the boiler room in the cellar.

There is a single bell hanging here, this being cast by Alexander Rigby in 1705. This would have been in the latter years of the Stamford bellfounder, which was set up by Tobias Norris I early in the 17th century. It was owned by several generations of the Norris family until Tobias Norris III passed away in 1699. According to the bell founder database, Rigby was an itinerant founder until he joined the Stamford bellfoundry in 1684, and was to run the business until 1708, at which point the foundry closed. The single bell here is inscribed ‘Alexander Rigby Made Me 1705’.


As on my previous visit the church was open to visitors, which made ten out of ten open on the day in this most hospitable and welcoming of counties. As mentioned earlier, there was considerable rebuilding here in the very late 1860’s. With regards the interior, the whole of the east end of the church was rebuilt, but there are plenty of unaltered internal features.

There are three bay arcades to north and south. The north arcade is older, Norman in date with elegant rounded arches. The south arcade dates from the 13th century and has pointed arches. Both north and south have circular piers; there is nailhead decoration on the capitals to the south.

The chancel arch dates from the time of Pearson’s restoration, as does a low stone chancel screen. Moving in to the chancel itself, there are three bay chancel arcades to north and south.

There is a finely carved reredos, with seven figures. Christ in majesty is central, holding a globe with hand raised in blessing. He is flanked by the four Gospel writers, two to each side, with St Peter and St Paul on the two outer edges.

There are three bay chancel arcades to north and south, with the church organ occupying one of the northern bays. Over to the south of the chancel, occupying the area between one of the bays, there is a treble sedilia, the seating for the priests, and a piscina, in which the priest would wash his hands and the holy vessels used in the mass. It looked as if these dated to the time of the restoration and were not medieval in date, saved from the previous chancel.


The east window is dated 1870 and is courtesy of Clayton and Bell. Central is the crucifixion, which is spread out over the five lights. The three Mary’s are shown to the left as we look at it, with the Roman centurion bowing down alongside John to the right.

Below are five smaller depictions, which are sadly a little hidden by the top of the reredos. These are Jesus praying at Gethsemane, Jesus being scourged, Jesus carrying his cross, Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for Christ’s body and the body being taken from the cross and prepared for burial.

Central over the top of this is a roundel which shows the risen Christ meeting Mary Magdalene on Easter morning; this surrounded by angels in trefoil shaped tracery.

Other stained glass here is courtesy of Westlake & Co. We have depictions of St John and St Peter. John is shown with chalice, from which a serpent is rising. Legend states that John was given a poisoned drink; he is said to have prayed over this drink with the poison rising up in the form of the serpent. St Peter, with receding hairline as normal, holds the key to the Kingdom of Heaven.

A depiction of Mary and Martha is interesting as it shows their different characteristics in symbol form. Mary, who was more thoughtful and meditated on Jesus’ words, carries a scroll. Martha, who was more of a doer; with a servant heart, carries a basket of bread, which she had no doubt baked herself!

There is also a scene from Easter morning. Christ dressed in white emerges from the grave. Peter and John are at prayer to the left as look at it; to the right an angel points upwards, telling the three Mary’s ’He is not here He has risen’.

One Old Testament portrayal under the tower arch comes from Numbers Chapter 21. Moses is told to erect a pole, with a snake on it. Anyone who looked to the pole would be saved from the serpents which were attacking the Israelites.


At the west end of the nave is a monument of a knight and his wife, with both figures recumbent. This is thought to date to the 15th century and was moved to its present position from the chancel during the restoration. The male figure is badly damaged, with legs and arms missing. The female figure is more complete, but has hands missing. She is portrayed with an impossibly small waist!

At the east end of the south aisle is a beautiful monument to Charlotte Finch of the nearby mansion. This takes the form of a kneeling, veiled female figure. Charlotte died in 1813 and was Governess to the Royal children of George III. This was carved by Sir Francis Leggatt  Chantrey, one of the leading sculptors of his generation. She was 88 years old when she died, a great age for those days.

The font is 15th century and octagonal. On seven of the sides there is intricately carved perpendicular tracery with crudely carved heads at points around the top.


The church grounds here are of a great interest, particularly to the south, and I am really surprised that none of the gravestones here have their own Grade II Listing. Several are of great quality and reflect the wealth of the area during the times that they were carved.

Several of these stone have a carving of a human skull on them; designed to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. Therefore, live a good Christian life and do not be caught short when your own times comes; and in days of low life expectancy it could be later than you think!

The most elaborate of these has the skull central at the foot of the stone. Other symbols include crossed bones, a scythe and hourglass, all of which are symbols of mortality. More specifically, the hour glass represents the passage of time and the inevitable approach of death.

This gravestone is dated 1700 to a Dorothy; but surname unreadable. Still legible though is that she waits in hope of a joyfull (sic) resurrection!

The skull is also present on another stone; this time being surrounded by a laurel wreath. The laurel wreath was an often used symbol of victory, with the victory here being over death. Underneath the skull on this one is what appears to be a coffin; another symbol of mortality!

Close by, partially sunken and coated in lichen, is a stone to Susanna, wife of William Lancaster; text still readable despite her passing as far back as 1670.

To mention also one stone that has carved on it the tools of the trade for the deceased; with pick, shovel, set square and compass all present.

Leaving the grounds to make my way back to the van, my eye was caught by a small carving of a skull at the top of the a stone, with sunken eye sockets and four remaining teeth; covered in a coating of white, black and orange lichen.


It was good to be back here again! This is a lovely church in picturesque settings with much to interest the visitor. Photographs used here are from the December 2022 visit, with the exception of the two at the bottom of the page, which were from my original visit here in August 2015. A recommended church to visit; but you could say the same about most of the churches in this glorious county! Well worth a look if you are in the area; if you are planning a visit, just double checks with the CCT's website to confirm opening times.

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