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Church Post Code  LE15 8AX

Open to visitors


It was a glorious Saturday morning in the autumn of 2014 and the church of St Peter & St Paul, Exton was the second church of the day in what was to be a six church Rutland crawl.

 I had visited here six or seven years before, armed with a basic digital camera. It was good to re-visit armed with the Nikon.

Exton is an extremely pleasant Rutland village with much historic interest; which has an impressive 71 structures having a Grade I or II listing. The population at the time of the 2011 census was 607; making Exton the 13th largest settlement in this exquisite county.

This is a delightful, tranquil scene; a lazy Saturday morning with time moving slowly. Grade II listed cottages gather around the village green and war memorial; the latter having a Grade II listing in its own right.  Off to the north of the church is Exton Hall, which was home, among others the Earls of Gainsborough. This was rebuilt during the 19th century following a fire in 1810. In the grounds is a Roman Catholic chapel which was built in 1869.


The church here is one of the furthest to the north west of Peterborough to be covered by my sites. It is peaceful and quiet here, a far cry away from the busy A1 which can be found a mile or so off to the east. Rutland Water is off to the south and Stamford off to the south east; with the Lincolnshire border winding its way in a circuitous and highly confusing manner to the south and east.

   There was no mention of a church or priest here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. It is suggested that there has been a church here since the mid 12th century, and there was first mention of a vicar here in 1225. Most of the present building dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. However, the west tower was re-built as recently as 1843. In that year, a massive hailstorm hit the area, with thunder and lightning; a storm which caused much damage and loss of life throughout much of the country. Lightning struck the spire, which collapsed, with rubble falling through the roof in to the nave. The church was restored in the early 1850’s.

The church of St Peter & St Paul stands at the end of a quiet lane, with a farm house for company; and consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north and south transepts and chancel.


The perpendicular three stage west tower itself dates back to the early 14th century. On top of this is a recessed octagonal lantern with a short octagonal broach spire with two tiers of lucarne windows, each of which date to the rebuilding after the lightning strike.  Substantial octagonal battlemented pinnacles can be seen on each corner of the tower.

A finely carved gargoyle appears to be chucking to himself, displaying a row od fearsome looking uneven teeth; supporting a waterspout on its back as it looks out from the south wall of the tower. Close by, a carving of a sleepy looking dog peers out through bleary eyes!

    There is a ring of six bells here, with five of these having a local connection. The founder of these was Tobias Norris III of the Stamford Bellfoundry. All five bells are dated 1675, with the first having the Latin inscription 'Donvm De Domina Cambden', which translates as 'The gift of Lady Campdem'. All of the other bells are inscribed 'God Save The King Tobieas Norris Cast Me 1675'. As is often the case with this founder’s bells, the letters N and S are reversed in the inscription. The first of the ring was recast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1895.

The sixth of the ring was cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots in 1763, with this bell being inscribed with the name Thomas Hurst, the vicar of the day. This bell was also recast by Taylor’s in 1895.


    The church here was open to visitors and it was good to see other people looking around when I arrived. It was bright and welcoming inside, with the lack of stained glass to the south helping in this respect.

There are four bay arcades to the north and south. The north arcade is slightly older, dating from the late 13th century, with the south arcade following shortly afterwards. Banners with coats of arms hang to the north and south. The tall, elegant, pointed chancel arch also dates from the late 13th century.

The east window is Victorian and the stained glass is based on Matthew Chapter 25, with verses 34 to 36 in the NIV Translation reading… “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  In this five light window we have depictions detailing the above, gathered around a central panel.

Interestingly, the central panel though is Old Testament, and comes from Numbers Chapter 21. The Lord had sent venomous snakes among the Israelites. The people came to Moses to ask for protection. Verses 8 and 9 read…  ‘The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived’. An intriguing combination’ but together they say trust in God and live out your life accordingly.


The church here is most notable for its monuments, which are many and of great quality.  A monument to John Harington and his wife Alice dates from 1524. The couple rest side by side, hands raised in prayer, beautifully bathed in the morning sun. A bedesman sits at John's feet, head in hand in an attitude of mourning; clutching rosary beads with interestingly his face chisseled away. A lion also sits at his feet. John’s head rests on his helmet and his gauntlets are by his side. A dog playfully nips at Alice’s dress, this having lost a leg at some point back in time whilst her head is supported by a tiny human figure. This entire monument is covered by graffiti.


    Over at the west end of the north aisle, there is a very beautiful monument to Anne, wife of Lord Bruce of Kinlosse. She died in 1627, and lies veiled. with two cherubs head on her pillow. At the foot of this monument is a pelican, which appears to be eating a serpent. the pelican is commonly associated with the virtues of humility, sacrifice and generosity.

    Close by, against the west wall of the north aisle is a monument to Lieutenant General Bennett Noel, who died in 1771, has an effigy of the deceased on an urn, with a veiled female figure leaning against the urn.  This figure holds a downturned torch; this symbolising mourning.


   On the north side of the chancel is a monument to James Harington and his wife Lucy. They are depicted facing each other across a prayer desk, hands raised in prayer, bathed in glorious colour as the sun shone in through one of the stained glass windows.  James died in 1592, a short time after his wife, with each reaching the age of 70; they had no fewer than 18 children.

He is dressed in armour, wearing a simple ruff. His hair and beard are immaculately trimmed. She wears a long dress, which spills over the cushion on which she is kneeling. She wears a more elaborate ruff.

The back wall of this monument is elaborately decorated, including several depictions of hourglasses, an often used symbol of the passing of time and the mortality of Man.


    At the east wall of the north transept is a fine monument to Baptist Noel, 3rd Viscount Campden. He and his fourth wife Elizabeth stand proudly in Roman dress, with the Viscount’s other three wives and 19 children all depicted.  This was carved by Grinling Gibbons, a famous Dutch sculpture who has work standing in Kensington Palace today. 

Standing close to the monument to his parents, James Noel is also depicted in Roman dress, but curiously wearing a long 17th century wig. He died in 1681 at the age of 18 years. He stands against a plinth, on which is an inscription which also notes the deaths of two very young brothers. On top of the plinth is a pillow, on which are two putti; or these might even be symbolic of the two deceased brothers themselves. Interestingly, these two each have a hand pressed down on a human skull, another symbol of the mortality of Man.

The onlooker will very often see figures pressing their hands down, standing on top of or leaning against the skull. In the language of the day, this is symbolic of death being beaten with the deceased winning their reward of eternal life in Heaven.


A monument to lawyer Robert Kelway is another of exceptional quality. He rests, recumbent with hands raised in prayer. At his right side, his daughter Anne kneels on a cushion, dressed in a long flowing gown, ruff around neck with smaller ruff around here sleeves. As with her father, she is depicted with hands raised in prayer. One of her younger sisters is depicted in an identical pose but smaller in size, behind her.

There is an elaborate carved canopy behind Robert, with two Bibles or prayer books depicted, from which can see images of the mortality of Man. Again we have downturned torches as well as the gravedigger tools of torch, pick and shovel.

There is a great deal of interest in this church, but just briefly to mention that the font dates back to the late 14th century. It has human faces carved in to the spandrels.


    Moving back outside, some very nicely carved Georgian gravestones can be seen, with some very fine ones just to the west of the porch.  One grave in particular is worth noting. This features Father Time, holding an hourglass. The hourglass is being tipped up, with an image of the deceased being poured out of the glass. Another grave shows two cherubs holding a crown. The crown symbolises victory with the cherubs taking this up to heaven, where the deceased will have eternal life.

This church was visited in pre covid days, at which point it was open and welcoming to visitors; as indeed most in Rutland are. I am assuming that this is still the situation at the time of typing this in the winter of 2022. This is a church of great interest and importance and is one of my favourite churches in this exquisite county. Well worth taking a look at if you are in the area.

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