Saturday, May 04, 2013

Lyddington Bede House, Rutland

Lyddington is a village stretched along a single road. Its buildings, which include two good pubs, are of an almost gaudy orange limestone. If it were in the Cotswolds it would be full of coaches. Because it is in Rutland I had it almost to myself yesterday.

I was there to look at Lyddington Bede House. I had visited the village before, and knew that it was a pleasingly ramshackle medieval building standing next to the church, but I still had no real idea of what a bede house is.

It turned out that it used to be the village almshouses. But before that it had been something far more remarkable.

For what is called the Bede House is the only surviving wing of the palace of the Bishops of Lincoln. This diocese once stretched from just outside London to the Humber, so Lyddington was somewhere near its centre and served as its administrative centre.

And it wasn't a bad life being Bishop of Lincoln: the diocese once maintained a large hunting park just outside the village.

The palace was seized by the crown at the dissolution of the monasteries and much was demolished. The bottom storey of the surviving wing was established as an almshouse in 1600, with accommodation for 12 poor men, two women and a warden.

The last residents appear to have left in 1930. The rooms were like cells, cold and damp even in yesterday's sunshine. One of the women's apartments (on the first floor) has been furnished as it would have been in the 19th century.

And upstairs you will find the bishop's chambers, which are in a remarkably good state of preservation, and you can climb another flight of stairs to the attics above.

In 1954 the Bede House passed into the care of the Ministry of Works. You can catch a glimpse of the years between these two dates in "Just Rutland" by J. & A.E. Stokes, which was published in 1953. The authors describe borrowing the keys from a house in the village.

You will find the tower below on the village street at the corner of the Bede House grounds. It was at first defensive and then ornamental. Today you can pass through an arch at its base on your way from the street to the church and Bede House.

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