Touching Place

St Peter's Church, Brooke

 

The back road from Uppingham to Oakham is a delightful, traffic-free journey, especially in spring, when the flowers are out. Brooke is a tiny village whose idyllic thatched cottages have creeper-clad walls. The little church nestles in a small churchyard; at first sight a squat 13th c. tower is complemented by a 15th c. nave, aisle and chancel. But all is not what it seems, for the chancel, north chapel and aisle here, as well as much of the other work, are Elizabethan, dating from around 1580.

From being a major industry in the Middle Ages, church building met a sudden decline in the second part of the 16th c., just as it was necessary to enforce church attendance by the law, and bishops struggled to raise the quality of the clergy. Brooke was no exception, as in 1581 the parishioners commented that the curate did not catechise and that ‘he will be overcome with drink marvellously’ thus ‘they have some time a drunken evening prayer.’ Yet despite this, and though the chancel was described as being in a decayed and ruinous state throughout the 1570s, rebuilding was in progress in 1579, undertaken in smoothly finished limestone.

Pass through the Elizabethan south porch and Norman doorway, and enter; the church reveals its Norman core (font and north arcade). The furnishings, though, are largely late 16th c. – box and family pews, reading desk and pulpit with backboard and canopy. Oak screens (with square pews on the eastern side) separate the nave from the chancel, a reminder of how the post-Reformation church still compartmentalized the liturgy.

In his heroic Shell Guide to Rutland, W.G.Hoskins called Brooke ‘one of those remote little places…which one instantly feels is a personal discovery, to be treasured and visited again and again.’

Step onto the stone-flagged floor of Brooke church, bathed in the light that floods through the clear-glazed windows, and pray that we may seize our opportunities to witness in unpromising circumstances, and remember those families blighted by misuse of God’s gifts to us, not least alcohol.

Grid ref: SK8405

Simon Cotton

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