After I had delivered the Audi A4 Avant to Oakham last week, I had a very pleasant, sunny stroll through this tranquil town situated in the county of Rutland. As I made my way to the train station I noticed that Oakham has sufficient quaint bits to make it interesting, including a castle with England’s most complete Norman great hall (yes, I looked that up afterwards). However, the walk did not take long because most things in Rutland, the UK’s smallest historic county, are, well … small. Including Oakham. Multum in parvo is Rutland’s motto. A lot in a little.
However, it was not all tranquility in Oakham’s recent and bloody past. Rutland is a historic county but that long history was interrupted when it lost its county status in 1974 and was absorbed into neighbouring Leicestershire. The population of Rutland then had to kowtow to the tyrannical Leicestershire County Council (LCC). But the feisty Rutlanders were not going to take this lightly. The Rutland Independence Party (RIP for short) led by Nicholas Barage organised resistance while Rutland Weekend Television (anyone remember RWT??) broadcast subversive propaganda in an attempt to undermine the authority of the LCC’s despotic leader, Percy Soulless. The LCC instigated a clamp down. Thanks to the LCC’s notorious secret police, several Rutland freedom fighters disappeared in the dead of night. They were sent to a concentration camp known as Skegness (known by some as Leicester-by-the-Sea) and forced to read the Leicester Mercury (readily available in Skeggy) in an attempt to brainwash them. Their families were notified of their incarceration by means of saucy postcard. The suppression continued. Leicestershire, famous for Melton Mowbray pork pies, Stilton and Red Leicester cheeses, banned exports of these dietary staples to Rutland. In retaliation, the RIP threatened to cut-off water supplies from Rutland Water, England’s largest reservoir by surface area (like Nicholas Barage’s ego, not everything in Rutland is small. By the way, Rutland Water is a good place to hire bikes and cycle round). However, that plan backfired when someone pointed out that Rutland Water did not actually supply Leicestershire with its water.
Nevertheless, the hardy Rutlanders, surviving on black market Lincolnshire sausages and Cheddar cheese, would not give up. The RIP laid low but not idle in the rural idyll that is Rutland and would be forever Rutland, the beauty of its little villages and countryside comparable to those of the Cotswolds but without the hordes of tourists. The RIP planned and executed forays into Leicestershire causing chaos and confusion. Cling film was surreptitiously put over all the toilets in the LCC offices; all the potato peelers were stolen from the Walkers crisp factory and Percy Soulless’s wheelie bin was stolen not once but three times. Things came to a head when the LCC tracked down Nicholas Barage to Oakham Castle and laid siege. The siege lasted until tea time when Barage said he needed to go home to feed his cat and watch Coronation Street. Finally, common sense seemed to prevail when a meeting was held between the leaders of the RIP and LCC in Oakham’s bijou and very ancient Lord Nelson pub which dates back to the 1500s.
However, the meeting started badly and went downhill from there. Things got heated, people’s parentage was brought into question and other insults were thrown. And, when everyone “stepped outside”, handbags and punches followed the insults. It was the bloodiest battle Oakham had ever seen – Barage suffered a cut lip and then threw a Bloody Mary over Percy Soulless’s Armani suit. That was the final straw. Soulless could stand no more and promised independence for Rutland on condition that Barage let go of his hair, paid the cleaning bill for his suit and returned his wheelie bin. Thus on 1st April 1997, Rutland became an independent county again. Peace reigned and Rutland celebrated. The “disappeared” were returned from Skegness by donkey, bearing sticks of rock, knotted hankies on their heads and burning copies of the Leicester Mercury. The Rutles sang songs in the streets (now do you remember Rutland Weekend Television?? Eric Idle? Neil Innes?). The Rutland Navy was disbanded and its battlecruiser, the Rutland Belle, was converted back to its original pleasure cruiser rôle by removal of its armament (3 x .22 air rifles). The Rutland Belle still plies its trade on Rutland Water today, so after your cycle ride, watersports or wildlife watching, you can enjoy a relaxing cruise on the reservoir then go and explore the delights of this charming little county in the East Midlands.
P.S. I do apologise for the appalling drivel in the above post but it was enormous fun writing it. Hopefully, you can separate fact from fiction. If you can’t, please let me know which planet you live on and how I can get there; it is probably a fun place to be. In case there is any doubt, Rutland did cease to be a county in 1974. The story of how it really re-gained county status in 1997 is probably very boring.
P.P.S. Rutland Weekend Television was a TV sketch show with two series broadcast in 1975 and 1976. It was ex-Python Eric Idle’s first television project in the post-Monty Python era with music written by Neil Innes (ex-Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band). The show spawned the Rutles, originally a fictional then actual rock band parodying the Beatles.