Tuesday, 11 November 2008
"Hardwick Hall ,
More Glass than Wall ...."
A couple of weeks ago we ventured in to The Peak District on a gloriously sunny , but freezing cold day to visit Hardwick Hall . My 12 year old son wanted to visit somewhere "possibly haunted", and atmospheric in his Half Term holiday , so this vast Elizabethan country house fitted the bill ; not least as there is a ruin of the original building in the same grounds .
This house has been famous , since its architectural plans were drawn up , for the amount of glazed windows , and their sheer size - the rhyme being a hang over of people's amazement at such an audacious design during a period when glass windows were tiny and hugely expensive to produce . In fact the building stands as a monumental status symbol of Bess of Harwick ; who was probably the richest woman in the country , and certainly one of the most powerful . She was married 4 times ; expertly improving her land , property and ownership of wealth with each husband's demise . Bess was a formidable figure whose portraits can still be seen in the house today - always painted with red hair (like her friend Queen Elizabeth 1st) there is something undeniably intelligent and strong in her features ; a roman nose , piercing eyes and high arched eyebrows . Maybe a touch contemptuous too - she fell out with her last husband the Earl of Shrewsbury , who she had partnered as "house arrest" jailer to Mary Queen of Scots .
Obviously her original house was just not grand enough for the "conspicuous consumption" which she craved and it was abandoned for the new building on completion . Although it stands as a ruin (largely caused in the Georgian period when the stones were sold as building material) there are still glimpses of sumptuous plaster friezes which sat above fireplaces ; seemingly indestructible after more than 450 years .
The stag was a family emblem.
A representation of the wind .
The giants Gog and Magog .
How are we doing for "creepy" ?
Bread oven - How many loaves of bread were made here ? How many weary feet stood on this spot ?
View from the top back to the "new" building . Unbelievably a kestrel flew past us at eye level !I also found out from the audio tour that ladies and gentleman would go on to the roof ( "the leads")to walk about and take the air .
We took a conservation tour through the house , before normal opening time , and it was extremely dark , and cold ! The windows are normally covered by 3 layers of curtaining as light levels are the main culprit for deterioration . The National Trust have Hardwick listed as a 1000 hour house as that is the amount of time (in light terms) they can open per year without damaging the precious contents . Humidity and pest activity is also monitored closely , as the house is full of original tapestries , paintings and elaborate painted friezes throughout . Being a shrewd woman Bess purchased a few of the wall hangings when they had already graced other houses ( and had cheap squares sewn on with her coat of arms !) so they weren't even new in her own time . I could only stare and marvel inwardly at the lifetimes work hanging there stately and defiant .
It was particularly dark in the bedrooms , with their fusty bed hangings embroidered in gold thread , matching canopies and chairs , which only trained conservators are allowed to touch. The guide's torch weakly picked out the detail but ..... I wouldn't have liked to get left behind the group !
We went back inside when daylight was let in and marvelled again at the fantastic array of treasures . If you would like to be transported back 400 years in a day I highly recommend a visit . I also can't wait to start reading the biography of Bess which I bought there - "Bess of Hardwick" by Mary S. Lovell .
T.T.F.N Ruth x