Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Hardwick Hall

"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


Bumpkin Bears said...

Hi Ruth, thanks for your kind comments on my blog today. I love these photos, I love to visit old houses, certainly the darker photos were very spoooky!! I feel sorry for your poor little finch in your garden too - fancy having a hawk in your garden!! Hugs, Catherine x

Ruth said...

Hi Catherine ,
Still no sign of the hawk - pheeww !
Next we'll have to visit Chatsworth; as Bess also owned that house , and I've never been there :0)
lots of mini Hugs , Ruth x

James Owen said...

Hi, great post. I work at Hardwick Hall and it's just lovely to know you guys got so much out of your visit. You sure paid attention on the conservation tour!

Regarding spookiness, last weekend as two of my colleagues opened up at the gatehouse they swore they could smell pipe smoke in there. This happens from time to time around the hall. Some point toward the 6th Duke who was apparently quite the pipe fan.