On the inside of the 'new' Hardwick Hall

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August 22nd 2018
Published: August 28th 2018
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Today we returned to Derbyshire to see the extravagant interior of Hardwick Hall. When we visited the estate on the first Tuesday that we were here we were intent on visiting Hardwick Old Hall as listed in our English Heritage brochure for the Peak District & Beyond. We arrived unaware that there is also a ‘new’ hall on the estate that is operated by the National Trust and only open between Wednesday to Sunday. Of course that meant that a fortnight ago we were only able to see the exterior of the old and new halls and explore the gardens adjacent to the new hall.

On our return today our NT membership saved us the £4.00 parking charge and £13.95 each on admission to the new hall. We started our visit listening to an introductory talk given by Delphine. She reinforced what we learnt two weeks ago about Bess of Hardwick’s four marriages and provided some additional insight into how difficult it was for a woman to have wealth and power in her own right. In the 1600s women rarely inherited property even if they had no brothers and even if they were widowed. The law provided for property to pass to other MALE relatives ahead of a daughter or wife leaving women dependant on the generosity of these male relatives unless they could marry or remarry well.

Delphine also told us that after a series of marriages had seen Bess’s fortunes rise and fall and rise and fall she took steps to ensure her future when she married the Earl of Shrewsbury by marrying a son and daughter of hers to a son and daughter of his. By doing this she hoped that, whatever happened to her own marriage to the Earl, her children would still have access to the Earl’s wealth and would look after her. Talk about a 16th century Brady Bunch!!

Bess also arranged for her daughter, Elizabeth, to marry Charles Stuart who was first cousin to both Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots because any child of that union would have a claim to the English throne. Bess’s granddaughter, Arbella, was born in 1575 and was, technically, a princess because of her lineage. When Arbella was orphaned as a child she became the ward of her maternal grandmother, Bess. When Bess commenced work on the new Hardwick Hall in 1590 she was, in part, creating a home fit for her granddaughter the princess.

After listening to Delphine’s information packed talk we entered the hall and it was AMAZING! The entry hall was vast and must have made a grand statement to guests arriving at Hardwick. This contrasted with the Muniments Room, a small room filled with drawers in which the records of the hall and all of the tenants were stored.

Next we entered a dimly lit room where some beautiful pieces of appliqué embroidery are hung. These are the two works that have been restored so far as part of a ten year project to restore these astonishing pieces of needlework. A volunteer in this room told us that the pieces have a recurrent theme of constancy and devotion that were attitudes to life that Bess held important. The volunteer also told us that during the reformation the Earl of Shrewsbury played a role in the dissolution of the monasteries. Apparently he often brought home sumptuous priest’s robes that were worked with gold thread that would then be picked apart for the gold thread to be reused in the extravagant embroideries that Bess was having made.

We then made our way up to the third floor which housed the State Apartments in Bess’s day. These rooms, the High Great Chamber, the Long Gallery, the Green Room and the Blue Bedroom are still decorated much as they would have been in the late 1500s.

After Bess died in 1608 Hardwick Hall passed to her son, William Cavendish, the 1st Earl of Devonshire. It continued to be held by the Earls and later Dukes of Devonshire until the 1950s. The decor on the second floor of the hall contains the mid-20th century furnishings that were being used by the family in that era. Unable to afford the death taxes when the 10th Duke of Devonshire died the house was handed over to HM Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty in 1956. The Treasury transferred the house to the National Trust in 1959.

We finished our tour around the house by descending the servants stairs to the kitchens where there were pots and pans galore. Many of the pots were made from beautifully burnished copper. The volunteer in the kitchen told us that the collection of pots and pans has now been treated to prevent tarnishing which she says is a marvellous thing as now the volunteers don’t have to spend their time polishing them!

Today we shared a sandwich for lunch so that we could fit in our afternoon ice-cream straightaway because we weren’t sure if there would be another opportunity to an buy ice-cream! After our lunch we walked back to the car and decided to try to find Sutton Scarsdale Hall, yet another English Heritage property that is close by. The EH web page indicated that the hall was closed for restoration works, but we thought, since it was so close and not our of our way, that we would have a look anyway.

Siri took us under the M1 and then along a minor road that ran almost parallel to the motorway until we crossed the A617 and arrived at Sutton Scarsdale Hall. In stark contrast to the well-preserved Hardwick Hall, Sutton Scarsdale Hall is a ruined stately home in the Georgian style. It was built early in the 18th century and occupied by a succession of well to do families until early in the 20th century. In 1919, after years of neglect the house was auctioned off and was purchased by a group of local businessmen who sold off anything from house that had a value. Oak panels were shipped to the US and the roof was removed. After it became open to the weather the house deteriorated even further and went from merely derelict to a ruin.

There was temporary fencing all around the house and EH notices up about conservation works being undertaken. There was, however, little evidence of any actual restorative work taking place ... And yet the signs said the work was due to be completed by September 2018. Perhaps not?!

After our short stop at the ruined hall we made our way to the M1 and headed home to Stalybridge for dinner. The weather had been beautiful all day on the eastern side of the Peak District and it was mid-20s as we drove up the M1. It all changed as soon as we reached the A616 and A628 to drive up and over the Pennine Hills. With each mile the weather became colder and wetter. By the time we reached Stalybridge it was quite cold, wet and windy. Like the Staybridge we know from earlier visits rather than the uncharacteristically balmy Stalybridge we have experienced during the last three weeks! We can’t complain though because we have enjoyed some lovely summer weather on this trip to the UK.

The girls are on a roll - I won Jo again tonight and Kath won our game of 31s.

Steps: 7,683 (5.74 kms)

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