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Gravesend, United Kingdom
October 30, 2009
From journal Some Historical Jewels in Englands Crown
Bath, United Kingdom
July 24, 2006
The house layout is, by today’s standards strange with the male family members sleeping on one side and the female on the other. The sleeping areas are separated by the balcony over the hall way and a fantastically large dining room and sitting room.The dining room, with its music room alcove, had commanding views over the estate and was right next door to the "master’s bedroom with an impressive four poster bed and elaborately carved bed-head. This room has been named the cut velvet room, but I can’t quite see why!
A smaller average sized single room was kitted out, at the northern most part of the house, with more modern furniture. Early Victorian! An early unpretentious bathroom with a claw-footed bath and a call bell was open for show – this was remarkably plain in comparison to everywhere else in the house.
Bess’ room was in the warmest part of the house at the southernmost part of the house with views across the formal and herb gardens towards the stable block. Currently it’s undergoing major restorative work and is being used as a storeroom. This is a great shame as Hardwick Hall is all about Bess!
As we made our way downstairs we passed through the "paved room" a panelled room with a flag stoned floor and a carved date of 1588. According to the plans this was originally intended as an upper hallway from the staircase but it was soon converted into a bedroom - a strange room with a disproportional fireplace. Towards the staircase we saw a tiny chapel with its own pulpit, benches around the wall, a large altar and a ceiling tapestry depicting the last supper. I suspect it was obligatory that the servants attended this family chapel on a Sunday.
I’d recommend that you visit the exhibition on the ground floor. Here you’ll be able to mug up on the Hardwick history and examine sections of "the grotesques" sections of fine tapestries from Flanders, listen to a summary about a table carpet made in 1579, wonder at the muniment room with over 400 individual crafted storage boxes designed to hold the all the family documents dating back to the 1600’s. In the "Dukes room" there’s a unique display of miniature furniture by Ivan Turner and some amazing tapestry wall hangings. It was here that the 9th Duke would have sat in the 1920’s after having suffered a stroke. The view of the garden would doubtless have offered some compensation for him.
From journal Hardwick Hall - A Great Day Out
July 23, 2006
The Hall is accessed through a compact walled garden into a magnificent flag stoned grand entrance, with huge wall-hanging tapestries, impressive wood panelling and a might fireplace overlooked with a mantle carving of incredible proportions displaying the family crest of standing heraldic stags. This is indeed an impressive start to our tour.
Then we climb up the broad and impressive staircase to the second floor of Hardwick Hall, pausing for breath on the upper landing, which would have doubled up as the sleeping area for the "on-duty" servants, but was now decked out as a small dining area. Another flight of stairs and we’re now stood in the truly magnificent Upper State Room. It was here that Bess received all her important visitors and offered them all luxuries befitting their status. There’s a grand plaster fresco completed by a local craftsman called Abraham Smith. It’s a lavish hunting scene with loads to take in including a solitary unicorn, elephants and the head and shoulders of Abraham holding a stick that would have been used to stir the plaster. The whole scene is overseen by The Goddess Diane (a virgin goddess and generally believed to be a respectful depiction of the virgin queen Elizabeth) whose throne is above the throne of the Lady Dowager. To further endorse the royal affinity the royal coat of arms has pride of place over the elaborate fireplace.
The Long Gallery, running along the back of the house has an incredibly undulating floor and its walls are covered with a fantastic tapestry telling the biblical tale of Gideon’s battle against the Midianites. I asked why Bess would have found this story so fascinating and was told that as she bought the tapestries second hand (was she an early e-bayer!) it was likely she wanted them because they were the right size for this amazing gallery. However the message of "put your trust in the Lord" and you will conquer all would certainly have appealed to this influential woman. Currently the Trust is starting its "clean and repair" policy for all of the tapestries (Hardwick Hall is full of them) and although they’ll never again see their original colours the finished pieces have been well restored by Belgium craftsmen (interesting that they’ve returned to their place of manufacture). Nowadays the tapestry is also covered with over 80 period portraitures – this would not have been the case in Bess’ day and I suspect that she’d be dischuffed with her fine tapestry being covered with these works of Art.
On this floor there are the state bedroom reserved exclusively for the frequent visitors to Bess of Hardwick. Original period furniture is there to admire, but not to touch!
Major work has started on returning the herb garden to its former glory. There have been deep-rooted (literally) problems with bindweed and it’s hoped that this has now been eradicated and in future it’ll be planted out as a garden similar to that overseen by Bess’ gardeners. The northern half is well planted with the structural plants of Box. Bay and Hops and it was a mass of colour and interest. There are well-known plants such as sage, coriander, dill, liquorice, fennel, curry, garlic, feverfew and camphor and some lesser-known plants as Sweet Cicely, Lovage, Penny Royal. But in addition there were loads that I’ve never heard of before including Stinking Hellebore, Good King Henry, Wormwood, Monkshood, Viper’s Bugloss, Skullcap and Button Snakeroot (all good evocative names) and many that I did not associate as having medicinal qualities including Lily of the Valley, Yellow Flags and Cowslip.
In the far corner of the garden is a stone building with descriptions (courtesy of pen and ink sketches by Alice Cooper) of the garden’s progress over the centuries. It starts in 1597 with four enclosed "open plan" garden areas, and by 1697 a small orchard had been developed with a corridor of trees at the back of the house. Two hundred years later the gardens have dramatically matured and are now divided into formal sections with cottage gardens, the herb section, orchards, the formal walkway, all set in the impressive Hardwick Parklands.
Furthest away from the house are the famous avenue of mulberry trees (we didn’t know that the Hall was renowned for its mulberries but one of the guides was adamant that it was, so who were we to argue!). We then took a gentle stroll back through the mature orchard and then into the formal statue walk. Here carefully manicured hedges house numerous statues in their leafy alcoves and numerous while garden seats provide resting places for weary visitors or an opportunity to gently contemplate your surroundings.
A giant toadstool (you’ll see what I mean when you visit) stood between us and the house and a small door beckoned us to the rear of the house where the view seems to go on for ever. There are shades of the parklands of Fountainbleau as the house looks over a small water feature, through a topiary hedge into a thick avenue of trees to the far distance. A good horse ride away I suspect!
I n the enclosed garden at the front the borders are crammed with interesting shrubs and plants – an area I’d like to have studied a bit more if the weather had been a little less damp! Still there’s always another day as I reckon these all season gardens are worth checking out again.
But once we pull into the car park we’re confronted with the full glory and eccentricity of Hardwick Hall. It was designed for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury (affectionately known as Bess of Hardwick), by Robert Smythson. It’s a magnificent Elizabethan country house that the family moved into in October 1597. Bess by this time was into her fourth marriage and she no longer showed her humble origin, as she had become an extremely wealthy and influential aristocrat. The Doawager’s initials, ES, are pretentiously visible along the top of the building an indication, I guess, that here was a woman who demanded to be recognised and respected.
The entrance is flanked with eight chunky columns and the symmetrical building rises majestically into the towers at the corners. I’ve heard Hardwick hall described as a giant lantern and certainly, from the outside, I was very aware of the incredible numbers of windows only separated by the minimum amount of stoneware. It wasn’t too hard to imagine the impact of this building when it was alight with coal fires and oil lamps. What an impressive sight!
With perfect symmetry the columns at the rear of the property give it an almost monastic feel and the aspect brought with it a peace and serenity that would have been reserved for the family and their honoured guests.
The third floor tower rooms overlook a balconied roof space and I can only presume that Bess reserved access to this private space for family members. I could almost imagine them standing at the top overlooking their land whilst keeping an eye out for visiting dignitaries.
Outside of the gardens of the "new" hall" are the impressive remains of the original residency. It still commands a presence, but as it was teeming down when we left the Hall we decided to give this open-air relic a miss. It is owned and maintained by English Heritage and in its day would have commanded a superior view over the surrounding countryside, but Bess with all her wealth wanted to stamp her own mark on the Country estate by moving out of this residence &into a new "purpose built" dwelling. The New Hall of Hardwick – Bess’
Riverview, New Brunswick
October 4, 2005
The story of Elizabeth (or Bess) of Hardwick is interesting as this home is a testament to her determination to create a dynasty. Married four times, she bore children only in her second marriage to Sir William Cavendish. With him, she began the building of Chatsworth. When Sir William died, Chatsworth passed to his eldest son, so Bess bought the Old Hall at Hardwick which had belonged to her childless brother, in the name of her second son, William.
Bess could not know at the time that William would be able to buy Chatsworth from his elder brother and for a mere 10,000 pounds the title of Earl of Devonshire. So both homes came to be the property of the Devonshire family. Today, Hardwick, sold for death duties not that many years ago, is run by the National Trust.
Bess built her new Hardwick right next to the Old Hall, which is just a shell today. The house that you see has a number of dominant features including the walls of glass. The windows of the third floor are the largest… that is where the State Rooms are. The windows of the ground floor are the smallest… that was the working area of the Hall. The collection of tapestries here is staggering – most of the walls are covered in them. The house is adorned with Bess’s initials and the symbol that is woven into the fabrics of the house is the knotted snake (wisdom).
One enters through a great hall and climbs to the top floor reception room which is absolutely magnificent after which there is a long gallery hung with Elizabethan portraiture on tapestry-covered walls; like the exterior, it is a feast of symmetry.
The visit is extensive; as a Trust property, you will see much. There are a number of significant bedrooms – three on the top floor, one of which contains furniture belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots. On the second floor, you’ll see the state dining room with its Elizabethan paneling and a collection of 17th and 18th century portraits above. Over the fireplace is the admonition, “The conclusion of all things is to feare God and keepe His commandments.”
The rest of the second floor contains, not Elizabethan furniture, but like the dining room, comfortable furniture for the house which was occupied by Duchess Evelyn until 1960 when she died and the house went to the trust. Hardwick is a must-see, partially because of its Elizabethan grandeur and partially due to the story of Bess of Hardwick.
From journal Great Houses of the Peak District