A July 2006 trip
to Derbyshire by MichaelJM
Quote: What better way to spend a day out than in an around the old estate of Hardwick and Stainsby. This Trust property offers great value.
It’ll cost you only £2.60 to have a fully guided tour around the mill (free if you join the National Trust) and although I’m not really into engineering I found myself being amazed by the technical elements in this working water mill. Our guide was clearly very knowledgeable but he had a keen interest in both the engineering and the social history attached to Stainsby.
There’s been a mill at Stainsby since the 1200’s but the oldest remaining part of the current building is the drying room, dating back to the early 1600’s. It was here that damp grain was spread across a floor of ceramic tiles (later cast iron) with the heat from a ground floor furnace permeating through the maze of holes in the floor. Some of the early flooring is there to hold and inspect.
The mill is powered by a locally cast iron wheel, 17 feet in diameter with a total of 49 buckets, but the River Doe Lea (it’s really no more than a stream) is not fast flowing so it’s the weight of the water that provides the turning power. It was hard, seeing the speed of the wheel to imagine that the mill would be effective but a cleverly constructed ring gear, off the edge of the wheel convert the slow revolution into meaningful energy. There are two grinding stones for bread flour, one to crack the wheat for animal feed, a couple of separating fans and a sack hoist and when all these were operating it would have been an incredibly noisy and dusty environment for the two men, the miller and his apprentice, who were working. Indeed the life span of a miller was generally no more than 50 years as the intake of dust settled on the lungs and gave rise to serious respiratory problems.
Our guide gave us a demonstration of the sack hoist and it was spooky to watch the heavy sack of grain rise effortlessly to the mill’s loft. It was here that "the boy" would empty the unsorted raw material into funnels for it to be filtered through a mesh tunnel with the chaff being blown to a "waste pipe", being collected on the ground floor and the grain being poured into a sack for return, via the sack hoist, to the top floor for further processing. Once ground the flour would be sorted through another channel, as the masters of the estate only wanted the finest of flour and were happy for the coarser mixture to be given to the poor and needy.
A fascinating half-hour visit with a great insight into local social history.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 23, 2006
Derby, United Kingdom
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’
Chesterfield, Derbyshire S44 5QJ
Attraction | "Hardwick's gardens"
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.
When we visited it was well dressing time. This is the ancient Derbyshire tradition of "well flowering" thought to have originated in pagan times. Basically its the decorating springs and wells with pictures made from local plant life. The "dressings" are set in clay-filled wooden trays and are then erected near to the site of the well. The "dressing season" is from May through to late September and most well dressings are well advertised. Having said that we stumbled upon this one at Ault Hucknall!
The church has a Saxon Tympanum, a lintel dating from the 11th century. There’s a beautiful Norman narrow arch between the Chancel and the Sanctuary, and two larger arches to the north aisle, and between the Nave and the Chancel being fine examples of Early English architecture. The church is petite and the reflected light through the stained glass windows produced a myriad of colours, projected as an elaborate mosaic.
The church has a high-pitched timber roof in the ‘Decorated’ period (1300-1400 and there are a couple of interesting ceiling bosses. The, one over the west window is especially interesting as it represents The Green Man a pagan god of fertility represented by the burst of spring and the re-emergence of oak leaves sprouting after a frugal winter. Often this same figure is called Jack-in-the green or Robin Hood (Southwell Minster has some mighty fine sculptures of the Green Man).
Around the church are a good number of chandeliers all were bought in memory of "departed loved ones". The place must have been a major fire hazard if they were all alight with candles! We read with surprise that the belfry holds eight bells with bell five dating back to 1590 and being founded by Henry Oldfield a Nottingham bellfounder. Interestingly three of the bells were removed from another church at Hallam and only been back in working order since the late 1970’s.
The stained glass window in the east window, known as the Savage window, dates back to 1527 and therefore a fascinating insight into the interests of 16th century Christians. The Hardwick family coat of arms can be seen in the lower panel of the second light) and the lower panel of the first light depicts Lady Savage and her daughter. Like all churches it’s easy to spot the influential family of the day as their names figure in memorial stones, tombs and are prolific in the graveyard. The graves at Ault Hucknall are extremely well cared for and a mooch round will reveal some interesting inscriptions.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 23, 2006
Saint John the Baptist Church
Derby, United Kingdom
Attraction | "Inside the Hall - the rooms of state"
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!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 23, 2006
Attraction | "Inside the Hall - a family home"
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.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 24, 2006