Hardwick Old Hall is the ruin of Bess of Hardwick’s first manor house. It is sited in grounds beside Hardwick New Hall. Bess moved into the hall on the site in 1584 after separating from her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury because of a quarrel. Using parts of an earlier house Bess enlarged and remodelled it between 1587-1591. However, her ambition knew no bounds after her husband died in 1590, and she embarked on building the New Hall before the completion of the Old Hall.
Go Back: [Top of Page] [Articles
Rubble walling and ashlar facing on the east wing were used for the construction. Decorative plasterwork, thought to be by Abraham Smith, survives in some instances. Parts of a stag decoration are from the crest of the Hardwick family. Other plasterwork can be seen in the form of a grotesque face, a castle, a goat being milked, fire, water, earth and air (the four elements) and an angel.
On both sides of the entrance court were free-standing pavilions. There was a west and an east wing. Much was demolished in the 1750s so the stone could be used in other building.
The Old Hall was designed with huge windows, an unusual staircase, parapets, and state rooms located on the upper floor. The great hall had an entrance porch complete with pilasters. There were two great chambers, a west tower with staircase, and a privy tower.
The hall of the building, in its center, dates from the last remodelling. It may have been used by the servants for meals. To its right on the ground floor and part of the west wing are a buttery, serving place (where food was collected to carry to tables), stairs, kitchen with fireplace, pastry (scene of the baking with four ovens), and low larder. The west wing was occupied until the 1790s.
This was also the location of the Hill Great Chamber. It was a grand room with decoration and huge windows. Surviving is a stone chimneypiece and plasterwork. The overmantle has large figures, one of which is the god of love. Leading from the chamber and across the hall was the little gallery leading to the best lodging in the building.
Plasterwork decoration showing a forest and deer survives in the “Forest” great chamber which incorporated the older house in its remodelling. The new hall, no longer surviving, was the second area where Bess lived after moving from the east wing. She had a withdrawing room, bedchamber, great chamber, and a gallery. Remains of other rooms such as the nursery and lodgings can be seen.
Hardwick Old Hall
Doe Lea, Chesterfield, 6 miles west of Mansfield, off the A6175
Tel. 0 1246 850 431
Open: April-end Sep, Wed-Sun, 10am-6pm; Oct, same days, 10am-5pm, Nov-third week March, weekends, 10am-4pm; for specific dates visit English Heritage website
Owned by the National Trust, managed by English Heritage; exhibition; audio tour; restaurant and shop located at Hardwick New Hall next to the Old Hall; parking; cottage for rent in the grounds
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard