Hardwick New Hall and Hardwick Old Hall, sited next to each other, are major Derbyshire attractions. The Old Hall is the ruin of Bess of Hardwick’s (Countess of Shrewsbury) first manor house, while Hardwick Hall, her elaborate six towered stone mansion house, is one of England’s purest examples of 16th century décor. Built in 1590 it is unmistakably Bess’s as her initials ES crown the roof-line in stone. Married four times to increasingly rich husbands, she became a powerful presence in her own right. House Tour
She began a restoration of Hardwick Old Hall next door but abandoned it before completion when she inherited massive wealth on the death of the 6th earl, her estranged husband. The New Hall was completed when she was 69 years old and she lived in it until she died at age 80. The Old Hall remains as she left it.
Ablaze with large windows, an unusual and expensive choice for the times, the house is full of Renaissance decorative details. It is thought to be the design of Robert Smythson. Many of its contents are original and others came from Chatsworth, 20 miles away, and also owned by the Devonshire dukes whose main house it was. Needlework enthusiasts will delight in the huge collection of historic pieces on display in an exhibition room.
Visitors see, on the ground floor, the great hall and kitchen; on the first floor the upper portion of the great hall, the gallery, the drawing room, dining room, chapel, paved room, cut velvet bedroom, and stair landing. On view on the second floor is the long gallery, high great chamber, withdrawing chamber, upper stair landing, green velvet room, blue room, Mary Queen of Scots’ room, and north staircase.
Great hall: in the centre of the ground floor and runs from the front to the back; fireplace overmantel with Hardwick coat of arms; strapwork over fireplace, characteristic of the décor in the house; 17th century oak table; portrait of Bess of Hardwick; appliqué hangings used as screens date from 1570s.
Main staircase (lower half): meant to be a ceremonial way from the great hall to state rooms on next floor; tapestries are Mortlake and date from 1670s; 30 embroideries, may have been work of Bess of Hardwick.
Drawing room: private room of Bess; late 16th century tapestries on wall are from Brussels; painting on glass of Bess’s coat of arms; needlework cushion covers in frames; cabinet with Chinese porcelain jug; furnished with chairs, lamps, family photographs, and writing table from time of Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire.
Main staircase (upper half): leads to 2nd floor landing at south end of house; tapestries made in London c1680 and one from early 1500s.
High great chamber: ceremonial room for Bess receiving guests and dignitaries; plaster frieze of Diana the huntress; Queen’s arms above fireplace; inlaid eglantine table.
Long gallery: 166 feet long; used for indoor exercise, holding court, and entertaining; two chimneypieces with alabaster statues; plaster decoration on ceiling; tapestries; 81 paintings of royalty, family, friends and patrons hang on the walls; canopy of state dates from late 1600s and once belonged to a state bed; walnut chairs embroidered with silver thread on red silk velvet; brass chandeliers; two long tables in window bays are covered with Turkish carpets in Persian silk.
Withdrawing chamber: used by Bess and family, close friends and guests; Elizabethan furniture includes inlaid walnut table, decorated cupboard, inlaid card table, German marquetry chest.
Green velvet room: state bedroom; late 16th century tapestries; cut silk velvet bed and chairs date from c1740.
Queen of Scots room: named for Scottish royal arms and initials MR over door but never used by Queen Mary as she was dead three years before house was completed; black velvet bed
Blue room: alabaster overmantel came from Chatsworth and dates from 1570s; Brussels tapestries; blue damask bed from 1629 (restored 1852).
North staircase: leads down from roof; each step made of one piece of oak; embroidery panels.
Dining room: once the low great chamber of family suite of rooms; 1597 chimneypiece with Flemish strapwork decoration; brass candle scones of same period; 17th century brass dishes; long table.
Cut-velvet bedroom: pink and green cut-velvet hangings on bed of 1740 brought from Chatsworth; 1730 leather studded blanket chest; 16th century Brussels tapestries.
Paved room: stone floor; used as parlour or private dining room; collection of needlework; three carpets.
Chapel: once the family gallery that looked down into the chapel; 17th century pulpit; painted wall hangings.
Kitchen: scrubbed oak tables around huge pillars; stewing hearth; 18th and 19th century copper pans; painted coat of arms.
South of the house is the main garden, redesigned from Elizabethan times. There are walks flanked with yews and hornbeam dividing the garden into four sections. Two are orchards; one is planted with flowers; one is an herb garden. A grass court is at the back of the house and gives views of an amphitheatre of lime trees.
Hardwick Hall and Stainsby Mill
Doe Lea, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, East Midlands
6 miles west of Mansfield, off the A6175
Tel. 0 246 850 430
Open: hall: mid Feb-end Oct, Wed-Sun, 11am-4.30pm, three weeks in Dec, weekends, 11am-3pm; garden, mid Feb-end Oct, Wed-Sun, 11am-5pm; three weeks in Dec, weekends, 11am-3pm; park, year round, daily, 8.30am-6pm
National Trust property; 18th century Stainsby mill in working order on the estate; remains of Hardwick Old Hall in grounds; walks; trails; rare breeds of sheep and cattle; special events; restaurant; shop; parking; stone centre; stableyard heritage tours
Photos © by Barbara Ballard and courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
Richard Croft: plasterwork frieze; blue bedchamber; Bess Hardwick coat of arms; dining room; drawing room; green velvet room; high hall dais; long gallery fireplace; great chamber dais;
Kate Jewell: flower border; herb garden;
David Rogers: statue of Mary Queen Scots; snake on lead drainpipe;
John Fielding: south side of hall from garden;
Trevor Richard: exterior stone coat of arms of Countess of Shrewsbury
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