Haddon Hall


F914F4D8-BB9F-4CBF-910A-2002903F903BThis was a lovely, even charming, building – a mediaeval fortified house which was virtually unused in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unlike Hardwick Hall and Kedleston Hall, which were built as set pieces, Haddon Hall has been extended and modified over the centuries so you can see the joins. It’s the one building of this tour that has little of the Renaissance or neo-classicism about it. It’s higgledy-piggledy with no logical progression; it’s on many different levels and has internal courtyards.

There is a long gallery for ladies to promenade in when the weather is poor (a kind of Derbyshire loggia, then), in which Robert Smythson (of Hardwick Hall) had a hand, which may account for the enormous windows:


and a tapestry presented by Henry VIII, the detail of which is exquisite:


but the most interesting thing is the concept of the great hall, with the lord sitting at the board table (eating “full” or “half board”) on a dais, a great hole in the roof to let fire smoke escape before chimneys were installed, and the lord’s men – mediaeval manor houses were very male – sleeping around the room. There have been many modifications over the centuries, but you can still imagine it as the core of the original dwelling. It makes you realise how our notion of home in conditioned by the compartmentalisation of the spaces we live in.

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Kedleston Hall


Kedleston Hall, Robert Adam to designs by Matthew Brettingham and James Paine, 1760-65. Built for the Curzon family. There were supposed to be 4 quadrants, but the money ran out and only 2 were built. The central pavilion – the corps de logis – was not really for living in; it was purely for display with lavish state rooms in case the monarch visited. He never did.

My other reason for coming to Derbyshire – this time an OU course on the Enlightenment. In the unlikely event that I should ever feel sorry for the aristocracy, I shall remember that the Curzon family – like the Cavendishes at Chatsworth – just demolished and relocated villages if they stood in the way of a good view.


Village? What village?

Kedleston was Adam’s first real commission. He had recently returned from his Grand Tour, where he had visited Diocletian’s mausoleum at Split. Hence the neo-classicism of the front is thrown into the air by the triumphal arch at the back:

Adam started with Palladio but styled it in his own way to attract clients. The plasterwork on the ceiling, for example, takes antique motifs and plays around with them. The Curzon family owned enough mines in Derbyshire to provide the building materials: alabaster (for marble), limestone (although the front – apart from the rusticated lower level – is rendered brick) and Blue John from Castleton.

Kedleston borders on a Gesamtkunstwerk: Adam designed much of the furniture and had picture frames included as part of the walls, so there was no opportunity to move the paintings around. The sofas in the circular hall have curved seats to fit against the wall, and even the heavy mahogany doors are curved to complete the circle. It’s a very elegant and orderly – if somewhat sterile – showpiece.


What did appeal to me was seeing the impact of a haha or some other wall to keep sheep in sight but not too close. From the house it did indeed seem that the sheep were only a step away from grazing on the lawn: you really couldn’t see the join.

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Bolsover Castle


Riding school and stables on the left, state apartment ruins on the right. Shades of Stuart-era fortresses somehow.

402EF49A-6AE5-42D7-A3C5-F2794AE332A9The view over Derbyshire is wonderful. The castle was rebuilt by Charles Cavendish, one of Bess of Hardwick’s sons, in 1611-17, employing Robert Smythson. A riding school and state apartments for a visit by Charles II and his queen were added later in the latest – very Dutch – style. The whole seems to have been a Cavendish fun palace with tacky wall paintings to match.

The beams of the riding school were also memorable:


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Hardwick Hall


Completed 1597 by Robert Smythson for Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury thanks to husband no. 4. Hence the initials “ES” on every summit.

This was what I really wanted to see – and it didn’t disappoint. The difference between studying it as part of an OU course (as an example of English Renaissance) and seeing it in the flesh is that you are struck by its position (top of a bluff, now overlooking the M1 like a castle whereas Chatsworth is down by a river like a monastery) and its perfect symmetry. And, of course, the gardens, which have beautiful, deep herbaceous borders.

So I saw the Long Gallery (longest of its kind), the tapestries (bought for a song if Bess of Hardwick – I think the “hard” in her name is apt – could manage it), the long walk up to her stateroom (compression and expansion as you mount) where she would receive visitors on a dais, the sheer astonishing amount of glass in a Tudor house – all wonderful and well worth waiting so many years to see. The house is Bess’s power built in stone; she returned to her roots – the derelict Hardwick family home is directly opposite – after her final widowing.

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Chatsworth House


I prefer people’s palaces to aristocrats’ palaces, and Chatsworth House isn’t going to change my mind. It’s a vast commercial venture centred around a lumber-room of a house. It’s crammed full of potentially interesting artefacts, but I am still irritated by the lack of labelling. (Was that a Frans Hals?) The gardens were lovely but not looking their best after such a drought. I did admire the Victoria amazonica lily (the sixth duke encouraged plant-hunting)


and the serpentine hedge


but I greatly regret the destruction of Joseph Paxton’s conservatory in the 1920s, no matter how impractical; only the stone base survives to show how enormous it was:

All I really care to remember about the history of the house is that Bess of Hardwick (c. 1527-1608, more of her tomorrow) built its first incarnation. (She was married 4 times; husband number 2 was a Cavendish, and she persuaded him to build a house in her home county of Derbyshire. She chose successively wealthier husbands and died the Countess of Shrewsbury.) The first Duke of Devonshire built new façades on each of the four sides, and the sixth duke (1790-1858) greatly extended it and was Paxton’s patron. The family also had interests in Barrow-in-Furness, which explains all the town’s sites with Devonshire in the name.


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I know I have been here before, but I don’t have any particular recollection of it. This, for instance:


or the Crescent, paid for by the 5th Duke of Devonshire and designed by John Carr 1780-89. It’s currently undergoing renovation after being derelict for many years:


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Dir Ari Aster, with Toni Collette

A curate’s egg, but I came out of the cinema very underwhelmed.

Visually it was intriguing and disquieting: it began by zooming into a doll’s house, which then morphed into a real bedroom and real characters. Several of the scenes at home were filmed to look like more doll’s house tableaux. The tree house was pure Baba Yaga and the family home an estate agent’s dream of New England Puritanism.

Intellectually it was interesting: was this a dysfunctional family, or a family with a history of mental health problems, or were they cursed/fated like the characters from Greek tragedy that the son studied in school? Discovering that they were a family coven was a ludicrous anticlimax.

As a horror film, it had its moments; I had my eyes closed through some scenes (always a mark of high esteem in my book, but it does make it difficult to follow the story).

But it needed editing rather than piling on yet another scary moment or dream scene or close-up of Collette’s face. And when it descended into satanic cliché I lost all interest. And what’s with ending on Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”?

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