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Jane Austen once said that ‘there is no finer county in England than Derbyshire’. After visiting the tranquil, rural Hardwick Estate, it’s difficult not to wholeheartedly agree with her. The estate is comprised of an imposing ‘New Hall,’ the atmospheric ruins of Hardwick ‘Old Hall’, seasonal gardens, acres of beautiful countryside, and a functional nineteenth century mill.
Hardwick Old Hall was the birthplace of Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, later known as Bess of Hardwick, who, through a series of strategic marriages, became one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Elizabethan England. In fact, her prestige was said to be second only to that of Queen Elizabeth I, who was a close, personal friend of the countess. In the late 1500s, Bess abandoned the Old Hall and created the New Hall as a bold display of her wealth and prominence.
Hardwick New Hall
Hardwick Hall has often been described as the ‘best of England’s stately homes’. During a time when glass was the best status symbol money could buy, overawed locals coined the phrase ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall’ to describe their opulent neighbor (a phrase still used in the area today). With its hilltop position overlooking the Derbyshire countryside and the dramatic personage of its original owner, the hall carries a presence unmatched even by those homes of similar style and age. The Hall grounds also contain a friendly café, which is a major drawing point for many locals in the area. The café provides afternoon tea or a selection of traditional English foods.
Hardwick Old Hall
The ruins of Hardwick Old Hall are only a few yards away from the New Hall, but provide a completely different atmosphere and experience.
The Old Hall has been without a roof for some time and exposure to the elements has hollowed out and eroded the inside of the building. Moss and vegetation cover the lower floors, but decorative plasterwork still adheres to some sections of the walls providing a glimpse of how the hall once looked.
Visitors are free to wander through the whole of the ruins and even climb four stories to the top of the building. There is little evidence of human presence in the ruins and visitors have complete freedom to explore the hall without the usual impediments of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs and roped off areas. Particularly during off-peak times, you may have the sense that you’re the first to enter this silent building in four hundred years.
The mill is not far from the main halls and still functions as it did in the nineteenth century.Visitors to the mill are allowed a hands-on experience of the machinery involved in the old-fashioned milling process. Even if you don’t have time for a tour, the mill shop is worth a visit for its selection of freshly milled flours and mixes.
The Hardwick Estate
Doe Lea, Chesterfield
Entrance Fees and Opening Times
A calendar with opening times is available at the National Trust website.
Entrance to the grounds and estate is free for National Trust members. In addition, National Trust memberships are available for visitors from abroad. See the National Trust website for more information on home and visiting memberships.
Fees for all others are as follows:
Family Ticket: £12.50
Phone: 01246 850430
Written by Erin Connelly for EuropeUpClose.com