Tag: Visit

My top five gardens of 2017

My top five gardens of 2017

As my thirtieth year draws to a close, I want to reflect on my top five gardens of 2017. It’s a tough list to compile, and I’ve yet to actually write up reviews of a couple. Fingers crossed I’ll be getting to visit them again […]

Renishaw Hall and Gardens

Renishaw Hall and Gardens

Every Friday since June 2017 I have had the honour of doing work experience at a garden design firm based at Renishaw Hall and Gardens in Derbyshire. This fine house stands just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of housing estates and main […]



Hardwick Hall was one of those places I’d heard others talk about often, but had never properly visited. It’s relatively close to where I grew up – just under an hour’s drive – and to call its leading lady of history “interesting” would be a massive understatement.

Hardwick Hall


The story of Hardwick all really begins with Bess of Hardwick, more formally entitled Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury upon her death in 1608. She was ahead of her time, standing almost on a par with Queen Elizabeth I, and a good friend of the monarch. She was in charge of her own affairs and built up strong enterprises. She was also the source of another magnificent piece of British history: Chatsworth.

Hardwick glimpse

Bess rose from being the daughter of a local landowner to go through four marriages. The most notable were the second and fourth. In the second, she married William Cavendish, who moved to Bess’ native Derbyshire. They purchased and expanded the Chatsworth estate, and bought the title of Earl of Devonshire (now Dukes).

The third marriage lasted just 6 years, and left Bess fantastically wealthy. She was just 30 years old. Her fourth and final marriage brought the astute young woman a great title – Countess of Shrewsbury – and even greater status. The marriage collapsed, probably due to 15 years hosting Mary, Queen of Scots, and potentially due to a stroke or nervous breakdown in the Earl.

I’d say history has left us four chief points to Hardwick, three of which I can readily recommend as worth taking your time over. These include Hardwick Old Hall, Hardwick New Hall, the gardens of the New Hall and the parkland. We never made it around the parkland unfortunately – there’s just so much to take in!

Hardwick Old Hall

Hardwick Old Hall

After eating (a delicious apricot scone with jam and cream in my case), Matt and I made our way towards the New Hall. In doing so, we reached the remnants of the Old Hall. This is run by English Heritage, but access is free to National Trust members too. I was intrigued to find out more about this shell of a structure.

Hardwick Old Hall

After Bess fled her fourth marriage, she returned to her childhood home at Hardwick and set about aggrandising it. The Old Hall was constructed between 1584 and 1596. It incorporated the latest architectural elements, chiefly Italianate. The building still gives glimpses into its past wonder, with a lofty lookout at the top of the accessible staircase, gradually eroding plaster friezes above old fireplaces, and a vast elevated great hall for entertaining.

Hardwick Old Hall stairsHardwick Old Hall fireplacesGreat Hall Hardwick Old Hall

Interestingly, no fire or storm reduced the structure to its current form. It was in fact the movement of the Cavendish family to Chatsworth as their primary seat. They simply pilfered building materials from the Old Hall, leaving it bare and exposed.

View from Hardwick Old Hall

The latest quandary is: should the Old Hall be re-roofed and protected? Should its preservation be as an insight into the unscrupulous treatment by old masters, or as a demonstration of once awe-inspiring grandeur?

Friezes Hardwick Old Hall

The Old Hall became overshadowed from 1590 when Bess had work commenced on the New Hall. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Old Hall a ruin, abandoned by the up-and-coming family. Not so; it was a complement to the newer home.

Hardwick Old Hall garden

Hardwick New Hall

Nevertheless, it’s Hardwick New Hall which now gets all the press. No trip is complete without a look inside; I know, because I’ve only been twice, and the first time did not involve entry to the property. It’s a brilliant counterpoise to the ruinous Old Hall.

Hardwick New Hall

It’s a testament to the lavishness of Tudor style. If you had it, you flaunted it. Matt and I were treated to an enthusiastic introductory talk, lasting about 10-15 minutes, by a genuinely passionate volunteer named Judy. Bess’ life history and the story of the hall were wonderfully narrated. The mind was perfectly attuned for entering the property.

Cavendish crest Hardwick

The entrance hall alone was impressive. This was the domain of the servants, yet it is covered in dark wooden panels and hung with tapestries. Game trophies and armoury bedeck the walls. An ancient elk skull with vast antlers oversees the bustle below. Apparently it’s 13,000 or 30,000 years old – I can’t quite recall!

It’s a hall that retains much of its Tudor heritage. It has been very little altered by the Cavendish family over the centuries. When replaced by Chatsworth, it became more of an opulent museum. One duke loaded it with more and more early modern furnishings. A Queen of Scots room was even established, although she would never have stayed in the hall.

The tapestries are very fine, many being created by Bess of Hardwick herself. Some have been lovingly restored, including by the last Cavendish resident, Lady Evelyn Cavendish. There was an insightful walkthrough of her life and times on the first floor, which made the hall and the family much more approachable. You also get to visit one of the more modernised rooms in the New Hall during that, with its Edwardian style (armchairs, mahogany furniture, photographs). Very comfy!

Hardwick New Hall

The top level of the house hits you the hardest with its blatant display of wealth and taste. There are flamboyantly large windows – the sports cars of the day. Cue the old rhyme: Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall. They illuminate the High Great Chamber with its columns, classical scenes and giant fireplaces. This was a space for feasting, dancing and entertaining. Upon a raised dais at the far end of the chamber rest two thrones. You’d definitely be overawed and subdued approaching those.

Hardwick New HallHardwick New Hall fireplaceDais thrones Hardwick New HallHardwick New Hall Long GalleryHardwick New Hall Long Gallery fireplace

The Long Gallery runs alongside the chamber, and it houses fine examples of portraits which warrant a good amount of inspection. It’s hard to believe how old some of them are, given the quality after all these years. You also get lofty views of the grounds around from up here, and it is to those we descended via the Lady Evelyn displays and the copper-filled kitchens…

Hardwick New Hall kitchens

The gardens

Hardwick is undoubtedly best visited for its two halls – not that I’ve had the pleasure of the parkland yet – but its garden, butting onto the New Hall, holds some pleasant surprises.

Hardwick autumn sunlight

There are several compartments to the gardens. The first you’ll encounter is the charming West Court which is packed full of plants. At the time of our visit it was gently fading into autumn solemnity. Three Cotinus coggygria demarcated quarters of one border. Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass) added a charming height to arrangement – a happy change to its use in isolation on domestic plots. Vitis coignetiae’s ember glow cloaked a section of the old wall. All around was the faltering foliage of plants past their flowering season, although some whites and oranges were clinging on. It was a warm welcome to the New Hall.

Hardwick West CourtHardwick West Court

The South Border is next, composed of white daisies and pink cosmos. After that we find rows of cutting flowers and vegetable crops, although apart from the brassicas it was all well beyond its best. We walked on into the Herb Garden. I struggle here, as I love the concept of the box knots and ancient herbs, and Matt quite appreciated the area. However, it was shabby for me, time of year aside. There was something disappointing about it. I’ll have to make a point of revisiting in the future to see any changes. It felt chilly and impersonal.

Hardwick New Hall South CourtGardens HardwickHardwick GardensHardwick herb garden

But next, my breath was taken away by the unexpected loveliness of a long border of dahlias. It simply blew poor Biddulph Grange’s acclaimed display out of the water (see here for more on their Dahlia Walk disaster in 2017)… I especially adored the decorative variety ‘Arabian Night’. Fullsome and darkly attractive, against its verdant leaves. Imagine it in a hot border at home. Bliss!

Hardwick dahliasHardwick dahlia Arabian Night

Another element we loved was standing at the edge of the East Court rose garden, in front of the ha-ha. For those who don’t know what this is – it’s an artificial ditch into the ground at a boundary. One side is gently sloping to allow livestock to make it down uninjured. The side nearest the garden/house is a vertical face, so creatures can’t climb up and eat your prize plants.

Hardwick statue

Beyond this particular ha-ha however was the thoughtfully planned and executed goblet of lime trees (Tilia x europaea). The stem stretches away in front of you, the sides of the bowl section reach towards you, and the New Hall is the vintage champagne filling the glass.

Hardwick estate goblet lime trees

Hardwick is an awe-inspiring place to visit. It’s the crowning glory of the Mother of the Cavendish family, often overshadowed by Chatsworth. In my mind it feels much more ancient than that, although equally grand. Its situation might not be as stunning as the rolling hills beside the river Derwent, but the estate’s history, architecture and artefacts will have people of all ages hooked.

What was your favourite aspect of Hardwick, if you’ve ever visited?

Biddulph Grange gardens

Biddulph Grange gardens

Which other gardens can you visit and find yourself walking leisurely from one country to another? Biddulph Grange is that garden. Of course, all gardens in modern times are a journey across continents. Even our most pedestrian suburban plots probably have several international guests. Rudbeckia […]

Villa Reale di Marlia

Villa Reale di Marlia

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