Great British Houses: Hardwick Hall – Everything You Need to Know about this Elizabethan Marvel

Hardwick_Hall_in_Doe_Lea_-_Derbyshire

There are many grand and architecturally significant houses in England. However, there is one in particular that stands out from the rest. Hardwick Hall, which is located in Derbyshire, is the former home of Elizabeth Shrewsbury, also known as Bess of Hardwick. It was built between 1590 and 1597 and designed by architect Robert Smythson.

Key Facts about Hardwick Hall

  • Built between 1590 and 1597 for the formidable Bess of Hardwick
  • Currently owned by the National Trust
  • Most of the furniture and other contents of the house date back to as early as 1601
  • There are 6 rooftop sculptures on the outside that have the initials ‘ES’, which stands for ‘Elizabeth Shrewsbury’.

A Brief History of Hardwick Hall

1024px-Elizabeth_Talbot,_Countess_of_Shrewsbury_from_NPG

Bess of Hardwick

Bess of Hardwick came from a humble origin but she later became one of the most powerful people next to Queen Elizabeth I. She was married four times, gaining more power after each marriage. After she married Sir William Cavendish, she convinced him to move back to her home county. As a native of Derbyshire, Bess was very fond of the scenery and the quiet environment. They purchased the property for their well-known home, Chatsworth House, in 1549 and began building in 1552.

Bess married 2 more men over the course of 10 years, her last being the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was one of the richest and most powerful English nobles. The Shrewsbury’s were guardians of Mary, Queen of Scots for many years, while she was held captive at Chatsworth House. Bess is also the direct ancestress of the Dukes of Devonshire.

The story told is that Bess had a terrible argument with her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and left their home at Chatsworth in 1584. She then organized plans to rebuild the Old Hall at Hardwick to create a new home for herself. However, her plans changed in 1590 when the Earl died, which left her with his inheritance. Due to her new positive financial situation, Bess decided to build a new construction at Hardwick, eliminating the renovation plans for the Old Hall all together and creating the New Hall. She moved into her new house in October 1597.

Her new Hardwick Hall was a true statement for her power and wealth. It contained numerous windows that were exceptionally large for the time period. Glass was a luxury, and the house was described as being more glass than walls. The chimneys were also built into the internal walls, instead of being constructed on the outside. This was done to allow more room for the large windows without weakening the exterior structure. An added touch by Bess was the carved ‘ES’ initials that are present in 6 of the rooftop sculptures at the head of each tower.

 

hardwick-hall-corridor

Hardwick is one of the first houses in England where the hall was built on an axis directly through the center of the house, instead of at right angles to the entrance. The height of each ceiling is also unique with each floor being slightly higher than the first. There are three main levels of the Hall. With the bottom level being smaller in height than the top floor. This was designed for the occupants of each room: the least important occupants stayed on the bottom floor, and the most important lived at the top. This helped to clearly designate the servants from the noble occupants.

The true treasure of Hardwick Hall is the remarkable contents inside that were collected by the Countess. An exceptionally unique collection of paintings and furniture from the 16th century are still present inside. The Hall is fully furnished, exactly as Bess would have kept it. The second floor of the house contains the largest long gallery that has ever been present in an English house. The most notable features are the tapestries and needlework on display. Much of the needlework art has the ‘ES’ initials and it is therefore assumed that Bess herself created much of it.

After the death of Bess in 1608, her son William Cavendish, the 1st Earl of Devonshire, inherited Hardwick Hall. His great-grandson, also named William, was titled as the 1st Duke of Devonshire, which began the Dukes of Devonshire dynasty. Chatsworth was and is the primary seat for the Dukes of Devonshire. However, Hardwick Hall remained as a secondary home for the family to escape from the attention of the public. The family donated the house to the British government in 1956 in lieu of Death Duties, who then transferred the house to the National Trust. The house still stands, and is surrounded by a walled garden, which includes an orchard, an herb garden, a café, and a National Trust gift shop.

What Makes This House Famous

The Old Hall

The Old Hall

Other than the exceptionally unique use of windows throughout the house, another fact that makes Hardwick Hall famous is due to the ‘Old Hall’ being listed as an official ruin. It is present beside of the New Hardwick Hall, and was the original home of Bess before she built the new house. The property is owned by the National Trust, and administrated by English Heritage.

TV & Film Appearances

Hardwick Hall is most popular in the TV and film industry as the location for the exterior scenes of Malfoy Manor in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Part 2. The property was also used in the Connections TV series which illustrated changes in home design, as well as the TV series Mastercrafts.

Further Research on Hardwick Hall

Venus in Winter: A Novel of Bess of Hardwick is a novel by Gillian Bagwell and is a fictionalization of Bess’s life.

Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder – From the author of The Sisters, a chronicle of the most brutal, turbulent, and exuberant period of England’s history. Bess Hardwick, the fifth daughter of an impoverished Derbyshire nobleman, did not have an auspicious start in life. Widowed at sixteen, she nonetheless outlived four monarchs, married three more times, built the great house at Chatsworth, and died one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in English history.

Visiting Information

Hardwick Hall, as well as the gardens, the shop, and restaurant are open most days of the week with the exception of bank holidays. They also have a period of time after Christmas when the house is closed. According to their website, the house opens back up to the public on 16th February. Before planning your visit, it is best to refer to their website in order to verify that they are open, as well as hours of operation and ticket prices. You can find the information at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardwick.

Relevant YouTube Videos To Watch

Hardwick Hall – Various Scenes

Bess Hardwick First Lady of Chatsworth – Lecture – 1 Hour

Comments

  1. avatarSue Hospedales says

    Been here many times…i was born not far from here …Derbyshire has s o many Historical places to visit

  2. avatarMinerva says

    It is also worth mentioning that on certain days of the year (6 or so, I think) volunteers are all completely costumed in handmade period clothes, & give animated resumes of the rooms that they are in. Many of them do their research in their own time, & frequently pass on all kinds of unusual facts you never find in a book.
    If you are planning a trip & want to attend on one of these days, do the research…it’s definitely worth it. It’s well worth the effort

    I was fortunate recently to attend a function where ‘Bess’ herself was the speaker……a very, very funny lady with some very entertaining facts!

Leave a Reply