FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Bolsover Castle

Posted in Chesterfield, England by folkestonejack on April 10, 2016

The second day of our short trip to Derbyshire saw us visit Bolsover Castle, a delightful 17th century aristocratic retreat and entertainment complex perched high above the surrounding countryside.

The Little Castle

The Little Castle

Bolsover Castle is quite unlike any castle site that I have visited before, although it began conventionally enough with a motte and bailey castle in the eleventh century. The castle we can see today was the creation of Charles Cavendish, the youngest son of Bess of Hardwick, who clearly inherited her artistic flair, working with the architect John Smythson (son of the architect who worked with his mother at Hardwick) to design the Little Castle which sits at the heart of the site.

The castle was constructed between 1612 and 1617, with the interiors completed by his son William in 1621 following the death of his father in 1617. William also added a magnificent Terrace Range between the 1620s and 1660s with a large state appartment and long gallery, serviced by kitchens and cellars of sufficient capacity for entertainment on a lavish scale. In particular, it seems to have been designed to impress Charles I who visited with his wife in 1634.

The State Apartment and Terrace Range

The State Apartment and Terrace Range

The Terrace Range was remarkably short lived. It was plundered for building materials during the Commonwealth, the State apartment was taken apart in the 1680s and the long gallery was converted into stables. The whole thing was a ruin by 1770! Nevertheless, as ruins go, it is still pretty amazing.

Across the courtyard lies the riding house, shoeing house and smithy – all of which date to around 1660. The interior of the rising house gives the impression of a great hall and it was incredible to see it in use for a demonstration of live horsemanship with a commentary explaining William Cavendish’s enlightened views on training horses in the art of manège.

The Riding School

The Riding School

However, it is the Little Castle that is the highlight of a visit and a sight that can be savoured from every angle, including the restored wall wark (re-opened in 2014 after a gap in use of 250 years). The interior doesn’t fail to delight either, offering up some exquisite spaces and stunning wall/ceiling painting.

The hall is a strange beast, combining classical columns, gothic rib vaulting, wood panelling painted light blue, some rather stunning paintings of Hercules and a beautiful stone chimney. Somehow, it works! There are plenty more visual treats to discover as you wind your way to the top of the building, including the intimate ‘elsyium closet’ and ‘heaven closet’ with richly painted ceilings of olympians and cherubs respectively. As ever, words are inadequate here.

The lodges guarding the entry to the Little Castle

The lodges guarding the entry to the Little Castle

Bolsover Castle is a short bus ride away from Chesterfield, taking around half an hour to wind its way to Bolsover Market Place. The 82/83 bus was running on a half hourly frequency when we visited, on a Sunday, but for the rest of the week you can expect to wait fifteen minutes at most. Admission currently costs £11.20 for an adult, with an additional fee to see the horse displays if they are running. The castle and grounds open at 10am, but if you turn up early there is a pleasant walk along the ridge (look out for the Cavendish Conduit Houses, built along the line of a water pipe into the castle) or you can follow a very short historic trail around the town.

Our visit, at a very leisurely pace, took around two and a half to three hours. This gave us ample time to appreciate the Little Castle, explore the Terrace Range and see a twenty minute demonstration of horsemanship in the riding house. After leaving the castle we took the public footpath into the field below the castle to get a sense of how the complex fits into the landscape before heading back to Chesterfield by bus.

For our one night stay in Chesterfield we opted for a room at The Portland Hotel, a pub in the Wetherspoons chain, with an unexpectedly sleek and smart room. It also had the great, if initially unnerving, decoration of paintings of the devil by local primary school children! The rather less alarming explanation for this is the local legend that attributes the crooked spire of the parish church to the devil, after twisting his tail around it.

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Hardwick Hall – palace and prison

Posted in Chesterfield, England by folkestonejack on April 9, 2016

A short weekend expedition brought us to Derbyshire with the aim of visiting a trio of historic buildings, starting with Hardwick Hall and Hardwick Old Hall.

Our approach hid the historic buildings from us until we were almost upon them, barring for the occasional glimpse of the six turrets above the treeline, making the impact of our first full view of Hardwick Hall all the greater. Faced with the beautiful sandstone exterior and shimmering walls of glass it was not hard to see why this grand house has been described as the marvel of its age.

Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall

Bess of Hardwick was as remarkable as her creation. Born in the old hall in the 1520s to a family of relatively modest means Bess became an astute and wealthy businesswoman over the course of a life that saw her married and widowed four times over. By the time her fourth husband died in 1590 Bess held quite a portfolio of land and property, including Chatsworth House and Wingfield Manor. It was now that her attention turned to her birthplace.

The vision that Bess had for Hardwick defied established architectural rules. In doing so, she created a quite remarkable building, with a great hall turned 90 degrees from the norm, an astonishing quantity of expensive glass and towers topped with her initials (E.S. for Elizabeth of Shrewsbury). Although she utilised the talents of Robert Smythson, the leading architect of the time, there is no disputing that a good many aspects of the design for the hall came from her own mind.

After a seven year build Hardwick Hall was completed in 1597 and it was clearly intended to impress visitors. It is considered to be a ‘prodigy house’, a term used to describe the showy houses built by courtiers and noble families in the Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean ages. Moreover, it was a palace in all but name, fit for a future queen. That queen was expected to be Arbella Stuart, Bess’s granddaughter, who had a strong claim to the throne but ultimately lost out to her cousin James.

The tragic story of Arbella is a thread that runs through a visit to the hall. At first Bess had high hopes for her granddaughter, but almost every step in Arbella life needed the approval of Elizabeth I from her appearances at court to the possibility of marriage. In many ways it suited Elizabeth I to keep the question about her succession open and in this political power play Arbella became an unfortunate pawn. Hardwick Hall effectively transformed itself into a prison for Arbella, who longed to escape its confines for the freedom of a marriage of her choosing. The accession of James I to the throne did not end the misery, as it soon became clear that he would never allow Arbella to marry.

In 1611 Arbella married William Seymour in secret and set off across the channel for a new life on the continent. Sadly, Arbella never made it – her ship was boarded off the French coast and she spent the rest of her life imprisoned in the Tower of London. Arbella died from starvation in 1615.

The view from the old hall

The view from the old hall

The highlight of my visit to Hardwick Hall would have to be the remarkable painted plaster frieze that is wrapped around the upper half of the High Great Chamber (depicting the goddess Diana in a forest filled with stags) but other wonders include a massive plasterwork coat of arms in the Great Hall, the long gallery decorated with its original tapestries and a room dedicated to Mary Queen of Scots (including her coat of arms, presumably brought from the family property at Chatsworth where she had been imprisoned). I also rather liked the softer touches of the family floor which showed how the last occupant of the house, the Dowager Duchess Evelyn, lived here until 1959.

Across the way from Hardwick Hall you can see the remains of the old hall. The label is somewhat misleading as construction of the building, on the site of her father’s medieval manor house, only began in 1587 and was completed just a year before the new hall. Instead, it is better to think of the two halls as complementary structures and both were certainly in use at the same time. Hardwick Old Hall was richly furnished and contained some fantastic plasterwork, including a pair of ‘giant’ Roman soldiers in one room and another forest frieze in another. Fragments of these still survive, giving a small glimpse of how amazing these rooms must have been.

Hardwick Old Hall

Hardwick Old Hall

An admission ticket covering both halls comes in at a pricey £19.10 for an adult if you are not members of the National Trust. It’s certainly an impressive combination of buildings with some stunning features, terrific views and some fascinating history. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it was a great day out.

Most visitors drive to Hardwick Hall, but it is possible to reach by public transport. We took the ‘Pronto‘ bus service from Chesterfield to Glapwell (getting off at the stop nearest to the ‘Young Vanish’ public house) which takes around 30 minutes. The directions given on the National Trust website for the walk from here are pretty hopeless, making little sense to us as we tried to follow them. However, it is quite straightforward.

After leaving the bus stop at Glapwell ‘Young Vanish’ cross the road and follow ‘The Hill’ to the beginning of Rowthorne Lane (where you will see a sign for Rowthorne and Ault Hucknall). Follow the lane out of Glapwell, through Rowthorne and back into the countryside. Rowthorne Lane curves past a sewage works and the beginning of the ‘Rowthorne Trail’ but continue walking until you see a drive to the left leading to a gatehouse at Rowthorne Gate. Pass through the gate and continue up the drive. Although you cannot see the halls from this point they are in fact straight ahead. The walk should take about 45 minutes.

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