Tag Archive: derbyshire


On a trip north last week, we managed to pack in three very interesting National Trust properties to and from our destination in the Lake District. The first was Kedleston Hall, the 18th century pile of the Curzons, an old Norman family who became prominent Tories in later times and built this magnificent home as a power statement to rival that developed by their Derbyshire Whig rivals, the Cavendish family, at Chatsworth.

WP_20150505_11_56_22_ProWe thought the front of the house reminiscent of Norfolk’s Holkham Hall, and indeed in the very helpful introductory talk we learned it had been designed by the same architects in Palladian style. However, the similarities started to dilute once we were inside, as the then Lord Curzon decided to follow the emerging design fashion of Neo Classical, so the house is an interesting- and successful – blend of the two styles.

The gardens- really more of a bold, sweeping landscape plus some slightly more human scale ‘pleasure grounds’- fit the classical style of the house and it was a lovely experience strolling around these before we had our lunch. Wikipedia describes the gardens and grounds:

‘The gardens and grounds, as they appear today, are largely the concept of Robert Adam. Adam was asked by Nathaniel Curzon in 1758 to “take in hand the deer park and pleasure grounds”. The landscape gardener William Emes had begun work at Kedleston in 1756, and he continued in Curzon’s employ until 1760; however, it was Adam who was the guiding influence. It was during this period that the former gardens designed by Charles Bridgeman were swept away in favour of a more natural-looking landscape. Bridgeman’s canals and geometric ponds were metamorphosed into serpentine lakes.

 Adam designed numerous temples and follies, many of which were never built. Those that were include the North lodge (which takes the form of a triumphal arch), the entrance lodges in the village, a bridge, cascade and the Fishing Room. The Fishing Room is one of the most noticeable of the park’s buildings. In the neoclassical style it is sited on the edge of the upper lake and contains a cold bath and boat house below. Some of Adam’s unexecuted design for follies in the park rivalled in grandeur the house itself. A “View Tower” designed in 1760 – 84 feet high and 50 feet wide on five floors, surmounted by a saucer dome flanked by the smaller domes of flanking towers — would have been a small neoclassical palace itself. Adam planned to transform even mundane utilitarian buildings into architectural wonders. A design for a pheasant house (a platform to provide a vantage point for the game shooting) became a domed temple, the roofs of its classical porticos providing the necessary platforms; this plan too was never completed. Amongst the statuary in the grounds is a Medici lion sculpture carved by Joseph Wilton on a pedestal designed by Samuel Wyatt, from around 1760-1770.

In the 1770s George Richardson designed the hexagonal summerhouse, and in 1800 the orangery. The Long Walk was laid out in 1760 and planted with flowering shrubs and ornamental trees. In 1763 it was reported that Lord Scarsdale had given his gardener a seed from rare and scarce Italian shrub, the “Rodo Dendrone” (sic).

The gardens and grounds today, over two hundred years later, remain mostly unaltered. Parts of the estate are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, primarily because of the “rich and diverse deadwood invertebrate fauna” inhabiting its ancient trees.’



Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

IMG_7336My recent post on the gardens at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, proved very popular. I mentioned in that article that the house was fascinating because of the mixture of restored ‘as it would have been’ rooms, stuffed with elegant furniture, curious collections, animal heads, paintings etc. and alongside this the rather less grand, upper rooms with peeling paintwork and paper,a plethora of odds and ends, surplus to requirements and forgotten. Here is a gallery which I hope captures the essence of the house.

Related article:

The Garden that made me smile like a Cheshire Cat

Further information:

National Trust website

Old School Gardener

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Whilst visiting our son (who’s studying at Loughborough University) we took advantage of the ‘Heritage Open Days’ event at nearby Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. Billed by owners, the National Trust as ‘The un-stately home and country estate’ because of its peeling paintwork and overgrown courtyards, Calke Abbey is witness to the wider decline of country house estates all over Britain, especially after the First World War (avid viewers of the latest TV series of ‘Downton Abbey’ can get a taste of some of the issues – death duties, lack of staff, economic downturn).

Whilst some of the House and stables have been restored, there are still many other areas where old furniture, toys and a myriad other ‘heirlooms’ have been left to speak volumes of how the British landed gentry went through a major ‘downsizing’. Admittedly the family who owned Calke did amass a vast collection of curiosities and ‘hidden treasures’- there are fascinating collections of sea shells, rocks and pebbles for example.

The house was delightful and had some very friendly ‘in character’ guides to help tell the story. But the garden was the gem in my eyes. Extensive parkland with a number of beautiful mature trees, deer roaming and typical Victorian curiosities like the fernery give way to a massive walled garden, much of which is now just turned over to grass, but a significant portion of which houses a wonderful kitchen garden (with an access tunnel to ensure the gardeners weren’t seen from the house!). There is also an impressive array of original glasshouses and an orangery in which peaches and other tender fruit and veg are still grown. I particularly liked the Squash Tunnel made of rustic poles and featuring a range of different squashes. Approached by a colourful Dahlia border, there’s also a fascinating ‘Gardeners’ Bothy’, complete with old tools and equipment, seed trays and prize certificates from yesteryear! I was puzzled by one seed drawer, labelled ‘Borecole’. I hadn’t come across this name before and guessed it migth be some local corruption of ‘broccoli’. I now know it’s another term for Kale or a particular variety of Kale!

Walking through the pretty featureless,  grassed over walled garden you suddenly turn a corner and enter a more intimate, warm, walled garden with blocks of bright colours and interesting foliage. An amazing contrast, this formally laid out garden with a range of exotic plants as well as classic bedding, made me draw breath and smile like a Cheshire Cat!

This area has been superbly laid out and the colour, foliage and flower combinations are very impressive. There’s an ‘Auricula Theatre’ currently housing Pelargoniums (see the picture I posted of this earlier in the year) and a pool, all contributing to a peaceful spot where you can (and we did) sit and gaze at the wonder of nature – as coaxed and displayed by man of course! This was a truly inspiring afternoon, so if you get the chance, get along to Calke Abbey (by the way there was never an abbey here).

Further information:

National Trust Website

History- Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

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