Gainsborough, Hardwick, and Clumber Park

My solo sightseeing tour continues…. Since Tuesday I’ve visited Gainsborough Old Hall, Hardwick (Old and New Halls) and Clumber Park.

I thought Gainsborough Old Hall was fabulous. There was a castle and manor on the site back in the 12th century, but the current manor house was built around 1460 with some later additions (the tower was added in the 1480s, and there were further additions in Elizabethan times):

Gainsborough Old Hall was the home of the Burgh family until 1596 (when they sold it). The Burghs aren’t exactly a household name today, but they were an important family back in the day. Thomas, the 3rd Lord Burgh (1488-1550), for example, was at various points in his career a body guard to the young Henry VIII, High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, a Member of Parliament, and Lord Chamberlain to Anne Boleyn. Burgh’s eldest son Edward was Catherine Parr’s first husband (she outlived a couple of husbands before becoming Henry VIII’s 6th wife).

On the subject of wives, Henry VIII stayed at Gainsborough Old Hall in 1541 whilst on progress to York, accompanied by his 5th wife Catherine Howard. I found it amusing that she was referred to as “poor Katherine Howard” – like in a film where you know that one of the characters is about to meet a sticky end (in her case an appointment with the executioner a few months later) but they haven’t realised it themselves yet…..

It’s not known which room Henry stayed in, though the bed chamber in the tower was suggested as a possibility. If so, as the audio guide pointed out, one thing he didn’t do was go up the tower steps to look at the view from the roof. He was very fat by this stage in his life (with an ulcerated leg to add to his cheery mood) so wouldn’t have fitted through the narrow door never mind up the staircase. It’s a pity because when the tower was added in the reign of Henry’s father Henry VII, they’d incorporated a carved Tudor rose into the roof. That’s a good toadying opportunity gone to waste for want of a wider staircase…..

The medieval great hall…..

… and the best kitchens I’ve seen in quite some time:

All good stuff. I particularly liked the donations box in the entrance (the hall is run by English Heritage, so there is an entrance fee for non-members – this was for additional donations). It’s an old plague bowl, a bowl carved into a block of stone that apparently held vinegar in which you’d be asked to wash your coinage to avoid the spread of plague. Yep, you can’t be too careful about mucky money…. (I did have a good look around the kitchen for rats but didn’t spot any). The wooden surround and perspex on top don’t add anything to the aesthetics I’m afraid:

I had a wander round Gainsborough, which offered a pretty average town centre. The Old Hall is definitely the highlight of the place…..

Wednesday’s destination was Hardwick, which is one of those places that’s very well known but that I’d never previously got round to visiting. The central figure here is Bess of Hardwick (who got a mention in the previous post). Bess was born a few years before Elizabeth I and died a few years after her.

Bess’ father was a gentry farmer with a manor house and 300 acres at Hardwick (not that she was going to inherit that, of course – in the normal course of things it would go to a son). So not exactly poor but not particularly rich either…. Her story involves four marriages and ending up the second wealthiest woman in the country after Elizabeth I herself….

Bess was involved in the construction of three important properties, the first being Chatsworth House, started in 1553 when Bess was married to her 2nd husband, William Cavendish (this is the marriage that produced all of her children). She later acquired the family estate at Hardwick from her penniless brother, and at the age of 60 set about building a new house there – Hardwick Old Hall as it’s now known.

Apparently she quite enjoyed building works, because before the Old Hall was completed, she’d already had work started on the New Hall, moving in on her 70th birthday.

As you can see, she wasn’t shy about slapping her initials everywhere (“ES” stands for Elizabeth Shrewsbury – by her 4th marriage, which ended badly, she’d become Countess of Shrewsbury.

Here’s my absolute favourite room at Hardwick – a small room where all the estate records were kept in numbered drawers:

Both Chatsworth and Hardwick ended up going to Bess’ son William and were passed together down the line of the Dukes of Devonshire right into the 20th century. As we saw in the last post, son Charles had Bolsover Castle and had his main residence at nearby Welbeck Abbey, which is also still standing. I checked online and they do open to the public, offering expensive tours for just above the minimum number of days in August each year (when the family are presumably enjoying themselves elsewhere) to get their valuable tax benefit. Toffs, eh? They won’t be getting any of my hard-saved cash (not that they’ll be losing any sleep over that!)….

Whilst much of the information at Hardwick was about Bess of Hardwick, the last few rooms were presented as they would have been in the days of the last Duchess to live there, Evelyn. She was the widow of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, who died in 1938, at which point she moved from Chatsworth to Hardwick Hall and lived there until her death in 1960. It’s very odd to find yourself in rooms with all the old pictures and tapestries on the walls but also a lot of more modern furniture and with 1950s music playing….

One thing that struck me here is that it really doesn’t matter how far you are up the pecking order, if you’re not the absolute top dog you have to know your place. Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire, spent much of her adult life as Mistress of the Robes (chief lady in waiting) to Queen Mary…..

In keeping with the general rule of thumb that English Heritage manages ruins and the National Trust manages habitable buildings, you need both memberships to see both halls at Hardwick. You’d have thought they’d have come to some kind of reciprocal arrangement….

Hardwick was handed over to the nation in 1956 in lieu of death duties. I do recall a bit of moaning in a memoir I read once by Deborah Cavendish née Mitford (at the time Dowager Duchess of Devonshire) to the effect that death duties in the 1950s were 80% so they’d had to sign over one of their 8 estates in lieu of the duty. Eh? That sounds like quite a good deal on the face of it. These things never seem to quite add up to 80% based on the information given. There was a similar story a few days back at Wentworth Woodhouse, where it seemed that the incumbent family must have got a very good deal on their three sets of death duties in ten years (they certainly on the face of it seemed to have more than 20% * 20% * 20% = 0.8% of what they started with – they kept the estate, for one thing, even if they did have to sell some contents). Hmmm….

Thursday took me to Clumber Park, which is a 3800 acre estate in Sherwood Forest. This was the country estate of the Dukes of Newcastle (who, as you’ll recall, are descended from Bess of Hardwick’s son Charles). For God’s sake, did this family own everything in this part of the world? One titbit of information I learned here was that they’re the Dukes of Newcastle under Lyme. I don’t know why, but for some reason I’ve always just assumed it was Newcastle on Tyne…. I stand corrected.

I’d been staying on the Caravan Club site in Clumber Park, which has a very handy back gate opening onto the Lime Tree Avenue – planted by the 4th Duke in 1838, it’s the longest such avenue in Europe. I was a bit confused by the term “double avenue” at first (surely you do need two rows of trees, one on each side of the road?) but all became clear when I saw it. It’s two rows of trees on each side of the road, 1296 trees in total. Just what you need in the middle of a forest!

The first mansion at Clumber Park was built in the 1770s for the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, with an artificial 87 acre lake created by damming a stream (a duck pond was presumably deemed insufficient). After the first Clumber House was destroyed by fire in 1879, a new house was built:

More mad aristocrats…. When the 6th Duke died in the 1880s, he’d had a chapel built in the grounds but hadn’t got round to finishing the interior. What did his son the 7th Duke do? He had it demolished and had a huge Gothic Revival chapel built instead:

After the 7th Duke died in 1928, the house went into decline as neither his brother or his nephew (the 8th / 9th Dukes) used it. The 9th Duke had a plan to build himself a new house on the estate, so he had Clumber House demolished in 1938 and sold off for building materials. Unfortunately, the War then came along and the estate was requisitioned. It was used, among other things, to store ammunition and to test a new trench-digging tank:

Churchill visited in 1941 to see the tank in action, but the whole project was cancelled in 1943 – whilst a trench digging tank might have been a great thing to have in the First World War, it had become clear that times had changed…

The 9th Duke then put the estate up for sale and it was bought by the National Trust in 1946. You can see the outline of the old house marked out in flagstones, though only the chapel and the stable block / other outbuildings are still standing (luckily, as the National Trust does always need somewhere to put a shop).

I finished the day off by visiting a couple of ancestral villages on my way towards Newark. There’s nothing like a good poke around a graveyard on a sunny Thursday afternoon, though unfortunately the church itself was locked:

That’s all for now. I’m planning on a bit of Civil War tomorrow…..

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