Old houses

When our Brazilian friend Richard came to Chatsworth House with us on one occasion he commented that he loved the house and gardens but wasn’t interested in ‘old furniture and tatty carpets’. I feel much the same myself although Hardwick Hall, also in Derbyshire, is a pretty impressive house. Owned by Bess of Hardwick – you may recall the woman if you saw the Keira Knightley film, The Duchess – this is one of the grandest Elizabethan houses in England. Climbing up the floors of the house is a spectacular experience. Each room is full of rich tapestries, plaster friezes and huge marble fireplaces. Bess married four times apparently and accumulated vast wealth. You can imagine the house alive with friends and family. The dining table is set out for dinner, the sherry looked inviting. There’s a ruined castle next door. She had a new one built to accommodate visitors. She was supposed to be beautiful but it’s hard to tell from the paintings. And perceptions of beauty change over the ages, of course.

The last duchess lived in the house until a few years ago. It’s owned by the National Trust now. An area of the house had been preserved as she left it. Interesting but not how you’d expect a duchess to live. On the whole I prefer Chatsworth. Larger, grander and still occupied by the Devonshire family. We stayed in Buxton once on a visit and my friend saw the current duchess out shopping. Don’t imagine Bess would have done anything so mundane.

As I commented I preferred the gardens and with our friends admired the dahlias, all in bloom. There were some well-manicured trees and interesting sculptures. There is also a stonemasonry nearby. I’ve never joined the National Trust but perhaps I will now that I’m 60. See my photos below.

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