Bess of Hardwick

Bess of Hardwick

Bess, who built Hardwick Hall, was the daughter of a gentleman squire who started life with very little money.  She was married when she was only fifteen and Widowed for the first time when she was only sixteen.  She remarried several times and due to her diligence as a business woman she accumulated wealth and properties, eventually becoming one of the most powerful and wealthy women that England has ever known.

When in her sixties, Bess of Hardwick was estranged from her fourth husband, George Talbot sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, she returned to her childhood home at Hardwick and embarked upon the task of completely rebuilding the old manor and transforming it into a more modern hall in keeping with her status as Countess of Shrewsbury. The building work took place between 1587 and 1596.

In 1590, before the Old Hall was complete, Bess started building another house immediately adjacent to it.  The New Hall was designed by architect Robert Smythson.  The Old and New Halls were intended to complement one another like two wings of one building.

When Bess died in 1608 her son, William Cavendish, inherited Hardwick. William was the forebear of the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire, nowadays based at the Chatsworth Estate. Over time the Dukes came to prefer Chatsworth (which was built by Bess and her second husband, William Cavendish).  Hardwick Old Hall was partially dismantled in the 1730s but the New Hall, which has remained unchanged since it was built, is even more magnificent than the Old Hall. The silhouetted initials ES that adorn the top of the building stand for “Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury” though she was better known as Bess of Hardwick.  Its vast amounts of glass make the building rather cold inside and give rise to the famous words ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.’

The National Trust guidebook describes the hall as perhaps the most perfect of all the Elizabethan ‘prodigy houses’.

On a visit to the hall I bought “Bess of Hardwick First Lady of Chatsworth” by Mary S Lovell. It gives a very vivid account of her life and times and a sense of what it was like to live in the Tudor age. It also gives insight into both daily domestic life and the political intrigues of the time.  Bess was a lifelong friend of Queen Elizabeth I and there are glimpses into life at the Royal Court.  While Bess was married to the Earl of Shrewsbury, he was made responsible for the confinement (essentially imprisonment) of Mary, Queen of Scots.  This duty was expected to be temporary but lasted fifteen years. The book explains what it was like to be burdened with this responsibility and the difficulties it caused.  The book also describes Bess as a woman of great character and determination but who was also a warm, affectionate and caring person that often gave gifts to her family.

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Shugborough

Shugborough

Although Shugborough is not far from me, last year was the first time I had visited for many years.  I noticed there had been a lot of changes since my last visit.  The car park had moved which meant a nice leisurely stroll through the estate to get to the house and gardens.  More rooms were open to the public which made it more relevant to the late Earl Patrick Lichfield, the world renowned English photographer.

The Mansion that we see today was developed from a three-storied house that was built in 1693 after the demolition of the original manor house.  The transformation of the three story house into a Georgian Mansion took place between 1745 and 1748 by the architect Thomas Wright, who added the pavilions either side of the 17th century block.

In 1624 the land formed part of the Estates of the Bishop of Lichfield and at that time William Anson, a local lawyer purchased eight acres of land along with the manor house.

The house passed on through the Anson family until there was no heir to inherit and the house was passed to a nephew who assumed the Anson name.    The estate continued to pass on through the line and in 1831 the coronation honours announced the first Earl of Lichfield.

In 1960 Patrick Anson (Patrick Lichfield), inherited the Earldom from his paternal grandfather and became the 5th Earl.    Patrick was famous for his unique style of portraiture. He was chosen to take photographs for the Royal Family and was the official photographer at the Prince and Princess of Wales’ wedding in 1981 and also for the Golden Jubilee in 2002.  Shugborough was the setting for many of his photoshoots.

A small representative selection of his photographs and a full biography can be found here.

It had always been his grandfather’s wish to have the house open to the public and in 1966 the National Trust took ownership of the house, whilst the local council committed to lease, conserve and maintain the property for 99 years.

Patrick continued to live in private apartments within the house until his death in 2005. He also created an oak arboretum on the Island facing the house, which he continued to use.  Upon his death his son became 6th Earl.

Today Shugborough is a fully working historic estate.   The restored working environments include working kitchens, dairy, water mill, brew house and farm all manned by historic costumed guides.

Attingham Park

When I have a bit of spare time on my hands I often choose to visit Attingham Park and take a relaxing stroll around the parkland.  The estate is centred around the river Severn and the river Tern and is nearly 4,000 acres which is about half the size it would have been in the 1800s.

The mansion itself was built between 1782 and 1785 by Noel Hill; it replaced Tern Hall which was the original house on the site. Noel was a successful politician for which he was rewarded financially and given the title of 1st Lord Berwick in 1784.  Not all of the Lords Berwick were quite so successful as Noel with the second Lord becoming bankrupt and the 6th and 7th Lords severely neglecting the estate which led to the 8th Lord having to sell off parts of the estate to enable the house to be restored.

 There are several walks to choose from in the 370 acres of woodland within the estate.  These woodlands are home to many species of wildlife including otters, dragonflies, as well as many species of birds and flowers.  In late winter there are delightful patches of snowdrops followed by bluebells in spring.

The estate is also home to around 200 Fallow deer, which can be seen close up and feeding during the months from October to March.  The deer park walk takes you past a 650 (!!!) year old Repton oak which is one of many ancient trees that can be seen in the woodlands there.

One of my favourite parts of the estate is the walled garden which is in the progress of being restored.  The restoration commenced in 2008 and so far half of the garden is back in production.  The garden, which is more than two acres was built in the 1870s and would have provided food for the whole household.  During the 20th century the garden fell gradually into decline. The fruit trees had been ripped out, the well filled in so that could be turned into a football pitch.  Nowadays the food produced in the garden is used for soups and salads in the tearoom.  Some of the produce is also sold in the national trust shop.

Just outside the walled garden is a historically-listed bee house complete with traditional straw skeps which are fully occupied by bees.  It is one of only two known Regency bee houses in the country.

People have been living in the area of the estate for about 4,000 years since the bronze age.  There are no less than seven Scheduled Ancient Monuments on the estate.  These include iron age settlements, saxon palaces, roman forts  and one third of the Roman city of Viriconium whose public baths have been excavated and can been seen at the nearby site of Wroxeter. Ancient crop marks and a medieval roadway can also be found within the estate.

On his death the Thomas 8th Lord (Berwick) bequeathed the estate to the National Trust.  He described his gift of Attingham as for public benefit.  I can’t argue with him there.  The estate has many educational opportunities for both adults and children and many people take the opportunity to visit and enjoy the estate.