Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire is an architecturally significant Elizabethan country house in England. It’s a leading example of the Elizabethan prodigy house. Built between 1590 and 1597 for the formidable Bess of Hardwick, it was designed by the architect Robert Smythson – an exponent of the Renaissance style of architecture.
Hardwick Hall is one of the earliest examples of the English interpretation of this style, which came into fashion, slowly spreading from Florence. Its arrival in Britain coincided with the period when it was no longer necessary or legal to fortify a domestic dwelling. Ownership of the house was transferred to the National Trust in 1959. It is fully open to the public and received 298,283 visitors in 2019 (including us!).
Sited on a hilltop between Chesterfield and Mansfield, it overlooks the Derbyshire countryside. Ordered by Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury and ancestress of Devonshire’s Dukes, her descendants owned it until the mid-twentieth century.
Bess of Hardwick was the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I. Her house was conceived to be a conspicuous statement of her wealth and power. The windows are exceptionally large and numerous at a time when glass was a luxury. Hence the saying, “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.“ The Hall’s chimneys are built into the internal walls of the structure. This provides more scope for huge windows without weakening the exterior walls.
The house’s design also demonstrated new concepts in domestic architecture. Also, a more modern way in which life was led within a great house. Hardwick was one of the first English houses where the great hall was built on an axis through the houses’ centre. Rather than at right angles to the entrance. Each of the three main storeys has a higher ceiling than the one below. The ceiling height is indicative of the importance of the room’s occupants. Least noble at the bottom and grandest at the top.
A wide, winding, stone staircase leads up to the staterooms on the second floor; these rooms include one of the largest long galleries in any English house. There is also a tapestry-hung great chamber with a spectacular plaster frieze illustrating hunting scenes; the room has been little altered.
Hardwick was but one of Bess’s many houses. Each of her four marriages had brought her greater wealth. She was born in her father’s manor house on the site of the later, now old Hall at Hardwick. Today this stands as a ruin beside the ‘new’ hall.
We visited Hardwick Hall in December 2019 with our Sheffield friends Fred and Sara. Unfortunately, we didn’t take many photographs, but these do give an overall perspective. We’ve vowed to revisit the hall sometime to see all of the interior.
We hope you’ll find the slideshow interesting. Click on an image, make it full screen, start the show and enjoy!