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In my ignorance I didn't even realise that there was an Old Hardwick Hall and I only discovered it when I visited the other Hardwick Hall during a National Heritage Open Day. The two places are obviously linked but they are not to be confused. The other Hardwick Hall being in the care of The National Trust and its older neighbour, Old Hardwick Hall being in the hands of English Heritage.
Many people will know of Hardwick Hall as the grand country house that Bess of Hardwick had built for herself during the latter part of the 16th century. By the time the "new" Hardwick Hall was built in 1597 Bess was the second wealthiest woman in Britain, after Queen Elizabeth 1.
The Old Hall is perhaps surprisingly not all that much older than the other house. It was built around 1580 and was Bess's first attempt at building a large family home. The actual birthplace of Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury was at the West Lodge, a medieval manor house that stands adjacent to the Old Hall.
Born on the 27th July 1527 Elizabeth Talbot was the third surviving daughter of John Talbot. During her lifetime she would marry four times and provide heirs to both the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Newcastle dynasties, but it was her father John who had built the original manor house in which she was born. When Bess had amassed her incredible wealth she built the Old Hall, but never fully satisfied with it, she then built a new, much larger house and the Old Hall was abandoned.
From 1590 onwards the Old Hall quickly fell into a state of disrepair. That it was never demolished may have been partly due to sentimental reasons on Beth's part but for whatever reason thankfully this other house exists today, albeit in a somewhat sorry state of ruin.
In stark contrast to the other house, The Old Hall is a much smaller affair, but it is still impressive by any normal standards. Today it has no roof but the floors are still there as are the stairs and it is possible to climb right up to the top of the fourth floor from where you have a fantastic view. In my opinion the view from here is actually better than that obtained from the other house.
There's not a great deal to see inside the house but it is still a place that shouldn't be dismissed. Some of the original rooms still exist, including the kitchens though these are now without any furnishings. Information boards throughout the house do however inform the visitor of what they are looking at and there are artist impressions showing what the rooms would have once looked like. One of the most remarkable features for me was the ornately painted plasterwork which is quite well preserved.
Unlike the Old Hall, the West Lodge has been fully restored. Inside here there was an exhibition about Bess of Hardwick which told the story of the building of the Old Hall and also details how this building, where Bess was born would have originally looked.
Due to the condition of this building only the rooms on the ground floor are accessible by wheelchair users as the other floors can only be reached by steps.
It is open between March and the end of September. Admission charges are:
Adult - £4.00
Child - £2.00
Concession - £3.20
Family ticket - £10.00
English Heritage members - free
An audio tour is also available which is included within the above price.
Hardwick Old Hall
A couple of weeks ago Mr Tart and I headed for the Peak District to visit his family. As a big fan of all things old I wanted to visit some sort of historical site as my part of the weekend (don't worry, her got a 7 mile walk out of me for his part!). I'd always wanted to visit Hardwick Hall, especially as the Tudors is one of my favourite historical periods and was very happy to hear it was so close to where we were staying.
I doubt if many people will have heard of Hardwick Old Hall. I certainly hadn't and I like to think I'm quite a bore when it comes to these sorts of things! The Hall was built by Bess of Hardwick (Elizabeth, Countess Shrewsbury) between 1587 and 1596. Bess was one of the foremost women of the Elizabethan age and managed to get through four husbands on her way up the social ladder. Bess was actually born on the site of the Old Hall. When she and her fourth husband separated she began to rebuild the Old Hall. She started Hardwick Hall itself in 1591; she obviously decided pretty quickly that the Old Hall wouldn't be grand enough.
The Hall is located on a National Trust estate just of the M1, between Mansfield and Chesterfield. It is reached by leaving the M1 at junction 29 and then following the brown signs for Hardwick Hall. There is a car park where National Trust and English Heritage members can park for free, otherwise the cost is £2.
The Old Hall is a little bit of an anomaly as it is on National Trust land but it is administered by English Heritage. Members of either can get into the Old Hall for free (or people who've been members of CADW for over a year). A ticket to the Old Hall only costs £4.20 for adults and £2.10 for children. You can buy a combination ticket for both halls which costs £12.75.
The Old Hall is open between March and November from Wednesday to Sunday. It is closed for the rest of the year (although will be open for weekends in December).
In lots of ways I'm surprised that any of the Old Hall survives. Bess used it as extra accommodation but if I had all that money in the sixteenth century I wouldn't want to look out over my old house. Luckily for us though, it has survived, albeit as a ruin.
To enter the Hall you have to go through the ticket office/shop. This is very small but sells the usual mix of History based souvenirs. Included in the entrance price is an audio guide which we took although I have to admit we didn't actually listen to much of it!
Before you go through to the Hall itself there is an exhibition upstairs in the ticket office which is about Bess. In the gardens of the Hall there are some games like giant dominoes which are great for kids.
The Hall itself doesn't have a roof and is basically a ruin. However, you can climb right up to the top floor on the restored staircases. There are really good information boards throughout the Hall which show what each room would have been used for and have reconstructions of how the rooms would have looked. There are also surviving plaster decorations in some parts of the Hall which were really elaborate.
The views from the Hall are amazing. It's a shame that the M1 is quite so close and I'm sure Bess wouldn't have liked hearing the traffic roar, but it doesn't detract from the view too much. It is definitely worth climbing up to the top floor (there are 4) to see the whole view. Most of the Hall is not accessible for wheelchairs as there are steps everywhere.
I would definitely recommend seeing the Old Hall if you're visiting Hardwick. I wouldn't make the trip just for the Old Hall but if you're going to the main Hall then you can't really miss this as it tells the complete story of Bess if you see both. It's not much extra on the admission price and as both National Trust and English Heritage get in free I don't think it's bad value, especially as the audio guide is included. Although it's a ruin, it's a beautiful ruin and so full of History.
The house was designed for Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury in the late 16th century.