HS2 and Hardwick Hall

Dominic Cole, Landscape Architect, looks at the history of Hardwick Hall and what the impacts of HS2 might be here.

Why it’s special

Hardwick Hall is the best Elizabethan prodigy house in the country, built to impress and be noticed. Its prominent location means it remains one of the most seen houses. William Camden’s 1610 description is still a relevant and concise summary: “…two goodly houses joining in a maner one to the other, which by reason of their lofty situation shew themselves, a farre off to be seen, and yeeld a very goodly prospect.” – to see and to be seen. Bess of Hardwick, who conceived the New Hall is a towering figure in history with great vision and ambition. In her time she was the second wealthiest woman after Queen Elizabeth.  She acquired her wealth through a series of marriages, noted in an extract of a poem by Horace Walpole in 1760: ‘Four times the nuptial bed she warm’d; And every time so well perform’d; That when death spoil’d each husbands billing; He left the widow every shilling.’ The house she created and furnishings within are so special that successive generations sought to preserve both intact. Because the later Devonshires used Chatsworth as their principal residence, there was no need to modernise Hardwick. Hardwick was built to impress and was meant to be seen as a demonstration of personal importance and to demonstrate loyalty to the Queen by using Elizabeth Shwesbury’s initials she pays tribute to her namesake.

View across the garden to the entrance front of Hardwick Hall, an Elizabethan House built 1591-97. ©National Trust Images/Mike Williams

View across the garden to the entrance front of Hardwick Hall, an Elizabethan House built 1591-97. ©National Trust Images/Mike Williams

There was a working landscape around the old Hall – a medieval style deer park with trees and grazing, which also provided a ready-made setting for the New Hall. Early accounts by visitors to the Old Hall also refer to the spectacular views out towards the Peak District. Appreciation of natural landscape was not common at this date when it would be more usual to create houses to be protected from the elements and surround them with inward looking gardens.

The overall setting of the buildings on a spectacular topographic site meant that less emphasis needed to be placed on creating the designed landscape to complement the Hall. The park had to work for productivity too, historical records describe a great variety of uses, including: stew ponds providing fish; furze for fodder and fuel; holly for fodder; coppice for fodder, making enclosures and  building works; deer & cattle grazing; carthorses; orchards, growing oats and barley; brickworks and coal mining.  The park was practical place and did not need to aspire to being beautiful – instead having a natural beauty and making use of long views out beyond the Park.

Much of the historic information refers to things going on in the park and details of management and maintenance. There are no ‘named designers’ associated with the parkland or gardens.

The family did not always use Hardwick as a permanent residence and the gardens would periodically get neglected. In 1658 hemp was laid down in the garden quarters “to kill and destroye the weeds wch abounded there and otherwise could not be overcome to make a platt fit for a garden.” However the park continued to be managed productively – timber being constantly harvested and cattle and deer grazing – latterly ‘joist cattle’ that were bought in for fattening, rather than being raised in the park – provided steady income from the grazing.

Both inside and next to the park the landscape holds records of earlier activities such as ridge and furrow cultivation;  strip cultivation reflected by the field patterns towards Hardstoft and around Stainsby; earthworks and archaeological finds.

View across the Great Pond towards Hardwick Hall on the left and the Old Hall on the right, Derbyshire. The new house was built between 1590 and 1597 for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, "Bess of Hardwick", to a plan by Robert Smythson. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

View across the Great Pond towards Hardwick Hall on the left and the Old Hall on the right, Derbyshire. The new house was built between 1590 and 1597 for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, “Bess of Hardwick”, to a plan by Robert Smythson. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

The impact of HS2

Hardwick Hall and Old Hall are set prominently on a natural ridge and were designed to take best advantage of this setting and prospect. The principal views are to the west and take in the distant hills of the Peak District. This panoramic view is noted from the earliest accounts, including being a key feature in the principal room of the Old Hall in the early 1600’s – the concept of deliberately using natural landscape as the setting of a residential building at this date is very rare at a time when the standard layout would be inward looking and consciously trying to keep the natural world at bay. The New Hall, in particular, was designed to show off and to be seen from its surrounding landscape and remains the best of the Elizabethan Prodigy Houses in the Country. A key part of visiting Hardwick Hall is that the visitor is tricked by the design of the interior: what appears almost humble on the lower floors gives nothing away as to what comes next as you ascend through the house, as one room after another reveals spectacular design and decoration. The ultimate experience continues on the roof – The Leads are meant to be visited and lead to a sky-top Banquetting Hall which takes in 360 degree views across the countryside and, especially, to the west.

It is this western panorama that is affected by the presence and sound of the M1. The addition of HS2 will further impact on the view and affect the ancient field patterns and tracks in the outlying farms.

The alignment of HS2 alongside the MI further emphasises the obviously man-made linearity of the transport corridor in the valley, and is compounded by visibility of the sides of cuttings and embankments.

Direct land-take is required for construction and operation which could have a significant and adverse impact on the landscape, our tenant farmers and the estate villages, Stainsby, Astwith and Hardstoft.

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