Weekend Wandering: A quick pit stop at Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall from the garden entranc

Events conspired to put Christmas on hold for us last year, so it was a treat to have a a few days in Yorkshire with my brother-in-law and family last weekend. Having subjected me to a day at the Sentinel steam weekend at Elsecar (willingly I admit, and with a bonus find of some must-have plants at the farmers market), NAH kindly invited me to choose our stop off on the way home.

I'd often wondered about the imposing grandeur of Hardwick Hall which is easily seen from the M1 on our frequent travels up north, and it turned out to be a good place for lunch and a bracing walk around the grounds for a couple of hours. The Hall itself was closed on the day we were there, which in some ways was a blessing as we would have been tempted to stay for much longer than our journey time allowed.

Hardwick refers to Elizabeth of Hardwick (also known as Bess), who in Tudor times rose from relatively humble origins (a minor gentry family at Hardwick) via 4 marriages to be one of the wealthiest women in England. Her final husband was the powerful Earl of Shrewsbury, hence the prevalence of the ES initials on the Hall's towers proclaiming her rights to all she surveyed. Gwenfar tells me she was a feisty woman, who even stood up to the king, a risky thing to do in those turbulent times.

The Old Hall

Next to the 'New' hall stands the ruined Old Hall, where Bess was born. She bought the Hall back from the Crown in 1581 as the principle creditor her when brother James died in debt. Work on restoration of the Old plus the start on the New Hall began, then Bess fled her estranged husband (Shrewsbury) from Chatsworth, the residence her second husband Sir William Cavendish created. Bess finally moved into the completed New Hall in 1596-7.

When Bess died in 1608, Hardwick was inherited by her second son William Cavendish. The Old Hall was abandoned from the mid 1700s onwards, as the Cavendish's preferred Chatsworth. There was some further restoration work on the Old Hall in the early 1900s and the New Hall became the residence of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. The New Hall was given to the National Trust in 1950, and the Old Hall is now in the care of English Heritage.

View from the New Hall

This photo shows what must be one of the most ornate garden entrances I've ever seen and you can see how close the garden walls of the New Hall are to the Old Hall. After pausing to look across the vast lawn towards the Hall (as shown at the top of the post), a path takes you into the formal gardens which are divided into four main compartments.

There is also a view to the side of the Hall and gardens into the rest of the Estate, framed by trimmed yew hedges and a ha-ha.

View out over the estate and The Wineglass from the New Hall

This view looks out onto The Wineglass, an avenue of trees forming the 'stem' of the glass, which extends outward sand back towards the Hall to form the 'bowl'. The fork in the picture is a warning to visitors not to step forwards into the ha-ha.

The formal gardens consist of an orchard, a nuttery with log piles for wildlife, a rose garden, a large herb garden with wonderfully wiggly hedges, a small stumpery, and large borders holding some promise of floral highlights to come. I wasn't really there at the right time to fully appreciate the latter, but I enjoyed the woodland daffodils, some early blossom and the large magnolia just coming into bloom. There are also some free standing shaped trees - mainly yew - which is always a bonus in my view.

Some views of the gardens in March

Our exit took us across the Estate and down a steep hill past the Hardwick Inn and the Great Pond. Both looked fine places to explore, then head off for a good heart thumping walk. We saw plenty of people doing so - it reminded me of a similar walk I enjoyed at Powis Castle.

Where have you wandered this weekend?


  1. Looking at all those huge windows, and wondering where the bedrooms are.
    And the square rooms on the turrets, wonder what's in there?

    1. They're questions for another, more thorough visit as the Hall itself was closed on the day we were there.

  2. Bess was quite a indomitable force by all accounts. Something about windows is in the back of my mind VP which I will have to follow up :) No wonderings for me this weekend other than the allotment.

    1. Are you thinking of the saying 'Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall'? I've had a couple of people mention they remember it from their school history lessons :)

  3. PS Oh wanderings I meant to say - I did much wondering :)

  4. This is a place that I'd like to visit when the borders are at their best. I love the history behind the estate, Bess sounds like an indomitable woman. Good for her! Great post, Michelle.

    1. Thanks Caro - I think this will be a stop-off for us later in the year too :)

  5. Fab post Michelle. Apparently Bess & Shrewsbury didn't get alone at all, it was a political match. I think Bess did much better without him. I studied her diary at Uni and there is a entry where she talks about the pressure of standing up to the King, and she proudly states she didn't give in to him. I think she deserves those initials on the house!

    I haven't visited at the right time to see the garden myself, so much arrange to do so in Summer. Maybe we can arrange to meet up there!

    1. From what I gather a lot of the major marriages were political ones. I think it's interesting she didn't lose her sense of self along the way despite the dangers of standing up to the king during those times! Meeting up would be lovely :)


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