In the late 1500s, Hardwick Hall was created for the Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as 'Bess of Hardwick', as a bold display of her power and prominence in Elizabethan society. In fact, during a time when glass windows were the most expensive status symbol money could buy, overawed locals are said to have coined the rhyme, 'Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall'. Apart from the opulent hall, the Hardwick Estate contains several historical attractions, including a functioning 19th century mill, the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall, manicured gardens, a delightful café and acres of Derbyshire countryside. Only a few hours outside of London, Hardwick Hall is easily visited in a day or as a weekend escape from the city.
The Avenue, Hardwick Hall. Image courtesy of Phil Sangwell.
Hardwick Hall has often been described as the 'best of England's stately homes'. With its hilltop position overlooking Derbyshire, ornate exterior and dramatic personage of its first owner, the hall does carry a presence unmatched even by those homes of similar style and age, such as Wollaton Hall (Nottinghamshire) and Chatsworth House (Derbyshire). The hall contains many of England's finest and best-preserved tapestries, embroderies, games tables and furniture, all of which have an intriguing history that a guide will happily discuss with you.
Hardwick Old Hall is the ancestral home of Bess of Hardwick, but it was abandoned in the 1590s in favour of the impressive New Hall, which was built only a few yards away. The Old Hall has since fallen into ruin and neglect and visitors can wander freely through four floors of the empty building. A more detailed description of the Old Hall is available here.
Interior of Hardwick Old Hall. Photo by Erin Connelly.
The mill is not far from the hall and still functions as it did in the 19th century. Visitors to the mill are allowed a hands-on experience of the machinery and mechanisms involved in the old-fashioned milling process.Tour information is available via the National Trust. Even if you don't have time for a tour, the mill shop is worth a visit on your way up to the hall for its selection of freshly milled flours and mixes.
Like the hall itself, Hardwick Café has a warm presence and friendly atmosphere that make it one of the best in a category of decidedly great National Trust properties. Many locals are attracted to the estate solely for afternoon tea or a selection from the menu's current and sophisticated take on traditional English foods.The café was previously housed in the charming kitchens of Hardwick Hall; however, in Spring 2012 a brand new café, garden centre and visitor's shop will be opening.
Entrance Fees and Opening Times
A calendar with opening times is available at the National Trust website. The hall is located in the peak district in Derbyshire, which is about 2 to 3 hours away from London.
Entrance to the grounds and estate is free for National Trust members. In addition, National Trust memberships are available for visitors from abroad. See the National Trust website for more information on home and visiting memberships.
Fees for all others are as follows:
Adults: £4.80 Children: £2.90 Concessions: £4.30
Family Ticket: £12.50