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Published September 20th 2015
Enjoy an English tradition in a grand country estate
Hardwick Hall was constructed in the late sixteenth century for Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (better known as Bess of Hardwick) as an intentional display of her wealth and prominence. Through a series of strategic marriages, Bess became one of the most powerful people in Elizabethan society with a personal fortune second only to the royal family. During a time when glass windows were the most expensive status symbol money could buy, locals are said to have coined the rhyme, 'Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.' With its hilltop position overlooking the Derbyshire countryside and the dramatic character of its first owner still tangible, the Hall certainly lives up to its classification as one of England's greatest stately homes.
A few steps away from Hardwick Hall are the ruins of the Old Hall, which was the birthplace of Bess. The Old Hall was abandoned to ruin in the late 1590s in favour of a more extravagant construction. The sculpted plaster reliefs that still cling to the decaying walls give some idea of the opulence once enjoyed by the residents of the house. Visitors are free to wander through the whole of the ruins and even climb four stories to the top of the building. Read more about the Old Hall.
During 2015, Hardwick is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of Lady Arbella Stuart, the granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick, cousin to James VI of Scotland (James I of England), and niece to Mary, Queen of Scots. Lady Arbella had a legitimate claim to the throne after the death of Elizabeth I and suffered greatly at the hands of those who wished to keep her life in tight control. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London for marrying without royal consent where she died of self-starvation. More information about the exhibition is available here.
The Great Barn Restaurant is located in the grounds of Hardwick in the renovated stable building. The restaurant has a warm atmosphere and seasonal menu focused on locally-sourced ingredients and fresh preparation. Lamb, prize-winning produce and herbs are all sourced from the estate, while bread products are supplied daily by the Derbyshire-based Luke Evans Bakery.
After exploring the Hall and gardens, a traditional cream tea in this beautiful setting is a wonderful weekend treat. Tea and scones with jam and clotted cream may seem like common enough items, but in a place that celebrates grandeur and the finest ingredients, it is no surprise that even afternoon tea is more than a simple indulgence.