Hannah Drake

A Picnic at Hardwick Hall

TravelHannah DrakeComment

A few weeks ago, we were visiting Luke's parents in Lincolnshire and decided to stop on the way home for a picnic. Luke's mum had recommended that we go to Hardwick Hall and it just happened to be on the way home. It was such a lovely day and it made for a perfect opportunity to visit this gorgeous manor.

Hardwick Hall was built between 1590 and 1597 for Bess of Hardwick and has "more glass than wall", which was a luxury at the time of construction. It's located in Derbyshire and is considered to be an architecturally significant Elizabethan country home, built by architect Robert Smythson in the Renaissance style as an early example of this style of architecture in England.

Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury and ancestress of the Dukes of Devonshire, was the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I and her house proves it. While in the house, it's slightly hard to believe, but at the time, the house was quite modern and innovative. Each of the three storeys has a higher ceiling than the one below, the ceiling height being indicative of the importance of the rooms' occupants: least noble at the bottom and grandest at the top. The winding stone staircase is wide and grand, but shows wear from the people who have climbed them in the last four centuries. The long gallery, used for exercise, is covered in portraits of important people, most notably a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth I at the end of the hall.

The home was passed down to her son following her death in 1608, and continued to be passed down to her descendants. In 1694, her great-great grandson, William, was created 1st Duke of Denvonshire and moved to Chatsworth, another of Bess's great houses, making Hardwick Hall a retreat. Apparently, because it was now a second home, it "escaped the attention of modernisers and received few alterations after its completion". Following the death of the 10th Duke of Devonshire in 1950 and under the burden of a now 80% death duty, much of the Devonshire assets were handed over to HM Treasury in lieu of the duty in 1956. His widow, Evelyn continued to live there until her death in 1960, but the home was transferred to the National Trust in 1959.

The manor contains art and furniture dating back to 1601, including embroidery that Bess herself may have worked on. Every year in the winter, the staff meticulously cleans the home and its contents in order to continue to preserve its history for visitors to come. Evelyn did a lot to maintain the textiles in the home and reinstated the traditional rush matting throughout the home. She also planted a beautiful grove of trees behind the home in the shape of a wine glass!

Personally, Luke and I both enjoyed being outside in the gardens and on the grounds much more than in the house itself. Despite the number of windows and the high ceilings, it still felt dark and slightly claustrophobic. We certainly could have spent more time in the home itself, but we kind of rushed through as we thought they were closing about 30 minute after we finished our lunch, but apparently they weren't.

It would have been nice to have had a bit more time to enjoy the whole thing after our picnic, but we did have a fantastic lunch on the grounds to the side of the home, away from the crowds. We had gone to the shop that morning to pick up the makings of our favourite picnic lunch. Here's what you need:

  • cured meat

  • soft cheese with herbs

  • baguette

  • crackers

  • marinated olives

  • grapes

  • wine (optional)

Because of an offer at the shop, we also picked up delicious pasta salad, which we don't usually include. It definitely hit the spot though. We usually enjoy this lunch with some wine or prosecco, but since it was a stop in the middle of an afternoon road trip, it didn't feel like a wise choice.

Hardwick Hall continues to be part of the National Trust, available from £69 for an individual, £114 for a couple, or £120 for a family (up to 10 children), along with hundreds of places across the country. We considered joining, but are leaning toward joining English Heritage instead. So we paid for a day's admission. It's £7.00 for the garden only or £13.95 for the house and garden, but there are also child and family prices.

Silk scarf c/o Hexi.

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Updated May 2019 for formatting.