Today I met up with the Derbyshire wing of my extended family at Hardwick Hall. It’s a grand Elizabethan house built by Bess of Hardwick in the 1590s who was famous, in a kind of feminist critique of Henry VIII way, for having four husbands and becoming incredibly wealthy as a result.
Above: Bess of Hardwick – portrait from 1550s.
Built in a renaissance style that originated in Florence, the hall is known as a Prodigy House, ostentatious in design and large enough to accommodate the Monarch and their army of attendants when they upped sticks from London and went on a Royal progress around their realm.
Wikipedia (1) describes the Hardwick Hall as follows:
“The house’s design also demonstrated new concepts not only in domestic architecture, but also a more modern way in which life was led within a great house. Hardwick was one of the first English houses where the great hall was built on an axis through the centre of the house rather than at right angles to the entrance.
Each of the three main 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.
A wide, winding, stone staircase leads up to the state rooms on the second floor; these rooms include one of the largest long galleries in any English house and also a little-altered, tapestry-hung great chamber with a spectacular plaster frieze illustrating hunting scenes.”
This description put me in mind of another house, far less grand though more local to me, in the town of Normanton, called Hanson House. I may appear to be digressing here, but bear with me, trust me – this does have relevance to my story.
The reason it put me in mind of Hanson House was that I recall reading something in Wakefield library that this house, the older part of it, was also of architectural significance. Apparently it was a kind of transitionary piece of architecture that represented the move from houses based on the Medieval great hall to the multi-storey houses of the Tudor era. (2)
Now, back to the main story – Bess of Hardwick was the daughter of Elizabeth Leake and that’s where a possible link appears in relation to Hanson House, and perhaps even my own family. In my own family tree there is a link with a family called the “Leekes”, slightly different spelling, I know, but there it is! Following the death of my grandfather in 1988 I found an old book in a pile in my dads’ garage which I promptly rescued. In it were some hand written copies of letters between a man called ‘Sir’ Levett Hanson (c.1748-1814) and his Yorkshire based cousin Thomas Leake (3). Levett Hanson of course lived in Hanson House as did the person he was writing to – Thomas Leake. In some of the letters, Hanson alludes to Thomas’ family being a branch of one with a very ancient lineage, so that link with Bess of Hardwick could be a distinct possibility. Perhaps something that I may look into in the future?
That’s the end of my family links but another fact that I found interesting was that the descendants of Bess of Hardwick and her second husband Sir William Cavendish were the Dukes of Devonshire. People may remember the film, The Duchess, in which the glamorous Georgiana married into the influential Cavendish Family. Georgiana herself was a member of the Spencer family – think the Duke of Marlbrough – John Churchill, Winston Spencer Churchill, and Lady Diana Spencer – Princess of Wales (4).
Above: Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire – painting by Joshua Reynolds.
Bess’ descendants, the Earls and Dukes of Devonshire, were to have important and influential roles in future British politics, society, and history.
References and footnotes
(2) There was a time when this house was derelict and the newer Georgian part can be seen HERE in a state of disrepair though thankfully it has since been renovated as can be seen HERE (the old building is behind the Georgian part of the house).
(3) I previously wrote about this subject here HERE.
The weather today was pretty dreadful in typical English fashion, with constant rain which will probably mean more flooding. A nearby stream at the bottom of the hill near the Hardwick Inn where we had lunch was getting pretty high. Still managed to take some photographs though not as many as I would have liked.
Above: Hadwick Hall with carefully maintained garden.
Above: Close up of Hardwick Hall.
Above: Hardwick Hall from a distance.
Above: Me in front of the Hall, clearly uncomfortable in the rain!
Above: Hardwick Inn
Above: Out of the rain in the pub!
Well worth a visit. I hope to make another visit to this wonderful house, when the house itself is open and with hopefully better weather.