Towns / Cities Visited: 112
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 14,494
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,044,204
Today was to be another full day of adventure, and despite the dreary weather, we were packed and on our way before too long. Our first destination for the day was another I had been looking forward to for some time; Haddon Hall. Now aside from being another historic country house, it has also played host to many television and film productions due to its stunning appearance, including many period dramas. As such, it first came to my attention when I saw the BBC miniseries of Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ produced in 2006, a series I fell in love with almost as much as I had the novel itself, and in which Haddon Hall becomes the fictional Thornfield Hall. Thus it was with excitement that we parked the car and made our way through the cold and drizzle of the morning, across the quint little stone bridge that crossed the river, and up to the front gate of the property.
As per usual, let me give you a little background on the site, for context sake. The original hall was built on this site in the 11th century, but the property was expanded greatly between the 13th and 17th centuries. It isn’t quite big enough to be called a palace, nor is it fortified enough to be considered a castle, but it does retain the charming qualities of both. The property has been one of the seats of the Manners family, the Earls of Rutland, who later became the Dukes of Rutland, for more than three centuries. However with the upgrade in title, the Manners family upgraded their residence by moving to Belvoir Castle, and as a result Haddon Hall was left relatively unused from 1703 onwards, falling into disrepair in its abandonment. Luckily, in the 1920’s the 9th Duke of Rutland realised the hall’s significance and began restorations on the property. It is now open as a tourist attraction, however parts of the property remain the residence of Lord Edward Manners, the brother of the current 11th Duke of Rutland.
Now that you’re up to speed, allow me to continue. As we approached, it was hard to get a sense of the size of the property, as it is nestled atop a hill, and is surrounded by rather stern looking stone walls. As we stepped through the gate though, we were delivered into a gorgeous courtyard, which I may have never stepped foot in before, but felt all too familiar regardless. As I paused and drank in its beauty I could almost hear Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester exchanging quips.
Pulling myself back to reality however, we picked our way across the rather treacherous higgledy piggledy of cobblestones which make up the courtyards footing, and began our exploration in two of the rooms which adjoin the wall. These rooms house a few of the priceless tapestries which were saved during the restorations of Haddon Hall. From here we entered the St. Nicholas Chapel, located in the far corner of the space. It may not be the biggest, nor the most ornate, but it offers something truly spectacular. Because the hall was left untouched for so long, and thanks to the whitewashing of the walls prior to this, when the chapel was restored they discovered stunning 15th century, pre-reformation, hand painted frescoes on the walls, which had been protected by their covering. Aside from these impressive paintings, and the carved and painted wooden relief on the altar, the space is rather restrained and humble in its decoration. Nought but one basic 14th century stained glass window adorns the room, which is otherwise a collection of unassuming wooden pews and ageing stone. In the centre aisle sits the heartbreakingly small tomb of Lord Haddon, who died at just age nine in 1894, and is topped with a sad but peaceful carving of the boy in eternal slumber.
Heading back into the courtyard and across to the main entrance, we found ourselves delivered into another familiar room, at least for those who have seen Jane Eyre; the hall itself. Now given that it was a rather chilly day, it was a pleasantly warm welcome to find that the fireplace was alight, and as we admired the space, we did so from the warmth of the fireside. The hall, although spacious, doesn’t have the cold emptiness of so many other unlived in manors. Its combination of raw woods, white washed walls, and stone window nooks and floors, make it feel more akin to a hunting lodge than a formal upper class hall.
From here we ventured past the buttery and the pantry, and into the kitchen. This unadorned stone time capsule sings of centuries of meals prepared on its benches, worn smooth by repetition; and its two large fireplaces, and smaller bread ovens, charred from the endless array of foods which passed through them. As we went to leave, we paused in the pantry, not because it held some huge historical significance, but because within it there was a documentary playing of a medieval feast that had been cooked and served in a reenactment here. It was amazing to see the kitchen in use as it would have been all of those centuries ago, when peacock was the centrepiece, and forks were yet to be invented. I would have lingered and watched it all if we had not so much to do.
We continued on through the rest of the rooms, all similarly decorated in raw woods and stone, and it pleased my soul to find so many angles which coincided with Jane Eyre. I would take a step and all of a sudden my photographic memory was pasting over the scenes from the show, and I was half a world away. It was everything you would expect from a historical English country house, where each decoration has a purpose and a meaning; carved roses on the ceiling telling the story of millennia of history, right back to Egyptian times. It is this attention to detail which seems to sorely lacking in our modern word of plain cornices and unconsidered skirting boards; a world where we have gone from huge tapestries telling entire sagas, to a few splotches of abstract paint on a canvas.
Before long we were being released out into the garden, with its climber covered stone walls, a distressed but impassable wooden door which begged more questions than it answered, and a series of landscaped flower beds which managed to look both manicured and unkempt simultaneously. From the top of the stone steps which lead you down to the lower garden, you are gifted with a stunning view of the entire length of the manor, from which you can finally gain some sense of scale of this gorgeous old home.
Creeping back inside, we passed through the last few rooms, including the rather dark and brooding study, and stopped briefly in the small museum beside the front gate which houses some of the interesting finds during the restorations, including some well preserved rush torches from a time before affordable candles. With that, our time at Haddon Hall had come to an end, but although it was brief, I left feeling fulfilled.
Fear not, our day was anything but over, and after a short drive we were arriving at our other destination for the day; the significantly larger and more grandiose, Chatsworth House. Now unlike its name suggests, it is not simply a small historical house, or some quaint ramshackle old abode, but rather it is a massive palace, sitting proudly in the lush green countryside beside the River Derwent. Now much like Haddon Hall this is the seat of a dukedom; the Duke of Devonshire, to be precise. Also like Haddon Hall it has been used numerous times as a film location for many period dramas, including two different iterations of Pride and Prejudice. The estate was first purchased by Sir William Cavendish in 1549, and has been in possession of the family ever since. His son, also named William, was the one to be bestowed the title of 1st Earl of Devonshire, and thus this title had been held by the family almost as long as the house. The property was expanded and updated many times through its almost 500 year existence, and despite the family’s rather dismal financial situation over that time and the huge debts they had acquired, the property still grew to be the enormous structure it is today. The family still resides in the house, however a small portion of the 126 rooms are open to the public, and thus we were here, walking up to the entrance of this rather cold and stiffly formal manor.
Despite some historical similarities between Haddon Hall and Chatsworth House, the interiors couldn’t be any more juxtaposed. Where Haddon Hall sat untouched in its 17th century rustic splendour, Chatsworth house slaps you in the face with the opulence and showiness that the following centuries bought to the residences of the wealthy. Nothing depicts this better than the Painted Hall, with its hugely intricate frescoed ceiling and walls, including some incredible sections painted to appear like carved stone pillars and reliefs, so expertly done that they appear unquestionably three dimensional. At its heart sits a grand staircase, adorned with gilded handrails, which leads upwards to a similarly adorned upper level.
As we passed around behind the stairs, we were met with one of the house’s most impressive sculptures, and one which remains one of my favourites to this day; The Veiled Vestral Virgin. Now the true magic of this sculpture is in the impossibly realistic way that the artist, Raffaelle Monti, has carved the stone to appear as though a delicate veil of fabric isresting lightly over the face of the woman. It is so perfect in its creases and folds that its easy to believe that it is simply actual fabric draped over a stone figure. I usually find most art less than memorable, but I have a feeling that this one will stick with me for a while.
As you pass into the next corridor and wander past the collection of art and artefacts, including a statue of the Egyptian goddess Sehkmet from 1300BC and a enormous marble foot from a Greek statue carved in the century before the birth of Christ, you soon realise that the area open to the public is less of a display home, and more of an art collection; not that that is a bad thing.
The next room, at the end of the corridor, is adorned wall to wall with incredibly detailed wood carvings, a series of inset landscape paintings, and a series of display cupboards housing a portion of the family’s fine china. From here you move to the chapel, which leads you face to face with another stunning but mildly confronting statue; that of Saint Bartholomew. Now don’t think its all halos and holy light, this saintly statue, named ‘Exquisite Pain’ depicts Bartholomew, who is said to have been flayed alive, holding his removed skin over his arm, while his body is shown as all muscles and ligaments. The statue, which was only created in 2006, and is completely gilded, fits perfectly amongst the centuries older altar niche despite its relative youth.
The remainder of the rooms we passed through, although beautiful, and rich in decoration, were no more memorable than the many other ornate palaces we have passed through; all heavenly paintings, and luxurious period furniture. That is until you are standing in one of the rooms, behind the cordon which keeps you from marring the antiques, and as you peak through the open door on the opposite side, you are treated to another miraculously realistic painting, which makes you question your very vision. What looks like another door just across a corridor, with a violin hanging off of it on a hook, is actually just another trick painting, giving depth and character to an otherwise plain boring wall.
From it all, it wasn’t the lavish bedrooms, or the sumptuous dining and drawing rooms which drew our delight, but rather, unsurprisingly, it was the library. Although you are unable to enter, even the brief glimpse of the jumble of lamps which provide its warm amber glow, and the floor to ceiling bookcases was enough to make us stop and sigh with longing for a sanctuary such as that of our own.
The last room you pass through, before you are delivered back into the outside world, is a dedicated statue gallery, which houses a large collection of marble statues, mainly depicting greek gods and goddesses. As you can expect, that means an obscene amount of carefully carved genitals, and strategically carved swathes of cloth on the largely naked figures, so typical of the style.
All of a sudden we were tumbling out into the garden. Now, I’m sure you will not be shocked to discover that the garden is just as large and extravagant as the house itself. Think along the lines of Versailles but on a somewhat smaller scale. The first thing you are faced with is the 300 year old Cascade House, and subsequent cascade, which flows from the building at the top, down a series of stone steps, to a pool at the base near the palace. Looking both up to and down from it offer a tremendous picture, and although it was still drizzling, we decided to march on and explore some more of the fancy estate grounds, and the wonders it has hidden amongst its trees.
From the pond side gargantuan rockery with its grotto, to the manicured gardens surrounding the yew maze which lays on the site of the old conservatory; and from the trickling ravine, to the bronze sculpture garden filled with the busts of some well known British faces, there is an entire days worth of things to see within the grounds alone. This is hardly surprising though, considering the fact that the gardens have been expanding since the late 1600’s, with quite a number of the dukes adding their own pieces to the picture perfect puzzle that is Chatsworth estate.
Although there was surely more to see, it was time for us to be on our way, as the day drew nearer its close, and we hopped back in the car and headed off on our three hour drive through encroaching darkness and pelting rain to our home for the night. As I reflected on our day, in the soft comfort of our bed, my mind transported itself back to the world of Jane Eyre. Its funny how transformative reading can be on young minds, and the lessons of reality we find within fictional realms. In a time when women were property, expected to be seen and not heard, and to be void of opinion or strong will, Jane Eyre was almost a slice of pure heresy. This is reiterated by the fact that the author herself used a masculine pen name in order to simply have her works published at all.
Charlotte Brontë delivered to the patriarchal world of her existence, the story of a young woman determined to make something of her life, to put herself out there, to advertise herself for a position as a governess in a time when jobs were given off of the back of male recommendations, not female forwardness. It was tangled in the story of this headstrong heroine that I had reinforced within me the lesson that my mum had taught me as a working single mother; that you do not require a man to be successful, and that you are worthy of respect regardless of class or social standing. It taught me that my opinions are valid, even in the company of those of higher education; and that when treated poorly, you must be strong enough to walk away, even if it breaks your heart. It taught me that love is not always clean and straight forward, but that true love, although messy and often painful, is loyal and forgiving, and accepts you just as you are, flaws and all. In a world often lacking in strong female characters, it was empowering as a young woman to walk in the shoes of one, and realise that those shoes are pretty damn comfortable. To be reassured that standing up for what is good and right is the only sure footed place to stand in this world; and that it matters not if no one else will bet their hand on you, as long as you’re willing to bet on yourself. Jane Eyre may have ruffled feathers on her debut into the literary world but, in the end, this timeless story has strengthened the wings and steadied the flight of generations of young women like me.