28 February 2013 by Mel Russ Articles
Nestling beside Derbyshire’s River Wye, not a stones-throw from Bakewell, you wander across a perfect example of Tudor architecture and artisan’s craft, but why did the owners desert it for 200 years?
Think of Haddon Hall as a time capsule. In 1730 the owners walked out of the Hall, bolted the doors and didn’t return for 200 years resulting in the one of the most perfect, and untouched Tudor homes that you will find anywhere in England. But why was such a grand fortified home, for it is not a castle despite its high defensive walls, left to gather dust for so long?
In 1703, Sir John Manners, 9th Earl of Rutland found Royal favour when Queen Anne elevated him to the 1st Duke of Rutland and Marquis of Granby. Maybe he felt that Haddon, nestling in the heart of Derbyshire’s sheep country, wasn’t grand enough for the family. So he moved out with his family and headed for the much grander sounding Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. The bonus for us today is that Haddon Hall is a perfect example of Tudor architecture and way of life trapped in a capsule built out of good honest Derbyshire stone. The power of the building, the history and subsequent sympathetic restoration can be felt as you enter the Lower Courtyard through the gate piercing the north-west tower.
We have to thank the far-seeing 9th Duke of Rutland for what we see today, for he returned to his ancestral home in the early 19th century and set about a mammoth on going restoration programme, which is being continued to this day by his grandson, Lord Edward Manners, the 11th Duke.
Haddon Hall has a long history, although the Hall wasn’t mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, although the two adjacent villages were. It wasn’t until 1150 that the house and chapel gained note when it was owned by the Avenel family, finally passing to the Manners family in 1567 through marriage.
Anyone who has walked the Derbyshire Dales will have noticed the local grit and limestone’s, the natural materials used to build the Hall. A 12ft high wall strengthened the security of the house and chapel around 1195, and the Eagle Tower was added to create a Norman style defensive house. Interestingly, the owners couldn’t just raise a wall; they had to get permission from John, Count of Mortain, later to become King John. And even then permission to build was given only on the grounds that the walls only be of sufficient height to ‘keep out marauding outlaws.’
Parts of the building are Norman, take closer look at the base of the Eagle Tower, the font and pillar in the chapel and parts of the south and west walls, which were built even higher in the 14th century complete with battlements. Walking through the rooms of Haddon Hall it is not hard to imagine talk turning to politics in the Great Hall, later to be known as the Banqueting Hall, with its fire grate in the centre of the space, the lords, ladies and people of power clustering around the high dais, or platform, at one end, and the noise and bustle echoing from the kitchens, which were one once separated from the hall for fear of fire.
Building and improvements moved apace with an extension to the chapel and the addition of dry frescoes. Proper frescoes, so the Haddon Hall guidebook tells us, are painted on west plaster and the whole thing dries as one. Changing styles saw the fire grate disappear from the Great Hall to be replace with a much more modern fireplace. I expect the residents appreciated the lack of smoke, which used to waft around the Halls rafters, at least everyone could now see each other!
One room that shouts Tudor is the dark oak panelled Parlour or Dining room, which has a bay window looking out over the beautiful gardens at one end, and an intricate leaded window at the other. With its massive ceiling beams it must have been a homely, warm and safe place during long winter days. It you think the Banqueting Hall was impressive then ascend the semi-circular steps, thought to have been cut from one huge oak tree, up into the 110ft Long Gallery built in the typical Elizabethan style with its richly plastered ceiling depicting the armorial peacock of the Manners and the boar of the Vernon’s. Most of the windows face south letting in as much natural light as possible.
Haddon Hall, at first glance, looks like something built on a film set but it is not, it is the real thing. Look how wind and rain have eaten away the ancient grit stone on the corners of the older parts of the building. Look down at the stone steps, they all show centuries of wear, the middles often just half the depth of the original stone when it was laid. Raise your eyes and study the ancient lead guttering, and the downpipes, all richly decorated with all sorts of designs, and the typically tall thin chimneys designed to create a steady up draught to keep the fires burning brightly.
A bird’s eye view of the Hall shows clearly how the buildings were laid out over almost 500 years, each one changing with the needs of the time. The captivating gardens, created by the grandmother of the present Duke, and looking over typical wooded rolling Derbyshire countryside, reflect clearly how gardens in Elizabethan times might have looked.
One cannot leave Haddon Hall without reflecting on the words of Simon Jenkins from England’s Thousand Best Houses when he says:” The most perfect English House to survive from the Middle Ages. He wasn’t far wrong.
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