One of the most interesting English great houses I've stumbled upon doing research for my writing is Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and it's high on my list of places to see when I head to the UK next year.
Calke Abbey, built in a hollow, is hidden from view until the last moment. Set in extensive parklands landscaped to reflect the grandeur of the property, the 18th century mansion lay mostly undisturbed before England's National Trust began taking steps to conserve the house as it was at the time they took over management in 1981. Surprisingly, they are not attempting to restore the whole house and contents, but conserve in the state it was found.
The past few generations appear not to throw anything out from perhaps the middle of the 19th Century. From that time, the normal process of removal and renewal of possessions seemed to stop. At the time the National Trust took over the property, the mansion contained deliberately kept treasures (stuffed birds, minerals, pottery), and items retained by years of careless housekeeping: old letters and documents, abandoned childhood toys, whole rooms of personal possession.
Calke Abbey is an historians dream.
The house – architecture
Calke Abbey consists of three stories, first (lowest) a high basement, then two main floors: the first floor the library, saloon, drawing room and dining room; the top floor contained the principal bedrooms. Since the roof is flat, there are no attics and the servant quarters lie behind the state rooms on the first floor.
The top floor corner pavilions (see picture above) were designed to contain an apartment (bedroom, private closet or study and a room for a personal servant). There might also be a withdrawing room or sitting room, depending upon the occupant.
The grounds – Calke Park
At its height, the Harpur estate (including Calke Abbey) totalled 33,000 acres spread across Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. The grounds immediately surrounding the mansion were extensively landscaped by successive generations. The drive from Ticknall Lodge (the first of three lodges) to the Abbey, through planted limes, is nearly two miles long. Existing ponds were expanded to form a chain of lakes and walled gardens protected plants from two herds of deer. Constructed features include a church (redesigned in the first half of the 19th Century), conservatory, two grotto's, ice-house (picture above), boat-house, stables and a riding school.
Calke today is a treasury of Victorian Life and taste with a base of Georgian furnishings. A social exhibit where we can see with our own eyes the aristocratic world we lost. I've always wished I could go back in time and a visit to Calke Abbey might just be the closest I'll ever come to time travel.