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Authority English Heritage
Other Ref SM Cat. No. 121
Date assigned Thursday, November 5, 1959
Date last amended Wednesday, September 24, 1997


REASONS FOR DESIGNATION Great houses were built throughout the medieval and early post medieval periods and were the residences of high-status non-Royal households. They had domestic rather than military functions and show little or no sign of fortification, even of a purely cosmetic nature. Great houses share several of the characteristics of royal palaces, and in particular shared similar characteristics of size, sophistication, and decoration of the architecture. Great houses usually consist of a group of buildings, including a great hall, service rooms, one or more kitchens, several suites of chambers for the owners, the household and its guests and a gatehouse. Other ancillary buildings are known to have been present but very rarely survive. Earlier examples typically comprised a collection of separate buildings, but through the 14th and 15th centuries there was increasing integration of the buildings into a few larger buildings. By the later medieval period, such complexes were commonly laid out around one or more formal courtyards; in the 16th century this would occasionally be contrived so that the elevations were symmetrical. Many great houses are still notable for the high quality of their architecture and for the opulence of their furnishings. Several examples contain substantially intact buildings, others consist of ruins or complexes of earthworks. Great houses are found throughout England, although there is a concentration in the south and Midlands. Further north, great houses were more heavily fortified, reflecting more unsettled political and social conditions, but their domestic purpose and status were still predominant. Fewer than 250 examples of great houses have been identified. As a rare monument class which provide an important insight into the lives of aristocratic or gentry households of the period, all examples will be nationally important. Despite later stone-robbing, the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall survive well and retain many original architectural features. The historical context of many of these features are recorded in the numerous, surviving documentary sources. Its great height, large windows, unconventionally placed hall, unusual staircases, great chambers and decorative plasterwork are of particular interest. The hall, staircase and plasterwork are innovative and provide prototypes for features later incorporated into the New Hall. DETAILS The monument includes the ruins and below ground remains of Hardwick Old Hall, a great house situated on the crest of a hill 14.4km south east of Chesterfield and 200m south west of Hardwick New Hall. The site consists of the main house which, sub-rectangular in plan, is aligned east to west. A forecourt to the north contains two lodges, both of two storeys, at its north east and north west corners. The forecourt is enclosed by a circuit wall which is pierced by a gateway which lines up with the porch of the Old Hall itself. The structure of the main building survives to varying degrees; the west wing survives more or less to its original height but the north face of the east wing and all but the ground floor of the centre were demolished in the 18th century to provide stone for Chatsworth House. Central to the main building is the hall and its entrance porch. The hall ran from the front to the back of the building with wings two or more rooms deep on either side. A hall of this type, in contrast to those which run along the length of one front in the traditional manner, was an innovatory feature which was later copied in the New Hall. At the southern end of the hall, a massive fireplace and chimney stack have been inserted into an earlier wall. Above the chimneypiece are the remains of elaborate plasterwork decoration including a depiction of a crouched stag, the crest of the Hardwick family. Decorative plasterwork is also evident high on the southern wall of the east wing and indicates the position of the Forest Great Chamber, one of two grand chambers incorporated into the house. Documentary evidence indicates that the plasterwork which survives in a number of locations throughout the house was the work of Abraham Smith, a craftsman who had earlier worked at Chatsworth House, and who stayed on at Hardwick until the New Hall was completed. The second of the grand chambers was the Hill Great Chamber situated in the west wing. This is a large room with huge windows and elaborate, integrated decoration. It would have offered impressive views across the valley. Most of the plasterwork and the chimneypiece survives, the latter dominated by the overmantle in which giant mailed figures (possibly representing the forces of evil, Gog and Magog) frame a figure of Eros, the god of love, in full tilt with bow and quiver. The west wing, unlike the east wing, was occupied at least until the end of the 18th century, and the Hill Great Chamber was still complete when it was drawn by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm in 1785 and recorded by the diarist John Byng in 1789. The wing is divided into three vertical sections, the middle one of which contains a long narrow staircase giving access to rooms on either side. The service rooms on the ground floor include the buttery. In most houses of this period the Buttery had direct access, by its own staircase, to a beer cellar. Hardwick Old Hall is unusual in as much as it had no cellars but beer may have been stored in one of the rooms in this section. The serving place at the front of the wing provided a throughway from the kitchen to the hall and would have enabled food to be carried either to the hall or upstairs to one of the great chambers. The kitchen houses a huge fireplace with a privy in a recess next to it. A door in the south wall of the kitchen leads to the larders, one above the other with the higher larder on a mezzanine floor reached by steps in the lobby. To the east of the larder is the pastry where the baking was done. Here there are four ovens of different sizes leading from a common fireplace. The Old Hall had at least two staircases, one lit from the south lay between and provided access from the hall to the Forest Great Chamber. It was designed with wide flights with gentle risers set in a square plan. A second staircase in the south wing is dog-legged and of narrow dimensions with long flights. The design of this second staircase lacked grandeur. The lodgings on the first floor included the wardrobe, nursery and Mr William Cavendish's Chamber(the heir to the Hardwick estate). The second floor housed Mr Digby's chamber (a servant) and Mr Reason's chamber (the receiver of rents) both of which display elaborate overmantels. The third floor housed the Hill Great Chamber and an adjoining lodging. Across the landing are the remains of the Little Gallery which was accessible from the Hill Great Chamber. The gallery spanned the width of the house and led to the best lodging through a now blocked doorway. From this landing stairs lead to the top of the turret which opened out to the leads and an impressive view. To the west of the west wing was a garderobe or privy tower. It contained a number of privies and was isolated from the west wing by a narrow corridor. The tower was accessible from the lodgings in the west wing. The southern facade of the building survives almost intact and gives some impression of the scale and character of the demolished north facade. A conduit house, Listed Grade II, located to the south of the Old Hall was probably built to contain a lead water cistern which, fed by a spring, would have supplied water to the house. The fabric of the Old Hall largely dates between 1587 when Bess of Hardwick began to re-model the older building and 1597 when she moved to the recently constructed New Hall. It was almost entirely executed in rubble walling, except for external areas of the east wing which was the last portion to be built and is faced with ashlar. The ashlar work is visible on the south and east exterior elevations of the building. The Hardwick family had been established at Hardwick since at least the end of the 14th century and had taken their name from their place of residence. Hardwick Old Hall incorporates fragments of an earlier house built by the Hardwicks but was remodelled and greatly enlarged for Bess of Hardwick between 1587 and 1597. Most of the original building accounts survive, along with an inventory of 1601, from which the names of the rooms can be derived. Bess bought the house in 1583 when her brother James, the former owner, died. She moved into it in 1584 when a quarrel with her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, made it the only house available to her. Bess's husband died in 1590 and with her widow's portion Bess built a bigger and more elaborate new house next to it but did not move in until October 1597. In the meantime she continued to live in the Old Hall. The west wing continued to be partly lived in until at least the end of the 18th century. In 1789 John Byng found the Hill Great Chamber empty but the lower rooms were still occupied by the house keeper of the New Hall and a family. Serious degradation of the west wing set in during the early 19th century when lead was removed from the roof. Now, there is no roof and the floors that survived until 1956 were removed for safety reasons. Archaeological evaluation trenches dug inside the building and in the forecourt prior to consolidation work, confirm the good preservation of features under ground. A ground radar survey carried out to the south of the main building indicates the survival of footings and a possible pipe running between the conduit house and the main building. The easternmost lodge which is Listed Grade I, the metal paling fence which encloses the monument on the east and south sides, the later gateway to the east, modern trackway surfaces and the garage and porch associated with the eastern lodge are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all these features is included. SELECTED SOURCES Book Reference - Author: Ashbee, J. - Title: MPP Single Monument Class Description - Great Houses - Date: 1994 - Page References: 9 - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Girouard,M. - Title: Hardwick Old Hall - Date: 1993 - Page References: 9 - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Harris, A. - Title: Report on Hardwick Old Hall, Derbyshire - Date: 1989 - Page References: 8 - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Sheppard, R. - Title: Archaeological Recording at Hardwick Old Hall - Date: 1994 - Page References: 9 - Type: EXCAVATION REPORT

External Links (1)

Sources (1)

  • Scheduling record: English Heritage. 1959. Scheduling Notification: Hardwick Old Hall: an Elizabethan great house. List entry no. 1015889. SM Cat. No. 121.



Grid reference Centred SK 4617 6366 (81m by 90m)
Map sheet SK46SE

Related Monuments/Buildings (3)

Record last edited

Aug 21 2013 11:25AM

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