We were heading up north one day and arranged for the route to take us past Calke Abbey which is a place I have always wanted to visit ever since it was announced that it had been given to the National Trust.
- its history is covered here;
- its paintings here;
- pictures of the superb bed and more history here and here; and
- some better photographs than mine here;
- a very good National Trust blog with a lot of information about what the NT have done here.
This is the House (I know it is called Calke Abbey but you have to read the history to find out why) from the front. The first thing that struck us about this facade is that there seems to be no grand entrance.
The Greek Portico was built onto the front of the house in the early 1800s, about one hundred years after the house was built. At roughly the same time, the set of grand stone steps which took visitors up to the entrance salon on the First Floor were removed and replaced with a rather horrid flight of metal steps on each side of the portico - later these were removed. So currently the only entrance on the front is through a nondescript door in the centre of the ground floor which leads into a small lobby.
The size of the house can be seen from this view.
The National Trust say that what the visitor sees when they go round is exactly as they found it when they took the house over. We were told that they took thousands of pictures of everything in situ before clearing rooms out in order to stabilise them. By this, they mean that they tried to stop the house deteriorating any further and have not renovated anything. Once the structure had been stabilised, everything was put back exactly where it came from.
To the left of the ground floor entrance is one of the few rooms lived in by the last owners of the house. Apparently they had a deal with the local butcher that whenever an animal from the estate went to the slaughterhouse, the head was returned for stuffing.
Around the corner is a room known as The Cartoon Room - why is obvious. These seem to be original political cartoons pasted onto the walls.
In the stair windows (going up to the first floor) are a pair of pigs placed exactly where they were found
then on the first floor is the remains of a kitchen used by the last owners
and next to that a room with the largest variety of chairs you will find anywhere.
The original entrance room (double height), now the salon contains numerous stuffed animal cases and a billiard table, paintings and a lot more.
By now you should have some idea of how much stuff has just been dumped in rooms. Apparently when one room got too full, they just put the next items collected in the next empty room.
Books on a library shelf are in the order they were placed - i.e. no order.
Stabilised decay is obvious once you get into the further reaches of the house.
Collections of “things” continue to fill rooms.
Above is a portable shower (the six cane poles are removable thus making it portable). Hot water is put into the tank on the top, you shower and your servant uses the hand pump on the front to pump the water back up to the top tank so either you can continue to shower or the next person can shower in your dirty water.
The most remarkable and perfect item in the house is “The State Bed” which probably came to Calke Abbey in 1734 with the marriage of Lady Caroline Manners to Sir Henry Harper but was found to be too large to be assembled. So it was put back in its crates and left in the basement to be rediscovered by the National Trust nearly 300 years later. It is now assembled in what used to be a Maid’s Bedroom and is as good as new.
There is a lot more to see in the house but this should have given you a taste of the inside.
We thought that the grounds were just as good as the house in that they were very interesting and a mixture of maintained / restored and unrestored.
All country estates usually have their own church and this one is no different.
It is still in use and the inside contains a number of monuments to the owners of the house with flowery text extolling their virtues and proclaiming how much they were loved by the locals!
An example is:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF SIR JOHN HARPER CREWE 9TH BARONET WHO WAS BORN AT CALKE ABBEY NOV 19TH 1824 MARRIED NOV 20TH 1845 GEORGIANA JANE 2ND DAUGHTER OF THE LATE VICE ADMIRAL W.STANHOPE LOVELL R.N.K.H AND BY HER WHO SURVIVES HIM LEAVES TWO SONS AND A DAUGHTER AFTER AN ILLNESS BORN WITH SINGULAR SUBMISSION AND FORTITUDE DEPARTED THIS LIFE MARCH 1ST 1886 IN THE 63RD YEAR OF THIS LIFE DESERVEDLY HONOURED AND ESTEEMED IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD BY HIS TENANTS AND DEEPLY RESPECTED BY HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS. SIR JOHN WAS A STEADY FRIEND AND CONSIDERATE AS A LANDLORD AND GENEROUS AND SYMPATHISING TOWARDS THE POOR…
and so it continues in the same vein for a lot longer.
The Kitchen Garden has been restored to some extent
with the stated intention of not only growing the vegetables which were originally grown there to feed the house but also to let children, many of whom may not have seen growing vegetables, see them growing and pick and taste them when they are ready.
This plant is a Cardoon which is a vegetable plant of the artichoke family and was first mentioned in 400BC by Greek writer Theophrastus
and is beloved of bees.
There were Medlar trees (as above) and Quince in the original 1700 garden and they have been planted here again as part of the recreation of the original garden.
This may look like a display of potted plants but is in fact a rare example of an Auricle Theatre which if you have not heard of before, then click on the link (the explanation is quite a way down the link article).
The original glasshouse is still standing and inside shows the managed decay which the National Trust is trying to maintain.
There is also a flower garden
which is beautifully maintained
and seats have been positioned for you to sit and enjoy the garden.
The Gardeners Shed looks like they have just nipped out fir a moment and smells just like garden sheds did in my childhood. It also contains all of the essential items which other people might have thrown away but a careful gardener keeps just in case the come in handy one day!
The owners of the house wanted to be able to walk their grounds without their day being spoilt by seeing their servants. So they had an 85 metre tunnel constructed under one of the estate walks to enable the Gardeners to leave
without being seen.
And continuing my occasional theme of National Trust Garden Pumps - here is number 3 in the series.
One thing which particularly stuck us about the House and the Gardens was the focus upon children and childhood. Amongst the things in “The Garden of the Imagination” was the above puppet theatre
complete with hand puppets for children (and adults) to choose from and logs in front for the audience to sit on. In the
stable block a number of the stalls had been equipped with all sorts of things for imaginative play including “Dressing Up Clothes”; Tea Party equipment; and much more. To my mind, this was the type of play common when I was a child. Worksheets were readily available covering all of the house for children to use on a sort of “Treasure Hunt” as well as a number of the items in “50 Things to do before you are 11 ¾”.
I thought Calke Abbey was well worth a visit particularly if you have an inquiring mind because the staff there are very keen to answer questions, no matter how obscure.