A must-visit for urban explorers, Calke Abbey offers one of the most unique stately home experiences in the whole of the Peak District. This 18th century Baroque mansion is, today, maintained by the National Trust and has been left almost totally unaltered since its former residents, the Harpur family, fell into money troubles and abandoned it in 1985. Visitors to Calke Abbey will experience the thrill of exploring an abandoned building, with empty rooms, half-stripped wallpaper, and many of the Harpur family’s belongings left strewn across floors and desks. Known have be keen natural history enthusiasts, the Harpur’s collections will fascinate visitors, which includes bones, eggs, and dear mounts.
Calke Abbey’s pleasure garden a colour-wheel of exotic flora and is the perfect location for a sunny afternoon meander, or tranquil respite on a deckchair. Fresh fruit and veg is also grown throughout, which can be purchased near to the Garden Shed; and the in-house gardeners are always on hand to explain the growing process. The Harpur’s abandoned Georgian Orangery can also be found within the grounds.
There is also a woodland recreational area, a second-hand bookshop, several kiosks, and a giftshop also on site within the estate.
The Calke Abbey estate was formerly the grounds of an 11th-century Augustinian priory, which housed a small religious community. It is known that the settlers moved to nearby Repton only a few years after the priory’s inception, but little is known what happened to the priory in the following centuries; what is certified is that Henry VII dissolved and confiscated the monastery in 1538, which was then leased to John Prest for 99 years. The grounds passed through several hands thereafter and was eventually procured by Henry Harpur in 1622 for the price of £5,350.
The main parts of the classical Baroque building as it appears today were built between 1701 and 1703 by the 4th Baronet, Sir John Harpur.
The building was heavily modified and expanded upon by Sir Henry Harpur, 7th Baronet, from 1789 onwards, who added several rooms and expanded on the lime works that took place within the estate, which brought great wealth for the Harpurs. It was the 7th Baronet who was the first Harpur to show an obsessive interest in natural history, inspired, most likely, by the development of enlightened thinking at the time; this Baronet started what is now the house’s vast collection of natural history artefacts, a collection that would be expanded upon by each heir thereafter.
The building was modernised significantly later than many of the other stately homes in Derbyshire, with electricity being installed in 1962.
Charles Harpur-Crewe inherited the property in 1949, but his untimely death in 1981 left the family burdened with debt, leading to the decision of Henry Harpur-Crewe, the last heir, to sell the property to the National Trust in 1985, who have maintained the house ever since.
Things to do at Calke Abbey
Calke Abbey – With 300 years-worth of history displayed through the Harpur family’s untouched rooms, personal belongings, and extensive natural history collections, Calke Abbey is definitely the most authentic way of transporting back to the bygone-era of stately homes. General admission lets visitors explore the abandoned rooms at their own pace; alternatively, the Calke Unlocked guided tour is a high-energy exploration of the house, packed with information and games.
Calke Explore -This recreation area is located in the woodlands within the grounds of Calke Abbey and is a great place for younger visitors to blow off some steam; featuring a play area, a wooden fort, and numerous cycle routes. There is also a food and drink kiosk, toilet facilities, and a car park nearby.
Calke Abbey Gift Shop – Located in the stable yards of the house, the Calke Abbey Gift Shop offers an eclectic range of gifts and souvenirs. Browse through blankets, candles, outdoor clothing, garden tools, ornaments, National Trust products, and a wide selection of locally sourced food and drink.
Second-Hand Bookshop – In line with the obsessive collecting of the Harpur family, the Second-Hand Bookshop sells books of every genre, making it a guarantee that every kind of bookworm will find some pleasing reading material. Located in the stable yard, the shop also accepts book donations from visitors.
Calke’s Restaurant and Café – Also found in the Stable Yards, visitors can enjoy a locally sourced lunch at Calke’s Restaurant and Café, which also offers tea, coffee, and cake services.
How To Get There
By Car – Calke Abbey is located at Ticknal, which can be accessed along the A514 in between Swadlincote and Derby South.
Address for Satnav – Ticknall, Derby, DE73 7JF
Public Transport – From Derby, get the bus heading in the direction of Swadlincote, and alight at the Ticknall stop. From there, it’s only a mile and a half walk to Calke.
Carpark – Booking in advance ensures free parking.
Good to Know
– Currently, only a third of the rooms are open due to coronavirus measures.
– Picnics are allowed throughout the gardens.
– Even if you’re only planning on visiting the gardens for recreational use, a booking is still required.
Prices and Opening Times
Adult – £8.00
Child – £4.00
Calke Abbey – 11.00 – 16.00
Garden – 10.00 – 17.00
Restaurant – 09.30 -16.30
Stables -10.00 – 17.00
Shop – 10.30 – 16.30