Located a mere 200m south west of the well sustained Hardwick New Hall, the Old Hall stands as the derelict remains of Bess of Hardwick’s other stately home. Despite being reduced to a mere skeleton, visitors exploring Hardwick Old Hall today can easily envision the former grandeur of this Tudor Italian-inspired household, with many of its defining features and and innovative plasterwork still intact – most notably the house’s hall, large windows, vast chambers, and grand staircase, that are each of particular architectural importance.
Audio tours are available that are sure to enhance your experience, while illuminating the interesting life of Bess of Hardwick – from her four failed marriages to her need for two stately homes, and of Hardwick Old Hall’s construction, decline, and abandonment.
The story of Hardwick Old Hall both starts and ends with the life of Bess of Hardwick. Hardwick was born – it is estimated – in 1527 to a family of minor landholdings in the north-east of Derbyshire. Her first marriage took place in 1543 to Robert Barlow, who died shortly after. Following this tragic beginning, she is said to have lived some time with Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche of Condor Castle, who heavily influenced her tastes and styles – an influence that would later materialise in the designs and construction of Hardwick Old Hall.
Bess’ second marriage to Treasurer of the King’s Chamber, Sir William Cavendish – who, at the time, was a widowed father-of-three – took place in 1547 and inherited her the name Lady Cavendish. Sir and Lady Cavendish bought and settled into Chatsworth Estate, making it their country seat. Cavendish’s untimely death in 1557 left Bess severely bankrupt and owing money to the crown; despite this, Bess was able to maintain possession over the Chatsworth Estate.
Bess remarried in 1559 to Sir William St Loe who served as a Captain of the Guard to Queen Elizabeth I, and through this connection, Bess’ crown debts were severely reduced, and she herself become closely associated with the Queen. When Loe died in 1565, Bess inherited everything, making her one of the richest women in the country.
After Bess’ failed 4th marriage to George Tablot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, she left Chatsworth for good, and headed the family-owned Hardwick Estate.
There was already a manor house within the estate that was owned by her father, but after having lived in the grandeur of Chatsworth, Bess needed something slightly more upscale. In 1587 Bess demolished the old manor house and set to work on constructing Hardwick Old Hall.
By 1590, Bess had completed much of the upper wings, state rooms, and chambers; but, before the final touches could be made, Bess decided to start work on another house, this time with the aid of a the architect Robert Smythson– this other house would go on to become the Hardwick New Hall.
The two houses were completed concurrently and were meant to act as separated wings of the same manor. However, following the death of Bess in 1608, both of Bess’ estates were passed onto the Dukes of Devonshire, who favoured Chatsworth over Hardwick, and who partially deconstructed the Old Hall in order to reuse the materials elsewhere.
Hardwick Old Hall lay ruinous for centuries, until 1959 when the estate was taken over by the National Trust.
Things to See and Do at Hardwick Old Hall
Audio Tour – Enhance your visit to Hardwick Old Hall with the highly informative audio tour, and learn in detail about all the features of the ruinous house that Bess of Hardwick herself had a hand in designing; from the fascinating plasterwork panels to the unique upper wings and chambers.
Hardwick Hall – While within the estate, it would of course be worth visiting the Hardwick New Hall, which stands today as the antithesis of the Old Hall; on top of being well maintained, the home has been regularly modified and expanded upon over the centuries, and appears today a scrapbook of many different architectural styles and influences. Visitors can explore the restored bedrooms of some of the most significant figures Hardwick has housed over time, including ‘the Last Lady of Hardwick’ Duchess Evelyn, and Arabella Stuart, niece to Mary Queen of Scots.
Hardwick Gardens – Hardwick Garden’s boasts a 400-year-old stable yards, a 300-acre park with lakes, a stonemasonry centre, and the Stainsby Mill. Hardwick Garden’s is also the perfect spot for a picnic!
How to get there
By Car – From Chesterfield, follow the A6175 until you reach the roundabout at Matalan. Take the middle lane and third exit. At the second roundabout, take the right lane and take the third exit again, which will take you on to the A617. Stay on this road for 4 miles until the M1 junction is reached. Take the right lane at the following roundabout, and follow the 5th exit, which is the A6175 (signposted as Clay Cross) from this point, brown signs for Hardwick Hall will appear.
Postcode for Satnav – S44 5QJ
Carpark – There is an onsite carpark which charges £4 per vehicle.
Public Transport – There are unfortunately no buses that run directly to Hardwick Hall estate. Pronto bus runs a service from Chesterfield, twice per hour, which stops at Young Vanish, which is two miles away from the hall.
Good to Know
– There is a picnic areas nearby Hardwick Old Hall.
– Dogs are welcome to explore the ruins.
– As of 2020, Hardwick Old Hall is undergoing reconstruction work. Please check their website for updates.
Opening Times and Prices
Opening times vary greatly throughout the year. Please check the Hardwick Old Hall website for further details.
Adult – £7.90
Child (5-17) – £4.70
Concession – £7.10
Family (2 adults, 3 children) – £20.50