Hardwick Hall: another ‘jolly’ from 2016 – Part One – Bess of Hardwick, a force to be reckoned with. I’m sharing this again because we are in lockdown…

Hardwick Hall Oct 2016 (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Another of my ‘jollies.’

I hope if you have arrived here in search of Jane, the writer,

you will linger a while longer or take a good trip around my blog – the other parts – where you will find writing-related content.

Either way I hope you won’t be disappointed and will come back again.

My ‘jollies’ have taken me to many fascinating places (I think) and I enjoy sharing my experiences with you.

You’ll find my ‘jollies’ posted under Blog….scroll down and enjoy.

I have had to divide the posting of my ‘Jolly’ to Hardwick Hall into more than one due to the sheer volume of items to see and, as usual, I went crazy taking photos. Sadly I don’t have information for every item but I hope just seeing everything will be enjoyable and might even tempt you in to visiting yourself.

Keep an eye out for the next instalments.

Hardwick Hall Ruins Oct 2016 (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Hardwick Hall is a great Elizabethan House,

built to create and proclaim the impression – and fact – of great wealth  and status of a great woman,

Bess of Hardwick

Fine tapestries and decoration throughout (c) Jane Risdon 2016

who – four times married – became the most remarkable Elizabethan woman in England, next to the Queen herself.

Bess was born at Hardwick Hall, then a small manor house in the mid-1520s, her father was John Hardwick, a country squire who died when she was under a year old, leaving his family of five young children in reduced financial circumstances.

Hardwick Hall Gatehouse with elaborate finials and decoration (c) Jane Risdon 2016

He left money but due to the cash strapped Henry VIII reviving tax rules, the estate was seized by the Crown and at least half sold into ‘Wardship,’ meaning the family lost control of their land until an heir, Bess’s little brother James, came of age.

Unfortunately the family was squeezed so hard, by the appointed ‘Wards,’ for revenue from the farms, that there was nothing left for the family. The lands and Hardwick Hall were valued at £20 remained with the Crown, although the family remained there, it is possible they were paying rent for the privilege.

The Penelope Tapestries (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Bess’s mother, also Elizabeth, to keep her family together, re-married. Her husband was Ralph Leche, the younger son of a Chatsworth family. He owned very little but had a small annual annuity of just under £7 per year and an income from some scattered leases.

Fine tapestries throughout (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Learning from her childhood adversity Bess’s lessons stood her n good stead. For the rest of her life she fought for what was rightfully hers, dealing skillfully with financial and legal matters.

Hardwick Hall is magnificent, inside and outside.

This ‘jolly’ was in October 2016.

This amazing woman knew that her hill-top mansion, with tall turrets, stone carved initials and fabulous display of costly glass glittering as visitors arrived (even today) would be marvelled at and discussed at every level of society. People came to stare at the mansion as it stood golden on the hill-top.

Bess had so many windows which need to be glazed that it proved expensive to pay the glaziers to do the whole house, so she went into business making and fitting window glass, and was soon supplying vast numbers of customers. Such was her entrepreneurial skills and ambitions.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The architecture, the grand chambers and furnishings of precious tapestries and rare needlework hangings are awesome now and I can only imagine the impact they made back in her day.

In the State Rooms the fabulous wall hangings are topped by rural scenes of forests and we were told by one of the guides that the trees on the decoration were in fact real trees, which Bess had placed along the top of the walls creating a 3D effect.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

There is so much to see inside, that you really need more than a day to do it justice, but I had only an afternoon.

I took dozens of photos as usual, and this is going to have to be spread over several different postings.

So far in the Autumn of 2016 alone, you have been with me as I visited Dovedale, Ilam, Kedleston Hall and now here we have Hardwick Hall.

Still more interesting ‘jollies‘ to come by the way, so keep an eye out for them as I post them in the next couple of months.

The State Rooms (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Prior to Dovedale I visited an old friend in Cornwall, and also visited Chartwell, home of Sir Winston Churchill, so do go back as far as you like on my blog menu, to discover many other past jollies too.

 If you do, let me know your thoughts. Always welcome.

Just a word – it was taken over by the National Trust fifty years ago and the volunteers who occupy each room as you move around this wonderful house, go out of their way to inform, answer questions, and generally make the tour so very interesting. One elderly gentleman also filled us in on his own family history as he followed us from room to room, which was riveting, but a little time-consuming.

The introductory talk by one such gentleman outside in the rain-soaked entrance porch was so entertaining, we didn’t realise how hard it had begun to rain.

Beautifully carved table (c) Jane Risdon 2016

They like to natter up North. Not that we minded at all.

As a young girl Bess explored the hillsides and pastures at Hardwick with her siblings and half-sisters. She enjoyed playing with wooden toys, games and chanting nursery rhymes so we were told.

She learnt her letters and arithmetic from her mother who was reading from a ‘hornbook‘ which I discovered is paper protected by a thin layer of translucent horn.

The State Rooms (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Bess could play a keyboard instrument, given lessons in deportment (I had those at school, the Nuns had us carrying books on our heads with a stick down the back of our clothes ensuring we walked straight, head held high) I imagine Bess had to do the same.

She was encouraged to express herself confidently. As she got older she helped her mother manage the household.

Early financial difficulties taught her that she should take her chances when she could and the world owed her nothing. A very modern woman.

Apparently she was a popular and personable woman, formed friendships easily (four husbands don’t forget) and she was very ambitious, determined that the hardships she endured in youth should never be inflicted upon her own children and step-children.

Hardwick Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Her marriages brought her wealth and grand houses, she honed her architectural skills (which were plenty)  on Chatsworth which was her first building project.

Her other family houses included Bolsover, Welbeck, Sheffield, Tutbury and Worksop.

She had dynastic ambitions and these were realised through her children with the dukedoms of Devonshire,

Norfolk, Portland, Newcastle and Kingston.

As a matriarchal figure Bess fought her way to the top of society in Elizabethan England.

With each marriage she gained more power, more land and more security for her children.

Steps to the State Rooms (c) Jane Risdon 2016

I won’t turn this into a history lesson, I wanted to share the beauty of Hardwick Hall and some of Bess’s Achievements internally. If this has whetted your appetite to visit this wonderful house or to know more about Bess, do go online, there is so much information about her there.

I shall be posting part two soon – do keep an eye out – for more photos and information on this remarkable woman


Bess of Hardwick: Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynast – David N Durant (revised 2001 – Peter Owen)

Bess of Hardwick –  Mary S Lovell (Abacus 2006)

Arbella: England’s Lost Queen –  Sarah Gristwood (Murray 1991)

 Hardwick Hall, Doe Lea, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S44 5QI

+44 (0)1246 850430

Also on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

National Trust: hardwick@nationaltrust.org.uk

If you have enjoyed this ‘jolly’ you might like to take a look at some of my other outings to great gardens, houses, churches and cathedrals.

Go to Menu and Blog and scroll down. Let me know your thoughts, thanks so much.

All photos (c) Jane Risdon 2016 All Rights Reserved.


  1. Fascinating piece, Jane. As always, you successfully tread a fine line between informing the reader and entertaining them, as well. Bess sounds like a Hell of a woman, even by today’s standards. Your descriptions of her remind me of a few of my main characters, although it is a little difficult to picture her in a huge RV, breaking into the US Air Force’s hush-hush base at Area 51. Thanks again, for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL she would be the boss for sure, organising and possibly setting up her own RV manufacturing business. When Bess needed glass for her estate she purchased the local glass making business, set up her contacts and provided glass (made on site) to all her family, friends and more. A business entrepreneur at a time when women were still chattels. x

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes Anne you should go if you can. So much to see inside and out. I took way too many photos and had a wonderful old gent (volunteer) give such an interesting talk to us about one of the main rooms. I hope you enjoy it. I shall be posting more as soon as I can write it up and decide which photos to use.x

      Liked by 1 person

    • Amazing Tapestries – cannot do them justice and imagine all the work the women put into them. Just fabulous. Glad you enjoyed this, more to come when I get time – such a fab house and so much to see. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I visited as a child it’s near Dronfield, where my aunt lived. My aunt though long gone has left a soft spot inside me; for the lessons taught inadvertently when visiting her. Funnily enough, there was a Hardwick house not far from Bury St Edmunds that reminded me of this visit too. #The NationalTrust keeps memories alive as well as history. Nice post and a beautiful house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ellen, thanks for popping in and I am glad it reminded you of your aunt. I wonder how there is another Hardwick House in Bury St Edmunds? I wonder if she owned that too? Part two in a while when I get all the photos together. x

      Liked by 1 person

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