Last Saturday, I visited ‘Calke Abbey’, one the National Trust properties in Derbyshire. It’s a stately home, built as early as the 12th Century, the present house rebuilt between 1701-1704. The history behind it is quite fascinating, but I won’t bother you with the details here – try this link if you fancy taking a more in-depth look.
This article is about my own personal experience of the visit. That the day gave us the first bright sunshine for weeks boded well and did not let us down. The green of the gardens, the majesty of the timeless trees and the artfulness of the carefully trimmed bushes led the way up the winding lane to the main gate. Upon payment to a smiling gatekeeper of a small parking fee, a CD of commentary was foisted and I was admitted onto the main approach to the property itself. This is sufficient for those that just want to visit the grounds and not the house, but I was here to wander the chambers and clammy catacombs of Calke . The CD gave an insight into the lives of two employees of the Master, and their early experiences at Calke Abbey.
Once there, one proceeds to the ticket office, which is clearly signposted. The cost for admission to the house and gardens is £13 per adult. The lady was very helpful and gave a little insight into the last owner of the house and the secret tunnel! There are vast stable blocks to explore, wherein can be found old carriages and a variety of equipment. There are also two cafés, selling coffee and cakes at reasonable prices. The staff are friendly and quite talkative about the place, which is lovely. The area where you can sit outside is comfortable and spacious, with pretty grounds to gaze upon, with complimentary wasps. There is also ample space inside to enjoy your coffee, if that’s not your cup of tea.
Once I entered the house, I was quite overcome!
Straight away, you encounter a very grand staircase with paintings in abundance all over the walls.
Roped walkways provide a route through Calke to guide you on your journey through the enormous place. The rooms are wonderful. One of the first treats is a library containing hundreds of old books, stuffed birds and writing desks, leading to others with the most wonderful furniture, stuffed birds and knick-knacks of all types.
In the drawing room, a guide spoke to me about the last owner of the House and the reasons behind his reluctance to pass it over to the National Trust. There was mistrust of the Trust. There was a piano nearby, next to some grisly stuffed birds, and he began to play a sprightly tune. I could have lifted up my skirts (to the ankle!), and danced around the drawing room just like Lizzie Bennett from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I thanked him for playing, and he said that the piece was in keeping with the house. It certainly was. I felt like giving him a curtsy. Instead, I moved on….
One thing I noticed about this national trust property was that all the volunteers were eager to give visitors the benefit of their knowledge of the House, cheekily challenging us to divine the purpose of some curiously-shaped implement or devilish-looking iron-chained contraption. Each room had someone available of whom to ask questions, and to proffer answers unbidden, but they are all extremely friendly, informative and helpful.
It was the servants’ quarters, however, in which I was particularly interested. There were little rooms and corridors off here and there, that were very basic in nature with concrete back staircases, very simply decorated, if at all. it was in these that the hustle and bustle of a working home took place. In the kitchen downstairs, everything has been left on the cooking ranges and tables as it had been 15o years ago.
There was the scullery and a small wooden staircase that led off into the unknown. These are the areas that I love the most. I asked the attendant where the staircase led to, and he informed me that there was a secret room at the top where the butler had his tea and the odd whiskey!
That’s the beauty of Calke Abbey. The National Trust has basically left the house as it originally was, and only renovated the parts that were in desperate need. You do feel like you are walking back in time.
The house is thrilling – it definitely needs another day’s visit. Unfortunately, time was not on my side and I couldn’t walk around the grounds. They are extensive containing an ice house, orangery, kitchen garden and a ‘HaHa’! He-he, I love that word! I will begin with a walk around the grounds when I visit again.
The exterior of the house is beautiful, ornate and majestic in size. The moment I saw it, I was so impressed that I had to spend a good amount of time just standing there and taking it all in.
These photographs are the best that could be done – I had to adjust the lighting because many of the rooms were quite dark due to the shutters being closed to stop the sunlight damaging the fabrics and furniture. I hope you like them, but they don’t do the place justice.
If you like your history and you get the opportunity, please give ‘Calke Abbey’ a visit.
PS..I almost forgot about the secret tunnel! How naughty of me keeping up the intrigue! The tunnel was constructed from the main house to the outside stables for the servants to use. It was built mainly because the Earl of the time didn’t want to ever clap eyes on a servant or a groundsman. The tunnel, therefore, kept them hidden from his view. If he did so happen to see one, he’d sack him on the spot, apparently. And that poor bugger had just probably cooked his breakfast! (That’s the British class system for ya!)