Kedleston Hall is a country estate just north of Derby, home to the Curzon family since the late 1200s.
The Hall is the third incarnation of a house on these grounds. I’m not sure what happened to the first one, but the red brick version that preceded this one was deemed lacking in sufficient grandeur.
Fear not good sir, with this 1700s build, tis the case no more. With its soaring ceilings, delicate plaster friezes, ornate ceilings, marble and extensive use of gold, it is the very picture of grandeur.
The architecture owes something to Roman villa living, especially the entry hall, a take on the Roman atrium, flanked by enormous fluted alabaster columns. Here’s the extraordinary bit – they were fluted in situ, post installation. Can you imagine the pressure? One chip in the wrong place meant a whole column, already installed, would be lost.
The interior decorative style however is very much Grand Tour, with heavy European leanings. All that gold…not very English!
The Trust has undertaken extensive restoration works in the Hall, especially on its fabrics – the blue damask that features prominently on the furniture and walls has been painstakingly recreated from a historical sample.
The effect, like any good redecoration, has breathed new life into the rooms that feature it.
The blue ladies’ withdrawing room in particular, looks as if the interior designer puffed the last cushion only moments before.
The ground floor features Lord Curzon’s extensive collection from his travels, particularly India, of which he was Viceroy at the beginning of the 20th century.
Elsewhere on the ground floor are far more modest, early 20th century family rooms that are cosier than their glamourous upstairs counterparts.
The library has an interesting display of the timeline associated with women obtaining the vote in Britain. Lord Curzon was a staunch opponent of the movement. He felt that exposing women to politics and war, the business of the realm, would undermine the fabric of society, which (he felt) was heavily underpinned by women being in the home.
He may have had a point – once women saw the opportunities that were a given to men of the time, sitting at home giving birth to endless children and running a household would have lost its appeal fast. Luckily for us, women’s efforts during the war went a long way to quell the fear that the world would fall apart without women chained to the house. Women apparently could step into men’s shoes, run the country, do men’s jobs and all without getting the vapours and needing a good lie down. Who knew! Well, all of us, for a start. Women were given the right to vote in the UK in 1918. There were some conditions attached, you had to be over 30 and a university graduate, for example. It wasn’t until 1928 that the right to vote was unconditional, barring being over 21, for both sexes. It wasn’t that long ago.
How quickly times have changed over the last 100 years.
Kedleston Hall’s grounds are extensive. If time permitted, one could take one of several walks ranging from 1.7 to 3.2 miles, all without coming close to leaving the property.
I heard one visitor ask a guide, “so what did Lord Curzon do for a living” and the answer was “he owned land”. All this, from being essentially, a landlord of the time. It puts the term “landed gentry” into perspective, doesn’t it?
We’re on a quest to head north to make the most of our extended time in the UK, so there’s no time for a lovely long walk. We do however walk to the bridge that crosses over the enormous three tiered lake.
It has hundreds of resident geese who strut around like they own the place.
We also visit a very impressive stable block that formed part of this current build. Bouncer sound like he was a good horse!
We’re also fortunate that the Norman church on site, dating back to the 1100s, is open. The guide tells us that the church is lucky to be there, being one of the oldest surviving churchs in the area. Had it not been for the money invested in saving the building in the 1700s when the Hall was built, it would be a ruin now.
Late afternoon sees us on the road again. We’re heading towards the Peak District for a change of pace. A few less grand mansions, a little more nature. As we pass though the Midlands into the Peak District National Park, we’re in greenery at last.
Lushly green pastures replace burnt grasslands, sheep make way for cows and stone fencing replaces hedgerows. With a softly misting rain, it’s starting to look very much more like the England I love.