Hardwick Hall - History and Facts | History Hit

Hardwick Hall

Chesterfield, England, United Kingdom

Built for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, aka ‘Bess of Hardwick’ in the last decade of the sixteenth century, Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire is one of the UKs finest examples of an Elizabethan ‘prodigy house’.

Lily Johnson

24 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Hardwick Hall

Designed and built by Robert Smythson (of Longleat and Wollaton Hall fame), Hardwick Hall is one of the UK’s finest examples of an Elizabethan ‘prodigy house’, a term for ostentatious palatial-style homes built by courtiers and described as ‘noble palaces of an awesome scale’ and ‘proud, ambitious heaps’.

Hardwick Hall history

Hardwick Hall was built between 1590 and 1597 for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, aka ‘Bess of Hardwick’. Through a keen head for business and four marriages to progressively wealthier men, including the esteemed George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, Bess rose to become the richest woman in England, second only to Queen Elizabeth I.

The most striking elements of Hardwick Hall are the vast, multi-paned windows, a statement to Bess of Hardwick’s supreme wealth and power, particularly at a time when glass was considered luxurious. Even the chimneys were built into the Hall’s internal walls to leave room for more windows, and the striking end result gave rise to the local saying ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.’

Constructed at the site of Old Hardwick Hall where she was born, the new Hardwick Hall was a particular passion project for ‘Bess the Builder’, and would be owned by her ancestors the Dukes of Devonshire for 450 years. Their family seat of Chatsworth House was also another of her building projects.

After the 10th Duke of Devonshire died, the house was handed over to the Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty in 1956 and it was subsequently transferred to the National Trust in 1959.

Hardwick Hall today

Today Hardwick Hall is still managed by the National Trust and is open to the public. Inside, each of the three main storeys has a ceiling higher than the one below and the house includes one of the longest ‘long rooms’ in England.

A stunning array of 16th century furniture and artwork is on display, including the jewel in this particular crown – a collection of huge late 16th century tapestries dotted all over the grand mansion, due to Bess’ role as a prolific needleworker and collector of tapestries.

Located on a hilltop between Mansfield and Chesterfield within the grounds of a country park, while visiting Hardwick you may also see rare breeds of sheep and cattle alongside a number of decorative, herb, and vegetable gardens, an orchard, and many beautifully manicured lawns.

Getting to Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall is located in Doe Lea 8 miles south-east of Chesterfield via the A6175, and can be reached by taking Junction 29 of the M1 and following the brown tourist signs. The closest train station is Chesterfield, from which a taxi or the Pronto bus from the coach station may be taken to the site.

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