A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This autumn, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the Northern Midlands including Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Chatsworth & Hardwick
Many regard Chatsworth House in Derbyshire as most impressive stately home and gardens in England. It contains a unique collection of priceless paintings, furniture and artefacts.
There has been a house on the present site since Anglo-Saxon times when it was possibly originally known as ‘Chetel’s manor’. In the 15th century, it was acquired by the Leche family. In 1549, it came into the ownership of William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire, and was rebuilt for his wife Bess of Hardwick who wished to settle in her native county. In 1553, Bess inherited Chatsworth from her husband who died of alcoholism. She poured her energies into developing it. Two Elizabethan buildings from this time survive, the Hunting Tower and Queen Mary’s Bower. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here for extended periods under the guardianship of Bess, who became the Countess of Shrewsbury, during which time they both worked together on the Oxburgh Hangings.
In 1694, the fourth Earl became the first Duke of Devonshire for supporting William & Mary’s claim to the throne. It was rebuilt again as a baroque palace. The Painted Hall with its Julius Caesar theme became a focus. Chatsworth has been a ducal seat ever since. The fourth Duke of Devonshire became Prime Minister in 1756. He hired the renowned Lancelot Capability Brown to transform the landscape. The fifth Duke married Georgiana Spencer. She famously sold kisses for votes in the pubs of the East End on behalf of the Whigs (Liberals). However, she had to endure a ménage-a-trois with husband and his mistress. Georgiana was portrayed in the 2008 film The Duchess by Keira Knightley. The sixth Duke hired Joseph Paxton, of Crystal Palace fame, to transform the formal gardens. The tenth Duke’s first son William married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of future US president John F, Kennedy. It was not a marriage that was entirely looked upon in good light by the Kennedy clan. William was a Protestant and Kathleen a Catholic. William was killed in action. during World War II, Kathleen was killed in an aircrash in 1948, an early Kennedy tragedy. The current owner is the 12th Duke of Devonshire.
The formidable Countess of Shrewsbury had another house built in Derbyshire just a few miles from Chatsworth. Hardwick Hall was begun in 1591 and completed in six years by the architect Robert Smythson. All construction materials used were from a 20-mile radius: sandstone, iron, timber, marble and glass.
Indeed, the glass is most distinctive. Bess had her own factory. There are almost 1,500 panes, prompting the local saying, ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.’ It could also be described as a proto-Crystal Palace. A Latin inscription on the column outside the main door translates: ‘This is the place which… …I should not hesitate to call the palace of the vast sky.’ However, not all the windows had something behind them. In some ways it is house of tricks. Tricks of light, height and symmetry.
As an Elizabethan country house, Hardwick hovers between a Gothic past and classical future. The palatial mood betrays an appetite for power, especially with the sinuous staircase right through the heart of the house. Bess’s initials, ES: Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, are stamped all over. There are also subversive messages: Bess’s rival, Queen Elizabeth I is represented as Diana, the huntress, or depicted as Venus to Bess’s Cupid. In the Great Chamber, the royal motto Dieu Et Mon Droit is written Dieu ES Mon Droit. In the bed chamber is a carving of the biblical Sarah who murdered all her husbands on their wedding nights. The ceiling in the upper room depicts two Indian queens, and Bess’s rose entwined with Mary Queen of Scots’ marigold. Reaching the very top is rewarding. The Banqueting Room in the roof has splendid views. Hardwick Hall is now administered by the National Trust.
Chatsworth & Hardwick – two of the finest English houses you could wish to visit.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)