Friday, August 9, 2013

Junk or National Treasure?

I've just had a visit from an American friend so spent two weeks doing the tourist stuff and making full use of my National Trust ticket. Its been lovely visiting places I've seen before and rediscovering through the eyes of another. One of our visits was to Calke Abbey. Back in 1983 there was a flurry of press, political and public interest when an obscure country house and its contents were discovered in the depths of rural Derbyshire. Calke Abbey, probably the most unknown and inaccessible of England's country houses was offered to the Nation in lieu of £8M death duties. After much governmental debate when the house was described by some as a treasure and others as being full of junk, the Chancellor announced in March 1984 that funding was being made available to save Calke Abbey for the nation.

The picture that led the campaign to save Calke
It's ownership and management moved to the National Trust. The house had been owned by the Harper-Crewe family and like so many in the UK had declined in the 20C to the point of dereliction. As money and resources became scarce, the surviving family members, closed the doors on sections of the house and retreated to the remaining areas.  The National Trust made the momentous decision to stabilise the house and its contents as found in the 1980's but not to restore. Much of what the visitor sees today has remained untouched since the 1880's.

The main entrance was once at first floor level but the grand staircase was removed to make the great hall into a museum housing a collection mainly of stuffed animals and birds

The house where time stood still

Typical outhouse buildings
The blacksmith's shop
Parkland landscape

Stabilised but ruined garden walls - National Trust meets Disney!

The grounds surrounding the house are generally in what might be described as 18C English landscape style with grass, trees, a lake and the inevitable sheep, although I can find no mention of any of the notable 18C landscape designers. Hidden away behind clumps of trees and a crumbling stone wall (skillfully dismantled and rebuilt to its decrepit appearance) lies the walled garden which has been beautifully planted with appropriate flowers, fruit and vegetables. Unlike the house, the glasshouses have been restored. It all demonstrates the importance of kitchen gardens for feeding a great country estate. In fact the area in current use was at one time just the physic garden and the actual productive garden was the vast field-like area beyond the small walled gardens.

The flower garden showing fashionable 19C bedding

Auricula theatre but with summer display of pelargoniums

One of the restored greenhouses

Inside showing cast iron heating pipes - latest technology in 19C - pity about the modern yellow hosepipe!

Restored conservatory

All this would once have been kitchen garden

Peach house

Stabilised decay

Beautiful old brickwork everywhere

The small current vegetable garden

Just love the colour of these cabbages

One of the old greenhouses back in use again.

It is fascinating to see some of the intricacies of a working walled garden, such as the potting shed, complete with prize cards collected by some long gone  but proud Head Gardener. Then there is the ice house, really an adjunct to the kitchen, as ice was collected from the lake in winter, stored in a vast underground cavern where it remained frozen for summer use. Finally and looking very much like the entrance to the ice house, there is the gardener's tunnel, constructed so that gardeners could pass under the pleasure grounds with produce for the kitchens without being seen - horticultural version of the back stairs!

Potting shed - is that a Flymo amongst the decay?

Ticknall Village Show - awards up to the 1980's but traditionally in the name of the employer, Harper-Crewe, not the gardener!

Entrance to the Ice House

Entrance to the gardener's tunnel
The house end of the tunnels - cosy on a winter's day!

Let's end with a touch of colour

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