Saturday, 19 January 2013

Kirby Hall

It had been snowing overnight so we set off early to get to Kirby Hall on time for the English Heritage tour.  The site has limited open days at this time of year but this was an exclusive members only tour.  We had to leave the car at the gates and walk down the snow covered drive but that gave us a wonderful first view of the house.  It appeared shrouded in fog like a set from a ghost film: the epitome of wealth and elegance.  It came as a surprise to find we were the only people taking the tour until they explained they had managed to contact everyone else to tell them not to come!  But Beryl was happy to be our private guide.

Kirby Hall was built in 1583 by Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth 1.  In 1561 he came to the attention of Elizabeth as a young man of 21 fresh out of Oxford.  Apparently she was much enamoured by his legs ... and his dancing ability.  (My history teacher called her The Virgin Queen: modern media would have a different title I'm sure!).  A contemporary described Hatton as "tall and proportionable" and he became one of the Queen's favourites.  By 1564 he was a member of the Privy Chamber; by 1572 the Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard; in 1577 he became Vice Chamberlain of the Royal Household and she gave him a knighthood. Another gift was a London property belonging to the Bishop of Ely - the Bishop was not impressed but what could he do?  That part of London is still called Hatton Gardens. Mary Queen of Scots was convinced he was being rewarded for some very special royal duties that he carried out for the Queen!  

Hatton built the Kirby Hall with Elizabeth in mind. 

At the time it was the largest privately owned Elizabethean house in England.  It was reported to have been 7,300 square metres.  It was three stories high; had two large state rooms; a beautiful long gallery and well furnished accomodation for elite society and their servants.  It was built in the Italian style - symmetrical facades; Doric columns and 123 huge glass windows (at a time when glass was very expensive).  He had rooms specially decorated for Elizabeth and private rooms directly above hers for himself. 
This was the original building. 

The cost of building the place almost bankrupted Hatton.  He died relatively penniless eight years after its completion. Unfortunately there are no records that Elizabeth  ever spent a single night in that house. 

On Charles Hatton's death it passed to his nephew.  In 1607 it was bought by James 1 and 40 years later Charles 1 was kept prisoner there for six months until he was handed over to Parliament.  The property was then sold to Adam Baynes, a captain in the New Model Army.  He demolished most of it - leaving only a small domestic wing!  It was remodelled in the nineteenth century but fell into disrepair.

I don't believe in ghosts but I left there feeling slightly bereft.  Don't get me wrong - I had enjoyed the tour, well worth the trip,  but that house had been so full of life and hopes and dreams and now those days were gone.  The house was like a ghost and English Heritage now look after the remains.

I will return to Kirby Hall at some point just to see the formal gardens ... and the sixteen peacocks.

  In the 1700s the gardens covered 15 acres.  It has a formal structure that stretches out 1700 feet to a stream and a 'wilderness' area which was carefully laid out as it contained " almost the whole variety of English trees and ranged in an elegant order." 


  1. What a beautifully atmospheric place. (and he looks rather handsome too)

  2. Oh, how enchanting! All your photos are magical, especially that first one of the Kirby Hall facade!

  3. It will be very worthwhile to visit Kirby Hall garden in summer again, I think. The formal garden, lane and peacock also look in snow lovely.

  4. Excellent post, about another matchless part of this countries heritage.