Monday 30 May 2016

Green Spaces

In England we probably take for granted our public parks, recreational areas, and the gardens created for us to enjoy within our cities and towns.  Across the centuries the great parks and gardens designed by such people as Capability Brown, Repton, and William Kent were privately owned by the aristocracy or the very wealthy and were for their use only. Only common land was available to the public on which to walk or graze some sheep or cattle, but today we also have the right to roam across moorlands, valleys, hills, and along footpaths through the countryside

The very first green space to be made especially for the public was Derby Arboretum which was gifted to the people and the town in 1840 by Joseph Strutt, a member of a prominent local family of industrialists. It still thrives today making it now not only the first but the oldest public landscaped area in any town or city in this country. Strutt was a noted philanthropist and was grateful to the working people of Derby for the part they had played in helping him and his family amass their fortune. He wanted to convey his thanks by providing a much needed recreational facility for the rapidly explanding and urbanising area. He commissioned John Claudius Loudon to design the park, but Loudon adapted Strutt's original plans for a botanical garden with pleasure grounds to his own vision using landscaped high banked walkways creating the impression of undulating countryside. It took 15 months to complete and in September 1840 the opening was marked by a parade from the centre of Derby to the new park. 

In 1859 the Arboretum was visited by Frederick Law Olmsted while on a research tour of Europe and it is thought that he incorporated features of Loudon's work into his design for Central Park, New York.
A statue of Joseph Strutt presides over the entrance to the arboretum

'Green lungs' a place for town and city dwellers to walk or jog, meet friends and relax away from the hurly-burly of everyday life
(I am aware that the green colour in this post looks unrealistic, but following the wet, slow, Spring this is how our countryside is looking this year. I have used picmonkey to try and lower the tone of the greenl)

Saturday 28 May 2016

The Great Survivor - Part 3

Here in Derby Cathedral lies Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury 1527 - 1608
A lifelike effigy of Bess of Hardwick which she designed for herself, thus ensuring that even in death she remained in control, an icon of Elizabethan female power. The tomb is made from marble and I strongly suspect local Chellaston alabaster, famed in the middle-ages for its superior quality and transported all across Europe to make fine statuary.
To live for 80 years during the Tudor period was in itself a feat when the average age reached was 35 years. About 25% of people died during birth or before they were 5 years old - it was also common for women to die giving birth. If you survived childhood and your teenage years then you had a good chance of living to your 50s or if lucky your 60s, so Bess's life could be considered charmed. She survived giving birth to eight children, avoided succumbing to any of the countless childhood diseases, and avoided getting smallpox or the dreaded plagueIn her early 60s at a time when most of her contempories would be dead, Bess set about the major task of building her beloved Hardwick. 
Bess's resting place in Derby Cathedral is somewhere that I used to pass twice daily as a six year old on my way to Convent School, where incidentally I was not very happy. You can read my school tale here if you are interested.
The Cathedral is fortunate enough to be filled with the most wonderful ironwork crafted by Derby's Master Ironsmith, Robert Bakewell. He is considered England's greatest and most accomplished wrought iron craftsman. Born in 1682 he went to London to learn his trade under the celebrated French craftsmen Jean Tijou and Jean Montigny at Hampton Court. It is thought Bakewell may have been introduced to Tijou whilst Tijou was working at Chatsworth House which too was built by Bess and her second husband William Cavendish. 
He returned from London to Derby specifically because of the rising prosperity of the town and the wealth of the local gentry. He forged a friendship with Lunar Society founder member John Whitehurst that led to them making weather-vanes together. 
In 1725 Bakewell was commissioned to make an iron screen for the interior of what was then All Saints' Church (now Derby Cathedral), but ended up making a screen for the Mayor's Pew, altar table, communion rail, churchyard gates, and railings to surround many of the monuments. He was apparently paid just under £500 for his work which was actually a princely sum in 1725.

The Mayor's Pew
My brother-in-law was the Mayor ten years ago, and I now wish that I had seen him sitting here in all his mayoral regalia

 We stayed two minutes away from the Cathedral in an hotel that had two wonderful stained glass windows of two notable 'Derbyshire Worthies'.

On the left is Izaak Walton with his fishing rod, and famous book "The Compleat Angler" and to the right Robert Bakewell, who did the wonderful ironwork in the Cathedral holding the tools of his trade. 

Thursday 26 May 2016

Bess's Hardwick - Part 2

The gardens at Hardwick are surrounded by these elegant stately walls. If you look beyond them it is possible to see the old house that Bess abandoned half way through the build in preference for her far grander Hardwick, which was created for her by a cast of thousands in only seven years

Clematis alpina 'frankie'
Pretty Erysimum 'Artist's Paintbox'
Tudor Herb Garden
The ground floor was for services, with pantry and kitchen on either side of the great entrance hall
The Muniment Room - dating back over four hundred years, each box contains legal documents, title deeds, and other documentary evidence relating to land ownership
Many of the embroideries, laces, and tapestries are over 400 years old. It is the largest collection of c16th and c17th textiles to have been preserved by a single English family.
The one above is at least 12 feet high - a monumental piece of appliqué embroidery c1573 being part of a set called 'Noble women and their virtues'
This grand stone stairway leads on upwards to the family rooms on the taller first floor
Entrance doorway to Bess's apartments showing 
a carved stone soldier, symbolically reinforcing the real soldiers who would have rotated guard duty on the stairway landing. There is most likely some symbolic meaning to the closed and open peapods and also to the hand grenade above the soldiers head but I am not sure what.
Another long wide flight of stone stairs leads to the State Appartments where the big windows on the top landing give a contemporary appearance. On this second floor the Great Chamber is hung with tapestries and paintings, but has the most spectacular plaster frieze running around the entire room
Full of symbolism it depicts Diana, Greek Goddess of hunting who is surveying a hunting scene filled with many exotic animals that would have been unknown to the majority of people in the 1590s. Diana is an allusion to Queen Elizabeth I, notably as on the opposite wall to where Diana is sitting is a unicorn, a creature that can only be captured by one of pure heart. The frieze includes the Tudor coat of arms, another reference to Queen Elizabeth I
The Long Gallery is one of the highest and longest in England - just over half of it is shown here.
Next time Bess's final resting place

Tuesday 24 May 2016

A Tudor Girl from Derbyshire - Part 1

Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury - 'Bess of Hardwick' - National Portrait Gallery
In the year 1527 Elizabeth was born at Hardwick, Derbyshire - the fifth daughter of a Squire and Yeoman Farmer. From minor gentry she rose to become the richest women in Elizabethan England next to the Queen and was widely known as 'Bess of Hardwick'.  She was a young girl when her father died, and her mother remarried. Bess was placed in service to a local prominent household - Sir John and Lady Zouche of Codnor Castle. Whilst there she met her first husband, a wealthy youth called Robert Barlow. They married when she was 15 and he was 13 but he had a terminal illness and died within a year, the marriage was unconsumated, but he left her a third of his income and a widow's pension.
Five years later she met and married wealthy William Cavendish of Suffolk, they had 8 children, bought the Chatsworth estate for £600, and Bess became a Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth 1. Ten years after their marriage William died leaving Bess a widow once more. Two years passed and she married Sir William St. Loe, who was Captain of the Guard to Queen Elizabeth - he was so enamoured with Bess that he endowed her with his estates and disinherited his own kinsfolk when he died five years later. 
Three years on and her final fourth marriage was to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewbury - an extremely rich and powerful man who was made the guardian of Mary Queen of Scots. Bess separated from Talbot accusing him of an affair with Mary, which she was later made to retract by Queen Elizabeth and her Council. Lord Shrewsbury died soon after, and she inherited his iron works, smithies and glass works, along with Bolsover Castle and its coal pits. She had parks in Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire used for pasture, along with minerals and timbers, and she gained a large widow's settlement.  
Bess was now extremely wealthy but also very shrewd, she had ambitions that her granddaughter, Arbella, would one day become queen. One of her sons from their Cavendish father became the Duke of Devonshire, but her daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, married Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox which gave their daughter Arbella an excellent claim to the English throne through the Stuart line especially as Queen Elizabeth I was without issue.

Now a widow in her late fifties Bess set about building Hardwick Old Hall on the spot where her father's modest manor house had once stood, but with her even greater wealth she abandoned it in favour of Hardwick New Hall which she had built literally over the garden wall from the incomplete building.

Hardwick New Hall took seven years to complete.  It is one of the finest Elizabethan houses with it's six towers filled with huge glass windows. Glass was a great luxury during the mid C16th and was only available to the aristocracy or the very wealthy, but of course Bess also had at her disposal her very own glassworks too
Bess lived to the ripe old age of 80, a very long life in the c16th - but more on Hardwick where she lived for her last 20 years in the next post.  
Forgive me my digression, but it is tempting to compare 'Bess of Hardwick' to US President candidate Donald Trump. Both risen from provincial origins, married several times, with a brood of children. Formidable Bess had 4 husbands and 8 children, Trump 3 wives and 5 children - he still has time to catch her up! Both built themselves impressive towers filled with glass as statements of both their new found power and great wealth. Bess emblazoned each apex of her six towers with her cipher carved in stone (ES and crown stands for Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury) Donald Trump's glass towers are adorned in large gold lettering proclaiming 'TRUMP'.
Bess nearly became the grandmother of a queen, but could Donald Trump become President?