Kedleston Hall – A walk in the park (no peasants allowed!)

Our county of Derbyshire has many exceptional stately homes, where ordinary folk like me can catch a glimpse of what life was like for the English super-rich before inheritance taxes prompted them to modify their extravagant lifestyles. Kedleston Hall, an 18th century Palladian and Neoclassical masterpiece now managed on behalf of us all by the National Trust, isn’t the most famous of these, but it’s definitely one of my favourites.

Rear of Kedleston Hall viewed from the Long Walk, with the C12th All Saints Church to the left. Note also the ha-ha, which is invisible from the Hall and stops wandering sheep getting too close.

Of course, when you’re obscenely rich, conspicuous consumption doesn’t have to end with your palatial mansion – when you’ve spent as much as bad taste will allow on alabaster, marble and gold leaf, you can always throw more of your wealth at the rest of the estate. Kedleston is a case in point. As you wander through the magnificent parkland in which the Hall sits, it’s easy to forget that this is an entirely man-made landscape.

Trees have been selected and positioned to add to the visual appeal of the parkland. The sheep help too!

Kedleston is the ancestral home of the Curzon family, who have lived in the area since the 12th century. Between 1759 and 1775, Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale (1726-1804) commissioned renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) to design an opulent new mansion, flanked to the south and west by an elegant formal garden of trees and shrubs. Surrounding the Hall and garden, and separated from them by a ha ha – a sunken wall which was invisible from within and intended to keep livestock out – was a landscape comprising some 800 acres (324 hectares) of rolling, naturalised parkland.

Robert Adam’s fine three-arched bridge, one of the highlights of Kedleston’s parkland

Once there was a small village at the centre of the estate, clustered around the C12th All Saints Church. However in 1759, as was the custom of the time, the villagers were all evicted to ensure that Baron Scarsdale could go about his daily business on the estate without any danger of coming into contact with representatives of ‘the great unwashed.’

An idyllic landscape, now managed on behalf of the nation by the National Trust

The peasantry having been removed, it was time to set about taming the landscape. Adam put the stream that traverses the estate to good use, moving mountains of earth to create a series of scenic lakes and cascades. To cross the stream he built a fine three-arched bridge, and this remains one of Kedleston’s most impressive features. Other structures to adorn the parkland include a bath-house and a fishing pavilion, although several temples and follies proposed by Adam were never completed.

One of the civil engineering works required to create and manage Kedleston’s lakes

Robert Adam wanted his creation to be enjoyed from all angles, and to this end he designed the Long Walk, a winding three mile circuit through the estate, with views of the rear of the Hall and across the parkland.ย  It was this walk that Mrs P and I embarked upon a few weeks ago.

The bath-house, designed by Robert Adam

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, lambs frolicked playfully under the watchful eyes of their mothers, and the vistas offered by the Long Walk were uniformly pleasing. After long months confined to our own modest house and garden by the Covid restrictions it was great to escape its confines and to enjoy the wide open spaces that the Kedleston estate offers.

Aaah, cute!

Robert Adam was without doubt a genius: both the Hall (which I shall write about in a future post) and the parkland lift the spirits enormously. But if you ever visit Kedleston do spare a thought for the local peasantry, who lost their homes so that this magical place could be created as an exclusive pleasure ground for Baron Scarsdale and his idle-rich buddies!

12 comments

  1. Yeah, Another Blogger · 10 Days Ago

    Itโ€™s good to be able to get out and wander about. Whatever you do, though, donโ€™t adopt one of the sheep!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurie Graves · 10 Days Ago

    A place of contradictions. So beautiful, but what an ugly history. Yes, I was thinking of those peasants. Where did they go, I wonder? Anyway, it seems fitting, somehow, that the estate is now open to the unwashed masses. Take that, Baron Scarsdale!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · 10 Days Ago

      I believe that descendants of the family still live in some private apartments tucked away in one wing of the Hall. I wish them no ill (none of us are responsible for the actions of our ancestors) but it must be rather galling for them to look out of the window at the great unwashed trampling all over their ancestral estate. How the mighty have fallen!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves · 10 Days Ago

        So true! Can’t blame the current generation for the unenlightened beliefs of their ancestors. Still, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in thinking about the unwashed masses tromping about on what was once exclusive grounds. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · 10 Days Ago

        Yes, agreed. ‘Schadenfreude’ is alive and well, and living in Platypus Towers!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves · 10 Days Ago

        Exactly the word I was thinking of.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The June Journal · 10 Days Ago

    Thank you for the beautiful pictures and history of Kedleston Hall. I feel sad for these peasantry. In the old time, people were far away being treated equally. However, we have learned a lot from history. A Facebook friend missed the announcement of flight and the calling of her name at the airport by engrossed in reading Ken Follett book of โ€œThe pillars of the earthโ€. I think I am going to read the book too๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · 10 Days Ago

      Like so many beautiful places, both here in the UK and throughout the world, Kedleston has some dark, hidden aspects to its history that are easy to miss unless you look carefully. Historians and well-informed novelists (and even bloggers ๐Ÿ™‚) can help us gain of more complete under of the places we visit. I laughed when I read about your Ken Follet experience…I really should try that book too!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. tanjabrittonwriter · 10 Days Ago

    The scenery looks very bucolic, doesn’t seem to show any signs of the long-ago eviction. Knowing what little I know about the aristocracy, they didn’t really seem too intent on taking regular baths themselves. That’s what powders and perfumes were for!
    I’m still waiting for a report about Kemberley in Derbyshire–the miserable half! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · 10 Days Ago

      Yes, the darker part of Kedleston’s history is easy to miss unless you actively seek it out. Indeed, the history of ordinary people has traditionally been largely ignored, primarily because most historians were drawn from (or aspired to join) the more privileged sections of society. But as you rightly suggest, in reality the idle rich didn’t smell any better than the rest of us…however they could afford much better ways of disguising the stench! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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