Calke Abbey
Calke Abbey
Calke Abbey is built on the site of a 12th century Augustinian priory, set in a secluded hollow in the Derbyshire hills. That seclusion is in keeping with the character of the house and generations of the eccentric Harpur-Crewe family who owned it since 1622.
Calke Abbey house was built in Baroque classical style for Sir John Harpur in 1701-1703. The exterior is unadorned, almost plain, and the interior houses a varied collection - not of fine furniture and objets d'art, as you might expect, but of stuffed birds, mammals, fossils, and other natural history oddments gathered by a succession of eccentric owners. The rooms have been left virtually unchanged from the 1880s and have been preserved as an example of an English country house in decline.
The pace of life at Calke moved slowly. Very slowly. Telephones were not installed until 1928 and electricity only came in 1962. The Harpur-Crews preferred to live life in a traditional fashion, eschewing modern conveniences for an isolated existence. If ever a house deserved a reputation as a time-capsule, it is Calke Abbey.
The neoclassical entrance portico
The neoclassical entrance portico
A perfect example of the family's eccentric behaviour is a magnificent state bed, a gift to a family member in 1714. The bed, with embroidered Chinese silk hangings, was never erected, but remained in storage. It is now on display in a special air-conditioned cubicle, perfectly preserved.
The Harpur who initiated the family reputation of isolation was Sir Henry, who inherited Calke Abbey in 1789. Sir Henry was terribly shy, and withdrew as far as he was able from the polite society of his peers. Sir Henry then committed a social faux pas that isolated him even more; he married a lady's maid who worked in the house. He retreated from the outside world even more; he never spoke to his servants, but delivered his orders by letter.
The same technique was used by the 10th Baronet, Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe, who fell out so badly with his family that he resorted to sending letters through the public post rather than speak directly to them! Sir Vauncey had a reputation as a domestic tyrant; he forbade his daughters from marrying, and kicked one daughter out of the house permanently for smoking.

Outside the house the award-winning grounds incude extensive landscape parklands, a walled garden created in 1773, and a restored 18th century orangery. Near the house are the stables, where old agricultural and household implements are on display.

The Tunnels
One of the most fascinating features at Calke is an underground passage leading through the cellars and brew house to another set of agricultural outbuildings. Our daughter declared the tunnel to be a bit spooky, but I thought it was quite atmospheric, and unique in any stately home I've visited. There are further tunnels for gardeners working in the grounds to proceed to their work without disturbing the family.

A short walk up the sloping hill above the house brings you to the late 16th century church of St Giles. This was rebuilt in Gothic Revival style by Sir George Crewe in 1827. Inside are memorials to generations of owners including that of Henry Harpur Crewe, who granted the house to the National Trust.

NOTE: a timed ticket system is in effect on all but the quietest days, so visitors can expect to wait. When we visited on a sunny afternoon in May we had to wait about 20 minutes for admission.

The grand staircase
The grand staircase
The jumbled interiors
A jumbled bedroom
A gilded state room
A gilded state room
St Giles church
St Giles church
The 18th century orangery
The 18th century orangery
Inside the tunnels
Inside the tunnels

About Calke Abbey
Address: Ticknall, Derby, Derbyshire, England, DE73 7LE
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: 9 m S Derby, on A514. For sat navs, use DE73 7JF
Website: Calke Abbey
Email: calkeabbey@nationaltrust.org.uk
Phone: 01332 863 822
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
Location map
OS: SK356 239
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Melbourne Hall - 2.3 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Staunton Harold Church - 2.7 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Ashby de la Zouch Museum - 3.9 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Ashby de la Zouch, St Helens Church - 4 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle - 4.1 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Donington Collection of Grand Prix Racing Cars - 4.4 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Moira Furnace - 5.6 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Grace Dieu Priory - 5.7 miles (Abbey) Heritage Rating



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    Nearest Tourist Information Centre ('as the crow flies')

Ashby-de-la-Zouch
Tourist Information Centre
Ashby Library
North Street
Ashby-de-la-Zouch
Leicestershire
England
LE65 1HU
Tel: 01530 411 767
Email: ashby.tic@nwleicestershire.gov.uk
Web: http://www.goleicestershire.com/Ashby-and-Coalville/
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