The Unstately Home and Country Estate

August 22, 2014

The Unstately Home and Country Estate

It is a dull old day in Long Eaton. So we pick up the National Trust book for ideas of places to go. Didn’t I tell you when we visited Stowe House that we joined the National Trust? There is just so much but a lot seems to be the same. Calke Abbey stood out because it was close and it appeared different because it had been restored but not renovated. We also have to collect some parcels from home from UPS but Kerry has not been able to find the UPS station to collect her parcels. With these two objectives in mind we set off.

We find the UPS station very quickly – it is disguised as a corner store with a very small sign that it is also the UPS station for Long Eaton. That puzzle solved we set off into the country side and within 30 minutes arrive at Calke Abbey. We are greeted by sheep and cattle and to my surprise dozens of vehicles with locals visiting for the day.

Calke had been founded as an Abbey just before 1100AD and given to England’s first Augustinian order whom formed the Priory. In 1129AD the Abbott of Chester seized the Priory until he was told to hand it back by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury. St Giles Church which still stands on the site today was founded in 1160AD survived the rages of Henry VIII and his Parliamentary commissioners (which the Priory did not and was destroyed) until 1834 when it became a private manorial chapel until acquired by the National Trust with the manor house in 1984 due to the family being unable to pay the 8 million pounds in death duties. The bell tower contains one of the earlier bells from the 14th century made at Leicester by Newcombe Bell-founders (source National Trust).

The church is still consecrated and holds occasional services, weddings and the like. The first family home appears to have been built in Tudor style by Roger and Richard Wendsley (1573 to 1585) until purchased by First Baronet Sir Henry Harpur in 1622 (the family had become wealthy from Richard who in the previous century had been Justice of the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster and later Chief Justice of the County Palatine of Lancaster and through marriage acquired other estates in Derbyshire and Staffordshire). The house was rebuilt by the 4th Baronet Sir John Harpur around the Tudor Home. The house remained in the family for 6 more Barons with Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe (the 10th Baronet) being the last. The last few Barons became very reclusive being educated raised and living exclusively within the grounds of the estate (source Wikipedia and the tour guide/volunteer from the National Trust).

The guide showed us through the house which has been intentionally displayed in the state of decline in which it was handed to the Trust. The Trust has located and interviewed a surviving member of the family who lives in the US and still has rights to reside in a flat within the house and two of the former staff. At the turn of the century there were still 26 household staff and 11 ground keepers, and a pony mower. We were shown both sides the lords side and the staff side and given free rein in the estate. I’ll let the phots tell the rest of the story:

  • The Stables – there is a large stable building which now houses shop café toilets and exhibits including a play area for kids
  • The house – is looking very sad and the front has lost its grand entrance stair case
  • The drawing room – the later barons were naturalists (shot and stuffed anything they could find) and mounted or encased it in this room
  • The letter box – the last baron was so withdrawn he would write letters to the staff rather than talk to them, the butler would clear the box each day and deliver the correspondence/instructions
  • The dining room – a show of wealth
  • The Butler’s Pantry – includes a dumb waiter for the meals from the kitchen and the footman (who we heard via an audio interview) slept in that room
  • The service bells – a bell for each household servant – here is one wall of the bells there were two others (the number of servants declined over the years)
  • The bed – a gift from Elizabeth I on the marriage of Sir John – apparently never slept in and so unique it has been displayed around the world
  • The kitchen and the pastry rooms – note the decay – these rooms were closed up in 1922. Note the colours yellow (lime wash and pigs urine – disinfectant effect) and the blue (apparently repelled flies from the pastry)
  • The servants dining room – just a little dampness problem
  • The walk to the church
  • The church
  • The gardens – this is a minute sample
  • The ice house – the servants cut ice form the river in winter and filled these chambers to provide ice throughout the year
  • The sheep and the deer

For more information on Calke Abbey see

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Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.