April 26, 2017
Posted in View from the table
Calke Abbey – AKA the un-stately stately home; crumbling, in disrepair and home to the weird, wonderful and a lot and I mean a LOT of taxidermy. My friend suggested that I would be right at home here (should I be offended? Nah, I’m flattered actually). So we packed food, some tunes, bundled my girls in the car and took a road trip up to Derbyshire.
I’m so glad that we did. Calke Abbey is a truly great place to visit. I will confess that stately homes often leave me a bit, well, meh… I appreciate the grandeur, the finery, the scale, the feats of craftsmanship and architecture but it’s a world away from me, a different class that I don’t really understand. There’s a stuffiness that leaves me a bit cold, all those cordoned off rooms of privilege. I didn’t feel like this at Calke Abbey, perhaps because it’s testament and home to a lifetime’s collection amassed by an incredibly eccentric family. Imagine what Indiana Jones’s gaff would look like and make it massive, huge in fact, and you’re there.
The house is owned now by the National Trust though it was once the home of the Harpur Crewe family who are described as displaying “eccentric characteristics from being strangely reclusive to fanatical collectors.” Electricity wasn’t introduced to the house until 1962 and when it was given to the National Trust much of it had been completely abandoned for decades, rooms sealed off, left in the dark with the furniture covered in dust sheets. What makes Calke Abbey stand out is that the Trust opted to leave the house in the state in which it was found. Rather than restore the property they decided instead to preserve it as ” a monument to a period of significant social change when hundreds of country houses were either demolished or converted to a variety of different uses.”
So with that in mind there’s peeling wallpaper – I love peeling wallpaper, revealing layers of other peeling wallpaper that give hints of each of the eras and years that they represent. There’s years of decay to marvel at. The house has been made safe and weather proof but it remains in a state of decay, and that appeals to me greatly. It seems more real, certainly more interesting.
Many of the rooms look like the occupier has just nipped out to the loo and to fill up the glasses; the Trust preserved many of them to be just as they were found with beds or chairs piled high with toys, deer heads, horns, books, clothes and highly collectible art, while others look like the archive area of the National History Museum, such is the extent of the taxidermy.
Now I love a bit of taxidermy, I sort of struggle with that, I don’t own any, nor do I want to, but I absolutely appreciate it – good and bad, although it’s all pretty good here to be honest. The Harpur Crewe family were natural history researchers so here you can see everything from alligator skulls and Egyptian beetles to long horn cattle and an albino kingfisher, with so very much in between. There are cases and cases of it. You could be there for hours.
There was a vintage fair on the day we went. Oh happy day. Lil got new mirror sunglasses and a skeleton badge, Amber got an 80s Lee denim jacket. Lucky Amber. I didn’t get lucky. Hey ho.
Out of the house the gardens are beautiful. I loved the decaying palm houses and orangery. The grounds are vast. I’ll come back in the summer and spend longer in them. I think you should too.