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Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall dates mostly from the 14th and 15th centuries. It was owned by the Vernon family for hundreds of years but remained closed and empty for a period of 200 years until brought to life by the 9th Duke of Rutland in the 1920`s. It contains a magnificent Banqueting Hall and an oak panelled Long Gallery, 110ft in length and 17ft wide. This many windowed room has diamond panes set at different angles to maximise the amount of daylight entering. 

The kitchen complex is one of the most fascinating parts of Haddon Hall. There are wooden blocks, work surfaces, through which holes have been worn by constant chopping and pounding, a no frills hunk of oak that served as a chopping block, a well equipped bakery and butchery. Originally there were no windows here and little ventilation, the staff working by candlelight. The 9th Duke left this area as he found it, converting the former stables into a modern kitchen for family use and constructed a 47 yard underground tunnel for their meals to be delivered up to the hall.

The chapel, completed in 1427, is notable for it's remarkable wall paintings.

Memories of Derbyshire - Elsie and Haddon Hall

Romantic Haddon Hall which nestles secretively beside the Wye and whose history dates back to about 1080 has been the seat to just a handful of families. The names of Peverel, Avenel, Vernon and Manners are more recently linked with roads, courts, closes and places.

For several generations Haddon stayed in the hands of the Vernon’s, during which time most of the buildings we see today were constructed. However, in 1567 Sir George Vernon died without male issue and Haddon passed by the marriage of Dorothy Vernon with John Manners, the second son of the First Earl of Rutland, to the Manners family where it has remained for some 425 years.

In the early eighteenth century Haddon ceased to be occupied, the family residing mainly at Belvoir Castle in Lincolnshire. Haddon therefore avoided the extensive modernisation and possible destruction which affected many of England’s finest country houses . For two centuries it remained almost untouched, being used only as an occasional weekend retreat, and its rooms lay largely unfurnished but retained their features and fittings. At the start of this century the then Marquis of Granby, later to become the 9th Duke of Rutland, took an interest in this romantic country mansion and deliberated in its careful restoration. It was at this time that Elsie was for six years to call Haddon Hall her home. Those six years are affectionately remembered and shared with the reader.

Elsie, who originated in Lincolnshire, recalled the day that she visited an agency in Derbyshire which specialized in positions of employment in country estates, and was offered the job of housemaid at Haddon on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.

“They were in the process of building the gatehouse when I started work; my home was to be the cottage attached to the stables just before the approach to Haddon’s north-west tower entrance. Here I lived in the winter months. However, in the summer the Duke and his entourage – a selection of servants and staff from Belvoir – descended on Haddon from May to September. Further staff would be sent to his London home which was opened for the ‘season’. During these months I lived in the Hall itself as the cottage became the quarters for the kitchen staff. Occasionally visitors would use the Hall’s bedrooms and I then lived in the newly built gatehouse.”

“The Duke was a very quiet and somewhat old-fashioned and solitary gentleman. His time at Haddon was spent mainly fishing . Occasionally he was accompanied by a friend and there may have been the odd dinner party, but I never remember any large parties or banquets taking place. The visitors would be upper class but I cannot recall Royalty staying whilst I was there.”

Over the fireplace in the Earl’s apartments are two signatures to the Hall in 1913 and 1933 by Her Majesty Queen Mary. The latter signature is accompanied by King George V’s signature, who also visited at that time.

The 9th Duke of Rutland had a comprehensive plan for the restoration which included the house and gardens , and took many years to complete. He took professional advice from Professor Tristram FSA who was a famous authority at that time. The roof of the banqueting hall being one of his largest projects which was replaced 1923-25, the original timbers having rotted and decayed.

The new roof was designed by Sir Harold Brakespeare and required 40 tons of carefully selected timber from oaks grown on the Haddon and Belvoir estates, and 25 tons of Derbyshire slate.

There are three main beams each cut from a timber about 32 feet long and weighing about 3 tons. The corbels on which they rest weigh about 5 or 6 cwt each. The initials of J G and K G (John Marquis of Granby and Kathleen Marchioness of Granby) are carved in one of the beams, whilst hidden in a hollowed out section is a lead box. This secret time capsule contains documents relating to the restoration.

Another mysterious anomaly is a painting in the Long Gallery passed by countless visitors without a second glance, its secret unnoticed. This picture, which was painted in 1933 by Rex Whistler, contains part of an earlier painting representing a scene from classical history. On the right are two far from contemporary figures reposing under a thatched shelter. The man is the 9th Duke of Rutland whilst the boy is his son.

“The Duke was very particular about the upkeep of the Hall. I was not generally associated with housework, but in January all the staff were employed in spring cleaning. We were given pails of water with sponges and brushes - no soap was allowed.- this was very important. The water was used to clean stonework such as the fireplaces. The furniture and panelling was just dusted – no polish!”

In 1925 there was a disastrous fire in the stables next to the cottage and sixty pieces of irreplaceable tapestry were destroyed. They had been stored in rooms on the upper floor. During the repair work the Duke installed a modern kitchen. It was connected to the old kitchen in the Hall by an ingenious concrete tunnel some 142 feet in length which contained an electrical railway on which ran little trolleys to convey food to the Hall. The line of this tunnel can still be seen today, covered in turf and situated behind the wall on the approach to the Hall. It emerges in the old kitchen down a step of steps, near to where a fireplace originally stood.

“In the summer the kitchens were very busy with the staff that came over from Belvoir. There was a scullery maid who washed up and prepared the vegetables, a first cook who concentrated on the staff meals and a head cook who has remained a friend of mine over the last fifty odd years. She prepared the pastries, meat and fish. They used huge copper pans and baking sheets, and there were two ovens and a big hob. The Duke’s favourite meal was trout, especially if he had caught it himself – he liked it fried!”

When the summer holiday was over the staff from London came to Haddon before returning en masse to Belvoir. Elsie moved back to the cottage and life became very quiet again apart from the weekends when the Duke returned in order to go shooting . With the onset of World War II, Haddon was commissioned by the War Office for use as a stronghold of Government records.

“There were large rolls of brown papers which were used to entirely cover the floor, the furniture was moved out of the way and boxes full of files and records were stacked in the Banqueting Hall and Dining Room right up to the ceiling. An official man came from London to organize the storage. We had black-out curtains up in the cottage, and the Duke made sure that they were drawn whenever he was around.”

“The Hall was closed up for the remainder of the war and there was nothing for me to do, so in 1941 I left Haddon and moved to Matlock where I was employed by Paton & Baldwins making taps and dyes for the war effort. I later went to Nottingham and worked in an office.”

“I never lost touch with Bakewell, visiting friends and acquaintances regularly. In 1971 I married and settled here permanently. Sometimes I would visit the Hall and reminisce, but I haven’t been back for quite some time now. I wonder if it has changed. Maybe I’ll get to see it again one day?”

As a result of this article, and before her death several years ago, Elsie was invited back to Haddon for a special surprise tea party and guided tour which she thoroughly enjoyed..