Houses of Interest: Derbyshire

Bolsover Castle: mmmm, I hear you say. Besieged? Nope. Battle of? Nope. Home of William Cavendish the Marquis of Newcastle, and commander of the King's northern army? You'd be correct.

Okay, so there wasn't a big dust up here in the seventeenth century, but if you get a chance to visit, it's well worth it.

Like several grand houses in Derbyshire, Bolsover had a Royalist garrison, which was a bit of a thorn in the Parliamentarian side. Troops from the garrison venturing out to disrupt Parliamentarian activities, and gather supplies. On one occasion an "agent" was sent to Derby to sow discord and incite rioting.

Home to the Cavendish family, William entertained King Charles and his Queen, Henrietta.  William was an accomplished horseman, and was to become Charles II's riding instructor.

A castle existed on this site from the eleventh century; Charles Cavendish, and then his son William, undertaking a major rebuild in the early seventeenth century.

After the defeat at Marston Moor, Newcastle fled to the continent, and Parliamentarian forces moved into Bolsover. In 1649 The Parliamentary Council of State ordered the slighting of Bolsover to prevent it being used as a defensive military structure.

The castle is now cared for by English Heritage. So expect the obligatory café and shop selling chutney and toy swords.

What's there now?

The stable block is most impressive, fans of exposed roof beams will be ecstatic. During the spring and summer, there are demonstrations of Stuart riding techniques in the stable block. Think of it as Derbyshire's very own interpretation of Vienna's Spanish Riding School. But smaller. And with only one horse.

Part of the stable block has interpretive panels explaining why the castle is in the condition it is in, life in the castle in the seventeenth century, and William Cavendish's relationship with the royal households.

The house built by Charles and William is now just walls. Keep the small people occupied by seeing how many jacks (keeping the walls up), and how many survey markers they can spot.

The Little Castle is intact, and shows seventeenth century decor off nicely, having been restored by William's children.

One of the fireplaces has some nice ECW militaria embellishments

Adjacent to the Little Castle is a walled garden, with a central fountain.

Anything Brussels can do, Bolsover can do better. In your face Mannekin Pis!

There are a number of car parks serving the castle, all located on Castle Street. two adjacent to the pub (one of which is purely for castle visitors), further dedicated castle parking on the right just after the entrance to the castle (English Heritage signage), and a further car park located near the fire station.

Okay, not a 'house of interest', a church: St Mary's Church Wirksworth. Really interesting church with Anglo Saxon carvings from an earlier church on the site. Parliament's man in Derbyshire is buried here - Sir John Gell.

Buxton Museum has a contemporary portrait of the Regecide, Justice John Bradshaw. Sadly not currently on display, it can be viewed online at ArtUK.

Hardwick Hall is interesting, two houses for the price of one you might think. Or not, as in this case. The more intact house, Hardwick Hall, is cared for by the National Trust. English Heritage, cares for Hardwick Old Hall, a mere road’s width away. The National Trust have the car park, tearooms and toilets. English Heritage have a ruin.

Hardwick is famous for being built by Elizabeth I’s friend, lady in waiting, and Derbyshire matriarch Bess of Hardwick. Or more formally Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury.  Bess built Hardwick as a statement piece when in her 60s, once complete she moved out into another of her properties – Chatsworth. Married four times, it is her second marriage to William Cavendish which is probably of most interest to the Civil War aficionado. Their fourth child, Charles would father William Cavendish (aka Earl of Newcastle). 

Colonel Charles Cavendish, on display in the Long Gallery

Between them Bess’s dynasty would own Bolsover Castle, Welbeck Abbey, Hardwick and Chatsworth. Her great grandson, (yet another, but different) William Cavendish, 3rd Earl of Devonshire, would be impeached by Parliament in early 1642 but fled the country and into exile. Day to day running of Hardwick would fall into the hands of his younger brother Colonel Charles Cavendish. Charles was de facto colonel of the The Duke of York’s Regiment of Horse. Charles would fall at Gainsborough in July 1643.

What’s there today?
The Hall is world famous for its collection of Tudor tapestries, but there are a few artefacts to pique the interest of the Civil War anorak. The entrance hall has a fine display of armour, there are a number of harquebusier sets of breast and back plates and three bar pot helmets. There are a handful of morions too. On either side of the door are a number of pistol holders. The number of items on display is suggestive that they were for a troop attached to the Hall. No evidence places a garrison at the Hall, however the dynasty’s other properties were garrisoned:
Colonel John Frescheville’s Regiment of Horse - Bolsover and Welbeck garrisons (Frescheville also had a foot regiment, which could account for the morions)
Sir Sigismund Beeton’s Regiment of Horse – Bolsover garrison
Colonel John Milward’s Regiment of Horse – Chatsworth garrison (also a foot regiment)
Colonel Rowland Eyre’s Regiment of Horse – Chatsworth garrison (also a foot regiment)
Colonel Roger Molyneux’s Regiment of Horse – Chatsworth garrison

Do these helmets and cuirass belong to one of these regiments? The National Trust catalogue has scant details, but I would imagine that they probably do have a connection to one, or more of the family’s other properties. Sadly, I don’t think we will ever know. (My guess is that they are from the Chatsworth garrison, as there appears to be a stronger connection between the two houses: Hardwick's archive, for example, is held at Chatsworth.)

Both houses are swathed in scaffolding at the moment; the Old Hall is currently closed to visitors.

Swarkestone bridge is a mile long medieval bridge and causeway that crosses the River Trent and surrounding marsh land. The marsh has long since been drained but the thirteenth century structure is no less impressive. Such a strategic river crossing was understandably guarded by local troops (in this case Royalists under the command of Sir John Harpur of nearby Calke Abbey). Sir John Gell lead a sizeable Parliamentarian force to take the bridge on the 6th January 1643. Casualties were minimal before the Royalists realised that their position was untenable so turned and fled. 

As the bridge struggles to be wide enough to cope with two lanes of modern traffic the walkway is very narrow. Best viewed from the beer garden of the Crewe and Harpur pub, with a drink in hand.

Calke Abbey is an intriguing National Trust property a few miles away from the bridge. The eclectic and down at heel residence has little to offer in the way of Civil War artefacts other than a couple of portraits, and what looks to be a cannonball from a drake. It does, however, provide the perfect antidote to immaculately presented stately homes.

Postcodes for SatNavs
Bolsover Castle S44 6PR
St Mary's Church, Wirksworth DE4 4DQ 
Buxton Museum, Buxton SK17 6DA
Hardwick Hall, Chesterfield S44 5QJ
Swarkestone Bridge (Crewe & Harpur pub) DE73 7JA
Calke Abbey, Ticknall DE73 7JF

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  1. Excellent as ever. I visited Bolsover a couple of years back and it got me thinking about horses obviously enough. The sheer number of horses needed to support the armies in the Civil Wars must have been significant. Both the breeding and training of horses required significant investment and must have operated on a close to industrial scale, yet I've seen little direct historical research about this aspect.

    1. Thanks Dex. I remember seeing a volume by William Cavendish (Newcastle) for sale at the the Portland Collection (on the Welbeck Abbey estate) about the training and riding of horses - I didn't pick up a copy, I wonder if it gets a mention in there?

    2. Thanks for your comment - it reminded me about Welbeck Abbey, another of the Cavendish dynasty's properties. I've updated the post.


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