2014 marks the 400th anniversary of Robert Smythson’s death, the architect who Bess of Hardwick commissioned to design her grand new home, Hardwick New Hall. Bess wanted her new home to be a celebration of all she had accomplished in her life, and this was also very symbolic in its placement right next to the house where she was born. This meant the it had to be the biggest, the best, a real show stopper that would make people gaze in awe as they pulled up to visit, somewhere that would be instantly recognisable and that people would remember long after they had visited for its grandeur and magnificence.
Smythson had started as a stone mason, working on properties such as Longleat, before graduating to architect. Hardwick was not the first property he designed, but bore his signature symmetrical lines, and fondness of windows.
When it was designed Hardwick Hall was a really innovative design, at the cutting edge of modern architecture. When many people think of ‘modern architecture’ they think of vast amounts glass as being one of its main features, I know I do. Strange to think that Hardwick too was know for its glass when it was the epitome of modern architecture 400 years ago. We’ve obviously not changed that much in all this time!
Smythson was not only responsible for drawing the plans of Hardwick Hall but for several other stately homes as well. His other properties include Wollaton Hall (one time Wayne Manor) as well as Burton Agnes Hall. Each property has a very unique feel but you can see some similar stylistic elements that show the link between the three. As with most prominent architects Smythson’s style lived on after his career as he helped set a trend for symmetry and inspired other architects.
To celebrate Smythson’s year we have written a new tour and set up two new trails highlighting some of the important and interesting architectural elements of Hardwick Hall. The indoor trail comprises of a set of columns placed around the hall highlighting where you can see the different architectural decisions Smythson and Bess made. There is also a new exhibition in the Duke’s Room highlighting some of the most innovative architecture since Hardwick was built until the modern day.
The outdoor trail offers visitors a chance to look at the Hall’s exterior from different angles, seeing it in a new light. Personally I know it looks amazing from every angle (ok, so I may be biased) and I think its such a good idea to draw peoples eye to these different architectural elements that one might not notice without a bit of guidance. In front of the Hall we also have our ‘pop-up’ Masons shop, where on certain days visitors can try their hand at being a Hardwick Mason.
We are hoping having a slightly different focus this year will give returning visitors a new experience here, as well as encourage visitors who have never been before by talking about a different part of Hardwick’s history. I have found it really interesting already, as architecture is something I know very little about, so I’ve enjoyed expanding my knowledge of Hardwick even more, into a rather unknown area for me.
Although Smythson drew the plans for the house he did not oversee the building project, so our new tour of the Hall tells the stories of some of the masons and crafts men that where involved in building Hardwick.
Evidence of the people that built Hardwick can be seen all around the Hall in the extensive collection of masons marks visible on most stones in the walls. Getting to see Hardwick from all the different vantage points that I do I have always made an effort to take photos of the different Mason’s marks that I see. Some of the ones I find, like when we are up the scaffolding, of moving furniture, may seldom get a chance to be photographed so I have been trying to build as complete a collection as I can. Several of our volunteers are interested in Masons marks also, and we are hoping to one day to be able to match the masons marks with the name of the person behind them.
It is obvious why Hardwick was so dear to Bess, it is such a impressive house! She designed it to make an impact and it definitely does that. I can’t count the amount of times I have stopped on my way in or out just to admire the building, and the way it changes if the different seasons but always looks majestic and beautiful. Visitors are always impressed by the house, and it is so recognisable to so many, sitting proudly on top of its hill. I hope Smythson would have been very please to be remembered in such a way 400 years after his death, and with such a beautiful legacy! I know I can only hope to have such an impact on the world!