Recently we took a trip to Bolsover Castle, an English Heritage site in Derbyshire. (I won’t say when we went, as the time between me making these visits and being able to sit down and write about them seems to increase exponentially). We don’t visit nearly as many English Heritage sites as we do National Trust, though that’s not any kind of conscious decision.
Bolsover Castle isn’t like a lot of historical houses/sites, in that it is really the bare bones of the castle and surrounding outbuildings, including its ruins. There isn’t any furniture or artifacts to admire, just the castle itself and the beautifully decorated rooms of the Little Castle as pictured above and various other buildings. (I would say if you go, do get the audio guide, as it provides a lot of essential information – there are no informative signs anywhere other than to tell you name of the rooms inside the Little Castle, for instance.)
Above is the interior of the Riding House, built in the 1630s by its owner William Cavendish, who took his riding extremely seriously and even wrote a book on the subject. It was used for manège – making horses circle, leap or kneel. There was a viewing gallery, from which this picture was taken, which allowed the progress of the horses’ training to be watched.
Past the the Riding House Range are the ruins of the Terrace Range, including the service rooms, as above. There were several stages of building work on this site, each adding more rooms and storeys. They included the dining room, lodging room and dressing room and gallery amongst many others. Below you can see the west front of the Terrace Range which had a long series of large windows in order to provide light for the gallery.
The main point of interest however is the Little Castle, the oldest of the buildings and a miniature version of a medieval castle, hence its name. One of the most beautiful of the Castle’s rooms is the Star Chamber, so named because of its ceiling which is designed to resemble the heavens, in keeping with the tradition of royal palaces at the time.
Only family and the most privileged of guests would have been permitted into the Star Chamber, to eat and to be entertained. Originally it would have been even more lavish than its appearance above suggests, with tapestries hanging on the walls and sumptuous furniture. The ceiling itself, part of the English Heritages conservation work, has stars made of lead and gilded with gold leaf.
The panel paintings are of both Old and New Testament figures, such as St Catherine with her wheel.
Outside in the garden is the Venus Fountain, dating some time after 1628.
Venus is copied from an original sculpture in Rome, but was carved by locals using Derbyshire stone. It was painstakingly restored to be as true to the original as possible.
The little boys around the edge were reconstructed using evidence from the surviving fragments and lifted into place once the new pipework had been installed, allowing the water to flow in the fountain for the first time in two centuries.
And that’s it for the mini tour of Bolsover Castle. There are other rooms to see that I haven’t gone into, beautifully decorated and which have undergone some excellent restoration – though there are plenty of areas that have been kept just as they were if that’s more your thing. It has a fascinating history that I’ve barely touched upon and is a really good mix of interior and exterior ruins, showing the decline of a great house as much as revealing a fantasy house designed for lavish entertaining where King Charles I was once a guest.
Information taken the audio guide, the official guide book and website. Photos all taken by myself.