Back in May (yes, I got behind again) I took a trip to Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire. It’s an English Heritage property once owned by Sir Christopher Hatton, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourites. He hoped that the Queen would pay a visit to Kirby, which she never did, though James I and his wife were to visit several times.
Much of the house is in ruin and roofless, though there are still a lot of preserved rooms (minus furniture) and you are able to see the work that English Heritage have done to restore the decor of the house to its original state and to redesign the garden (more of which later).
You enter the Hall through the impressive forecourt, its symmetry an important architectural feature to the Elizabethans, as emphasised by the audioguide (included in the entrance fee of £5.80 for adults). This, the loggia and the inner courtyard are the areas most in ruins.
Originally the area below would have been a long gallery, filled with important artwork, and which could have been viewed from an upper window of the main hall.
Interestingly, the Hatton crest of the hind, which is evident throughout the building, was the reason Sir Francis Drake named his ship The Golden Hinde, after the man who financed his voyages. (Regular readers will know that by coincidence I had recently come across the Golden Hinde in London which you can see here).
Below is the great hall, revealing the minstrels gallery and the ceiling, which has been restored to its original colour. This would have been where the household ate, with large tables laid out throughout.
One of the impressive features of the Hall is the bay windows, such as the one below in one of the ground floor bedrooms. Bedchambers were used not just for sleeping in, but as receiving rooms for guests, or in this case later became known as the Billiard Room. Fragments of the original wallpaper from the 18th century have survived.
And the bay windows from outside:
Past the bay windows is the other part of the Hall which is in ruins – the service wing. Included here were the kitchens, a buttery and a pastry with bread-ovens.
One area which is highlighted in the guidebook and the audioguide is the restoration of the garden, which is adapted from a seventeenth-century design of the garden at Longleat. I have to say, for all the talk of how impressive it is, I wasn’t that keen on the design myself; it seemed quite plain to my ideas of an impressive garden, even if prettily laid out. The four sections are decorated with statues and decorative urns which certainly break things up a little.
One highlight of the grounds is the peacocks which live there and wander freely about. You certainly forget just how loud a peacock’s cry is until you’re standing right next to one! There are at least a dozen, male and female, and they are not at all bothered by people walking among them.
It is certainly a nice place to visit if you like ruins, which I do, and inexpensive by the usual costs of great houses but I can’t help feeling that the description of the Hall as being refitted and redecorated is a bit misleading, given that the rooms are empty of substance other than a fresh coat of paint and wallpaper. It’s still worth a visit but perhaps not as highly as I’d rank other places I’ve been to recently.