Calke Abbey was acquired by the National Trust in 1985 as a most unusual property where it seemed that time had stood still. The Harpur family had lived there since 1622 and were noted for their reclusive eccentricity. In 1985 the property was in need of extensive repair but was lacking in modern amenities and cluttered with the collected family paraphernalia of centuries . The decision was made to carry out essential repairs only and keep the property, so far as possible, in the state that it was left . You will not find, therefore, a highly restored interior but a most interesting and informal picture of a grand country house in its latter years of occupancy and decline. It has a unique fascination.
A memorable example of the idiosyncratic nature of the family is the star exhibit of a stunning state bed given to the family in 1714 and never erected! Complete with Chinese embroidered silk hangings the bed can now be seen in an air conditioned display and is ‘as new’ and meticulously preserved.
The main south front of the hall seen here was built for Sir John Harpur in the early years of the 18th Century by an unknown architect who drew inspiration from a number of sources including, in all probability, the work of a 16th Century French Architect, Philibert de L’Orme.
Calke Abbey is set in extensive parklands landscaped to reflect the grandeur of the property and any visit will be rewarded by a visit to the church and extensive gardens. A short walk along a separate path from the front of the house leads you to the church which, perhaps as a result of Calkes monastic origins, has unusual status as a ‘peculiar’ outside the normal diocesan organisation. The original church was built in the late 16th Century and recased in Gothic style by Sir George Crewe in 1827-9. It contains a number of monuments including one to Henry Harpur Crewe who gave Calke to the National Trust.
Close to the church are the enormous walled gardens created in 1773 and consisting of a kitchen garden which was grassed over in the 1960’s and a flower and physic garden. The small flower garden is carefully maintained and is a peaceful and sheltered place to relax. The 18th Century domed orangery has been recently restored but equally interesting are the heating systems for the various greenhouses.
The physic garden is carefully maintained and neatly planted with vegetables and you will also find a herb garden and orchard. The atmosphere of a well cared for and actively used garden pervades this area. The stables, close to the house, contain a range of agricultural and domestic relics in unrestored condition and an underground passage through the cellars and old brewhouse leads to another range of agricultural buildings, dating from the late 18th Century, where a restaurant, shop and audio visual presentation can be found.