Why is Haddon Hall so unique?

Haddon Hall exterior - image courtesy of Ashley Franklin

Haddon Hall exterior - image courtesy of Ashley Franklin - Credit: Archant

Lady Edward explains why this magnificent stately home is so much more than 900 years of history

Haddon Hall shrouded in mist

Haddon Hall shrouded in mist - Credit: Archant

Driving through the main gates at one England’s pre-eminent stately homes with nobody else in sight is a surreal, conflicting experience.

On the one hand, Haddon Hall cries out for people. It’s elegance, history, imposing nature and sheer presence deserves the hum of expectant crowds – in a normal year over 80,000 per year would pass through the doors, eager to explore its every nook and cranny.

On the other, you can’t help but feel a sense of privilege, as if you have 900 years of history all to yourself; like being at a live music concert where everybody suddenly disappears into the ether and you’re left with just yourself and the musician.

The current climate dictates this was the unique atmosphere that met me when I arrived at Haddon on an autumnal, cold and windy morning. Led through the centuries-old wooden door which leads to the unmistakable Haddon courtyard I am met by Lady Edward herself who, along with husband Lord Edward Manners, is the current incumbent of an institution that has truly stood the test of time.

Make no mistake, whatever I was feeling as I stood observing this people-free powerhouse of English stately grandeur paled into insignificance compared to what she must have felt on her first encounter here, as she explained as we sat down over a cup of tea.

‘I arrived on a winter night and hadn’t previously Googled Haddon, so didn’t fully know what to expect,’ says Lady Edward.

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‘We walked around the back of the House and through the wild deer park. I was taken aback by the beauty of seeing Haddon for the first time from that side. Haddon is very much male/female. It looks so incredibly grand and impressive coming up the drive – it’s big and fortified – but the side we entered from on that December night is Elizabethan, it’s gracious; it’s very feminine.

Lady Edward Manners

Lady Edward Manners - Credit: Archant

‘I was struck by its romantic beauty. Haddon was a very different place at the time, it was essentially asleep. I walked through the Long Gallery that night and it was like entering a scene out of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast - as if I had entered an enchanted castle that had been sleeping; it had an incredibly quiet atmosphere.’

Much has changed since her initiation into Haddon life that night in the depths of winter. Her husband, Lord Edward Manners, herself and their two children have since moved into Haddon permanently, the first family to do so since the days of Queen Anne over 200 years ago.

And there are parallels now to how she felt at that time. For while Lady and Lord Manners would like nothing more than to welcome the public back once again, it has nevertheless offered a time for reflection.

‘What’s been interesting is a return to that stillness that’s manifested itself through Covid and having to close the house,’ she explains.

‘The aromas have returned and the Hall has gone back to its dormant state. In some ways, Haddon likes being left alone and it’s like it has been left to sleep once more; it’s got that musty, ancient smell to it again.’

Covid aside, Haddon Hall is thriving. Restored to its past glory – it once stood desolate from the early 1600s all the way up to 1920 when the 9th Duke of Rutland, Lord Manners’ grandfather, meticulously restored it – it is now not only a beautiful place of huge local and national historical significance, it is also a vibrant community hub.

Such evolutions don’t happen overnight and Lady Edward has channelled all her entrepreneurial spirit – she graduated in Law before going on to lead a successful London-based lingerie company amongst other ventures – to ensure Haddon Hall isn’t just fully embracing its rich heritage, but is very much looking to the future.

Haddon Hall exterior

Haddon Hall exterior - Credit: Archant

‘A very good friend once said to me that if you don’t conquer every room at Haddon, Haddon will conquer you,’ she jokes.

‘If you go back through time, even back to the Vernons, the men would traditionally go off to fight crusades and the women were left here alone to run it.

‘That’s different now, I am very much in partnership with my husband and he’s the ‘gatekeeper’, but that sense of responsibility on my part feels the same. In our case, it was particularly poignant because it had endured such a significant period of quiet. The lovely thing about that is that it has been left untouched, you almost have a blank canvas to work from.

‘Part of the determination moving forward is to open up every room, all 110 of them - to get that energy and light back and restore the Hall to its magnificent best in its entirety; nothing here is allowed to sleep!

‘There is so much history behind you and you have such relatively little time to make a meaningful difference - 30 years or so out of 900. We’re very lucky because the House after the 9th Duke of Rutland was very well restored, so it’s in incredibly good condition. However, everything he didn’t do, we now have to do, which in turn takes the pressure off our sons. It’s Grade I-listed and our responsibility to keep it up – if it falls down, we have to put it back! It’s the ultimate project, but also the most incredible privilege.’

One element weaved into every facet of Lord and Lady Manners’ vision for the House is the concept of community. And it is this, arguably, that has the potential to be one of Haddon’s current residents’ most enduring legacies.

‘Our community is so important to us,’ she explains enthusiastically.

Haddon Hall courtyard

Haddon Hall courtyard - Credit: Archant

‘It runs from those who work here, those who live on the estate, Lady Manners School, looking after the old and vulnerable and reaching as many people as we can. That’s about providing opportunities around jobs, education, charitable contributions, outreach but then you also have the agriculture of the estate and environmental protectionism; it’s all so critical.

‘The families’ roles in these houses have always been to look after and add value to the community; it’s a one-world system which has survived for centuries. It is essential it maintains that co-benefit and provides happiness, support and wellbeing; how we connect and what we can do is my deep passion, it’s what is most important to us.

‘For example, we were the first house in England, I think we’re still the only one, that lets children under 16 in completely free. That was a decision that felt very natural to us. We’re a family with young children, we know how expensive children are. The initiative has been so successful and we’re constantly thinking about how we can enlighten history for children. We do as much as we possibly can to make it a place where families can come and have a really interesting day out; a multigenerational experience.’

And an interesting day out Haddon Hall certainly is. Nestled in the valley of the River Wye, two miles from Bakewell and three from Chatsworth, its walls date from the 12th century. The first reference to it appears in 1180 as the property of Avice, elder daughter of William Avenel II; remaining in the Vernon family until passing to the Manners in 1567, where it remains to this day.

However, many additions have been woven into its fabric over the centuries; many people have changed its course and contributed to making it the wonderful landmark it is today.

And for every famous person to have passed through – Arthur Tudor, elder brother of Henry VIII who would have ascended to the throne had he not died young at Ludlow Castle was a notable 1500s guest – are ‘normal’ people who built their lives here.

The charred, black walls of the kitchen, the numerous inconspicuous engravings, the many artefacts on display at Haddon’s in-house museum; they all add to its social and physical fabric and story.

Winter artisan Market

Winter artisan Market - Credit: Archant

It’s something not lost on Lady Edward.

‘I sometimes wonder whether we should allow our children to start graffitiing – because they all seem to have done it down the centuries!’ she jokes.

‘The evidence of people is really amazing. What I think is really interesting about Haddon is that it was built by hand in the early stages, then you get the brick, then you get a slightly different architectural procedure which takes away the humanity, so the sense of people is everywhere, so much is handmade.

‘I’m so interested in the people who lived here before. The influence of them, how the house looked, and you still get such a deep sense of that; at night particularly. We don’t have that much electricity and the House by candlelight in the dining rooms is unbelievable, you just get this ethereal glow – it’s like going back in time. It can look like a film set but it is real, it existed, it survived. You’re dancing in a hall where people danced 500 years ago and the space is still being used for that purpose; it’s incredible.’

Walking around Haddon you see the history everywhere your eyes take you – be it the lower courtyard, the famous old chapel, the banqueting hall, parlour, great chamber, long gallery – each has a unique story to tell.

‘The scheme of Haddon is beautiful, the organic development and scale is beautiful, explains Lady Edward.

‘It’s the craftmanship, the doors, the handles, hinges, carvings, lead pipes, all things done by hand – you sit in a room and will always spot something you hadn’t previously seen before.

Haddon Hall at Christmas

Haddon Hall at Christmas - Credit: Archant

‘The long gallery, for example – I can walk in it every day and each day it blows my mind with its beauty. It’s just so unbelievably beautiful, it never loses its magic.’

It was the historian G.M. Trevelyan who once wrote: ‘The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another...’

Such a wonderfully evocative idea resonates strongly at Haddon and it is easy to get completely consumed and intoxicated by its past.

However, the here and now is equally important. Life is for living, after all. To that end, Haddon Hall was recently successful in securing a grant of £180,200 from the Culture Recovery Fund, which will be used to reopen the original Tudor walkway to the Elizabethan Walled gardens, creating an independent Covid-19 secure access to this area. It will also greatly assist in the development of a new programme of estate walks and talks in the ancient deer park, which will explore the historical positioning of Haddon within its ecological and ancient landscape.

‘The Culture Recovery Fund will allow us to re-open in 2021 by the re-establishment of the external Tudor entrance to the Elizabethan Walled Gardens,’ explains Lady Edward. ‘It will be of great joy to be able to reopen the hall in April 2021.’

This Christmas, also, will see Haddon Hall temporarily open its doors for a Covid-secure festive market both inside and out the Hall; a unique opportunity to witness the Hall in all its glory.

Much has happened in the intervening period since Lady Edward first set eyes on Haddon that cold, December night.

The evolution of stately homes are a process and in Haddon’s case, its long journey, which stretches back 900 years, appears to have many phases still to run.

Who knows what stage it is at. Will it still be standing 900 years from now? Historians, perhaps, will discuss the origins of that piece of graffiti that Lady Edward decides to allow in the 2020s.

What is certain is that Haddon Hall has left an indelible mark on Lady Edward and, importantly, it feels like home.

‘Haddon’s always been a home. It needs the children running around, the pack of animals which can roam with them and it needs the fires burning,’ she concludes.

‘I connected to it quite quickly, it was easy to do so because it needed me and I needed it – it provided me so much interest and joy to come to Derbyshire from London and to have a role.

‘I’m emotionally connected. I’ve had a very broad experience of life and lived all over the world. I was a Londoner and now I am a Northerner and I am completely committed; Haddon Hall is home.