All you need to know about Renishaw Hall

Renishaw Hall

Renishaw Hall - Credit: Renishaw Hall & Gardens - Chrysalis Photography

Words by Janine Sterland

Showcasing immaculate Italianate Gardens, hidden woodland enclaves, an award-winning vineyard and home to Alexandra Sitwell’s family for nearly 400 years, Renishaw Hall creates a lasting impression within the landscape of North East Derbyshire.  

‘I was brought up here from the age of seven onwards, it’s still very much a family home, I have lots of happy memories from living here,’ reveals Alexandra.  

‘The house isn’t a classic architectural gem but it has a terrific charm; as it is a family home, not a museum, it is very bewitching – I feel this is one of the reasons why people love to visit. 

‘The core of the property is 17th century with wings added on during the regency time. Inside, the contents of the house are layers of the family’s collections through time – it’s a very quirky collection including English oak furniture, John Piper twentieth century art, classical and Italian pieces – it’s pretty magical, I love it all.’  

Adjacent to the house, formal gardens feature romantic pathways with flourishing layered borders - clearly defined with towering yew tree topiary and classical Greek statues.   

‘The gardens are breath taking and very unusual with an Italian based design and huge English herbaceous borders, they are wonderful,’ says Alexandra. 

Alexandra Sitwell with her husband Rick Hayward

Alexandra Sitwell with her husband Rick Hayward - Credit: Renishaw Hall & Gardens - Chrysalis Photography

Most Read

‘The garden continuously evolves each year with the additions of new trees. We have an ongoing review of aspects to change or themes to include with colour being an integral part of the garden. 

‘The front of the house includes silvers, magentas and purples, further down on the bottom terrace there are Mediterranean hot colours with late summer flowering in bright oranges and yellows.’  

Near to a 19th century gothic temple, originally built as a conservatory to house exotic plants, a spectacular collection of hydrangeas dominates the garden shrubbery; these follow a winding path and lead to an area scattered with a delicate palette of powdered pastel tones.  

‘Each part of the garden has a specific colour theme,’ says head gardener David Kesteven, who has worked at Renishaw Hall for 24 years.  

‘We have a variety of different shades from apricot to bright pink and scarlet – we are rather obsessive about colour!’  

For the borders to remain at their best throughout the year, and by using the analogy of redecorating the rooms of a house, David describes how plants are often moved around the garden and areas are refreshed when necessary.  

‘Looking at aspects periodically, we decide if old plants need moving, this is very much a live garden and areas change - although undeniably the main features of the garden remain the same.’  

Renishaw Hall's beautiful gardens

Renishaw Hall's beautiful gardens - Credit: Renishaw Hall & Gardens - Chrysalis Photography

Providing a spectacular viewpoint to the house, the distinctive Italianate area takes a lead in carrying one of the main gardening priorities during early Autumn.  

‘Structure is sacrosanct; as the garden is designed with boxes, yew pyramids and buttresses, cutting these will take between six- and eight-weeks’ adds David.  

Another challenge has been cleaning the central large fountain – the swimming pool.  

‘It has taken four years to reveal a crystal-clear appearance, we found heat waves were having an adverse effect on the water as it changed green over time.’  

Having worked at Renishaw for such a long period, David has witnessed a change in climate temperatures which is gradually altering the life cycle of the garden.  

‘I have had a unique perspective to watch the garden react differently to the weather for over 20 years. Temperatures have been hotter, drier and very warm – flowering times have shifted so we constantly monitor the affect this has on the garden.’  

As well as the noticeable changing of climate temperatures, David says new wildlife has added to the garden’s hares, badgers as well as varieties of birds and insects.  

‘Roe deer are a recent addition; they were spontaneously seen walking across the countryside. We also have barn owls, kingfishers, dragonflies and cormorants – the garden is very much alive.’  

A personal legacy and long-term goal for the garden, he feels, will be a rare variety of magnolias which have taken over ten years to breed.  

‘We have over 60 rare varieties – I collect their seeds and germinate them at this time of the year.  

‘They take about ten years to flower with flowering during early autumn. I hope to see an orchard develop into an amazing magnolia garden with unique varieties raised at Renishaw; this is a long-term goal on the periphery of the gardens and through the woodlands.’  

Exiting the garden and entering the 18th century courtyard complex, the Sitwell Museum houses rare family collections including the works of the family’s literacy trio, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, as archivist Christine Beevers explains.  

Literary history museum at Renishaw Hall

Literary history museum at Renishaw Hall - Credit: Renishaw Hall & Gardens - Chrysalis Photography

‘The Sitwell museums were the brainchild of Lady Sitwell, Alexandra’s mother.  In the early 1990s Alexandra’s parents realised the potential of the stable courtyard complex for hosting exhibitions and museum displays highlighting the history of Renishaw and the Sitwell family.’   

For the past 25 years, exhibitions have highlighted fascinating memorabilia relating to Renishaw’s literary history as well as the decorative and performing arts.  

‘The museum has featured informative exhibitions detailing interesting family members – of which the Sitwells have many!  

‘There are numerous letters, photographs, books and images recording the literary life and career of Osbert Sitwell, as well as famous cultural and society figures who were friends, although sometimes enemies – such as Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward, or protégées such as Dylan Thomas.’  

Interestingly, Christine says Renishaw Hall has inspired famous literacy works.  

‘The daunting north exterior of the Hall contrasts with the softer, south side facing the garden. The house left such an impression on writer D.H. Lawrence that it is thought to be the model for Wragby Hall in his novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’   

This diverse museum of artefacts also features a series of more personal items from Alexandra’s private collection and family history details - a variety which, Christine feels, enhances the visitor experience at the estate.  

‘The joy of working within a large archive still in the house it originated in and belongs to, is that new things are discovered every week and these are a source of inspiration for new and fresh ideas to add to the visitor experience.’  

Queen Victoria's dancing slippers

Queen Victoria's dancing slippers - Credit: Renishaw Hall & Gardens - Chrysalis Photography

Highlights of this collection include the baronetcy robes of Alexandra’s father Sir Reresby Sitwell, beautiful fans and a dainty pair of satin dancing slippers once worn by Queen Victoria.  

‘These are signed on the bottom: ‘The Queen’s shoe’ and were given to Viscountess Forbes, great-grandmother of Lady Sitwell, Alexandra’s mother, who was Woman of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.  

‘Upstairs, a costume gallery displays historical garments from the 18th and 19th century, Osbert Sitwell’s dressing gown as well as many beautiful dresses worn by Alexandra and Lady Sitwell, including Alexandra’s wedding dress.’ 

Christine explains the material for Renishaw’s exhibitions and displays are drawn mainly from Renishaw Hall’s private collection and archive.  

‘Alexandra inherited a vast amount of archive material from the previous nine generations of Sitwells. These are invaluable to learning more about the contents of the Hall as well as its architectural history.  

‘On a personal level, the archives are the best way for Alexandra to ‘get to know’ her Sitwell ancestors, their lives and how they contributed to the house she now lives in and the collection she is a custodian of.  

‘It is usually the smaller, more personal archive items which leave the lasting and often most emotive impression. It is these things which add to the narrative of an exhibition or guided tour and really bring a room, a person or an event to life.’