01 September, 2012

Calke Abbey: the "un-stately" stately home

On the way to our recent family holiday in the Yorkshire Dales, we broke our journey by visiting the National Trust property Calke Abbey.

This is rather an unusual place. Dubbed the "un-stately" stately home, it has been very little restored since being taken over by the National Trust in 1985. Unlike most of the Trust's properties, peeling paintwork, untidy, cluttered rooms, and overgrown courtyards are the order of the day here.

The idea is to present the property in the state in which it was left to the Trust, at a a time when families were struggling under the burden of maintaining these enormous houses and, due to lack of funds, were often forced to close up rooms (and sometimes whole wings) of their homes and let nature take it course. The effect is refreshing -- rather than passing through splendid room after splendid room, the visitor comes to understand the worries and problems faced by the owners of Calke and so gains a more intimate insight into their lives. It is also  interesting that, at Calke at least, preservation does not necessarily equate with restoration.

And finally, on a more modern note, when entering the Calke estate, you are handed a CD to play in your car on the drive up to the house. The running commentary explains a little about the history of the house as well as pointing out key landmarks as you pass by them. Once parked, you return your CD to visitor reception. All rather ingenious and not something I've encountered before.

Just in case you're wondering, I would heartily recommend a visit to Calke.

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