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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Hardwick History Brought to Book!

Posted Friday, November 13, 2009

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Hardwick History Brought to Book!

 

“Hardwick: A Great House & Its Estate”

A Victoria County History Publication

 

Phillimore & Co. (ISBN 978-1-86077-544-4) £14:99. pp-198.

Philip Riden & Dudley Fowkes.

 

This latest book in the `England’s Past for Everyone Series’ is co-written by well known local historians Philip Riden and Dudley Fowkes, and provides ample textual evidence that it is compiled by historians who write, rather than by writers with a passing interest in local history!

No frills: Simply…a wealth of fascinating information!

 

This perhaps, is its attraction, for there is nothing superfluous or superficial amongst its pages; no flowing prosaic passages, no delicately balanced, exquisitely framed poignant observations; no loquacious reveries; no frills - simply seven chapters with a wealth of well researched and fascinating factual information arranged in chronological order, and over a hundred illustrations, many of them in superb full colour.

Tour de Force!

In fact this book is not just a conducted historical tour of Hardwick Hall, Estate and environs covering a period of almost 500 years, but a veritable tour de force which incorporates a running commentary on the changing fortunes of the Cavendish family, and the social and economical history of Hardwick’s surrounding villages from the 16th century to the present day.

The text is littered with helpful maps, graphs, and family trees, and as an additional bonus (especially for local history researchers, like me!) there’s a twenty-two page reference section at the back - which includes a full bibliography and alphabetical index, along with an invaluable list of titles for `further reading’ on this and related subjects..

What the Panel says…….

Interspersed pleasingly amongst the chapters are seven `panels’, each containing a synopsis or overview of aspects of the particular chapter in which they appear; for example, in the chapter which posits Hardwick as the power-base of a new empire being built by Bess in the 1580’s and 90’s, the appropriate `panel’ is titled `Symbols of Regional Power’ and includes a map displaying all the great houses in the area, along with a description of the architectural style, mainly by Robert Smythson of Bolsover.

My favourite is panel number 5, titled `Ault Hucknall Church and Parish’, not least for the detailed description of the Saxon influenced early Norman architecture, and the excellent atmospheric photograph of the ruins of the old church at Lounds (Heath).

The attractive cover has a fabulous aerial shot of the Hardwick Estate, courtesy of the English Heritage Photo Library, which is taken from almost directly above the two great houses built by the Countess of Shrewsbury, regarded by the current Duke of Devonshire as the `spiritual inspiration of the Cavendish dynasty which she founded’.

These are all plus points; on the minus side I found the repetition of factual information in the early chapters a bit tedious, and some of the passages difficult and awkwardly phrased, which made the text slightly confusing at times.

Finally, as a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile and collector of rare volumes, I confess to a bias for aesthetically pleasing `authentic’ books, and am not enamoured by the plethora of electronic digitally printed `synthetic’ productions which seem to have become the vogue recently; I find them too heavy for their size and awkward to fit on my bookshelves. However, this book is an exception, for although it’s certainly weighty and I personally find it an awkward size, it's a book which is `perfect for purpose' - for it achieves exactly what it is designed to do, to educate and entertain.

Authors and publisher are to be congratulated for producing an excellent reference book which makes a comprehensive guide to Hardwick: A Great House and its Estate - and as such it will be a valuable aid to study, and a welcome addition to any store of local historical knowledge - and fully deserving of a place on my library shelves!

In conclusion I have to agree with the Duke of Devonshire who in his erudite foreword writes: “For all the hundreds and thousands of people who admire Hardwick as one of Britain’s most beautiful architectural triumphs this book will be essential reading”.

TB

Contact Tom: reblee.tom@gmail.com

 
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