My Pemberley

My Pemberley

I left for my trip to Derbyshire knowing that I had my scheduled post only a few days after I returned, but quite certain I would be inspired during my trip and have no difficulties in finding a topic. That was certainly true – I found several, and will be writing about them in my next few posts. But there is one thing that was most dominant in my mind as I visited a total of eight historic houses, in the course of this trip: I found my Pemberley, and it wasn’t where I was expecting it.

Kedleston Hall exterior

I’d visited Lyme Park, which starred as the exterior of the house in the 1995 miniseries, on a prior trip, and while I delighted in the grounds and did find that famous exterior to be very Pemberley-like, the interior is much more Edwardian in decor (Sudbury Hall actually served for the interiors, in the miniseries). I finally had Chatsworth on my itinerary for this trip, so it was my chance to see the house that’s both mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, and used in the 2005 film.

Before I got there, though, Kedleston Hall stole my heart, and Chatsworth did not succeed in stealing it back. Of all the houses I have visited, nothing gave me the feel of its being Pemberley nearly so much as Kedleston: it unites grounds, exterior, and interior, all in one place.

Let’s start with the grounds and the exterior. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; — and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance.

Kedleston Hall, with stream

I’d say Kedleston fits this description nearly as well as any great house out there. While I’ve always imagined Pemberley as more of a square or rectangular house designed around a courtyard, a la Lyme Park or Chatsworth, this neoclassical building with its side wings is certainly handsome and symmetrical, very much fitting with what would have been considered handsome in the Georgian era.

It helped that it was a beautiful summer day, but the grounds were an absolute delight to walk, with paths leading up to and through that ridge of high woody hills. In keeping with the trends in landscaping of that time, there are no formal gardens, just these lovely, artfully designed grounds. It felt like a place Elizabeth Bennet (and eventually Darcy) would have very much enjoyed walking. I could picture her lying down on the same fallen tree limb I did, and reading a book for an hour or two, as I was very tempted to do!

Some of the delightful grounds, seen from the trail through the woods
Some of the delightful grounds, seen from the trail through the woods

It’s in the fairly restrained Robert Adam interior, though, that it comes through where houses like Lyme Park and Chatsworth do not. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. 

Music room
Music room
Library
Library
File1542
Saloon/ballroom

The portion of Kedleston Hall that you tour is its state rooms, although presumably this is what Elizabeth would have seen of Pemberley, as well, and these rooms include a music room, library, and saloon (which was later used as a ballroom). Only the library and dining room were said to get regular use, but all of these rooms felt reasonably livable, like spaces that were grand, but you could still see Elizabeth feeling comfortable within. Adam’s work can get rather colorful and slightly heavier in feel in other houses, but here, for the most part (the drawing room, heavier in gilt and color being perhaps the exception), there is a real lightness and elegance, even in the spaces designed to impress, like the entrance hall:

Entrance hall
Entrance hall

And while there was no long gallery (I like to think it was upstairs and just not part of the tour!), the saloon did align with one other detail that delighted me. On reaching the house, they were shewn through the hall into the saloon, whose northern aspect rendered it delightful for summer. Its windows, opening to the ground, admitted a most refreshing view of the high woody hills behind the house, and of the beautiful oaks and Spanish chesnuts which were scattered over the intermediate lawn. 

Saloon window
Saloon window, which could be opened to the outside

Chatsworth, on the other hand, was incredibly impressive, but it just didn’t feel right. It is a show home, for a dukedom, and it was too opulent, too heavy, and most importantly, too baroque. The baroque style fell out of fashion in England well before Austen’s time, as it was felt to be too European. In its place came the neoclassical style we know today as Georgian, done to great impact by those like Adam, extending to both the architecture of the house, and the interior decoration (architects like Adam would have their hands in both). One of the most noticeable ways to see the difference between the two in these two houses, and the progression of English style, is to look at ceilings:

Chatsworth ceiling
Chatsworth ceiling
Kedleston ceiling
Kedleston ceiling

Let’s return to that sentence I quoted earlier: it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. That, to me, seems to indicate Rosings is in the baroque style, a style I think would be very counter to Elizabeth’s personality. A dark, heavily painted and guilded home is not the place for our sparkling, teasing heroine, and I do not think it’s a place she would have admired.

Heavier, darker, albeit far more famous, entrance hall
Heavier, darker, albeit far more famous, entrance hall
Music room
Music room
Dining room
Dining room

Chatsworth certainly does better from an exterior standpoint, but I would argue it’s no better than Kedleston.

Chatsworth exterior
Chatsworth exterior

And the grounds, at least in our modern day,  have been positively filled with stuff and things – various gardens, sculptures, fountains, you name it. Some of them are quite beautiful and famous in their own right, and Capability Brown, the most famous landscape artist of the Georgian era, did some of the grounds you can see today. But even some of the most famous features have been oddly interrupted with modern art, like what’s been done to the famous cascade fountain:

Cascade fountiain with modern art sculpture
Why? Why would you do this?

I am all for art, and sometimes the modern and the old can be blended together well. But that was not what was happening at Chatsworth. Kedleston is a National Trust property, and while the NT has, perhaps rightfully, garnered a reputation for being overly fussy about historical accuracy, if fussiness helps prevent things like the above from happening, I’m all for it.

Chatsworth is an impressive house, and I’m glad I saw it, but it just wasn’t anywhere near Pemberley for me. Which got me thinking about whether it was the inspiration for Pemberley, and whether perhaps Austen may also have visited Kedleston. There’s ample evidence that Jane Austen would have visited Chatsworth; she visited Bakewell in 1811, and stayed at the Rutland Arms Hotel, just three miles away. The hotel seems quite confident that Chatsworth has inspired Pemberley, as evidenced by this sign in the lobby:

Rutland Arms sign
Rutland Arms sign

This conveniently ignores that Bakewell and Lambton are indicated to be two separate places, in the book, among other things. As for Kedleston, I did some very preliminary googling on the house, which is further south, closer to Derby, and found nothing on Austen visiting, but did find this blog post noting Kedleston’s Mrs. Reynolds-esque elderly housekeeper, whose portrait still hangs in the house. I suspect that no one house was specifically Pemberley, for Austen, and that she used that incredible imagination of hers to piece together bits of perhaps Chatsworth, very likely Godmersham, and just maybe a good bit of Kedleston.

In the end I decided I didn’t need to keep digging on Austen’s inspiration. For me, it’s all about what house has the most surviving Pemberley-ish features that you can see today. And that is Kedleston, hands down, of all of the houses I’ve visited. When I left there, I felt, more than I ever have, and possibly more than I ever will again, that I had just visited Pemberley. For those looking to do an Austenesque visit to Derbyshire, you’ll be missing out if you don’t include it in your itinerary.

Kedleston's intermediate lawn (if you look closely you can see the ha-ha)
Kedleston’s lawn (if you look closely you can see the ha-ha)

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19 Responses to My Pemberley

  1. Wonderful pictures Sophie! I like how you presented your opinion on what felt more ‘Pemberley’ to you! I must admit the ceiling at Kedleston was beautiful and more to my liking…understated elegance. Yes, that modern art was more a glaring faux pas than irreverent in my opinion! Looking forward to future posts!

    • “Understated elegance” is very much a great way to put it — and describes most of the house at Kedleston. I’ve got many blog posts in mind off of my trip…I’m sorting through my photos now to be in a good place to do my posts! 🙂

  2. I remain partial to Chatsworth, I admit, but I’d still happily tour any of the great houses in England. Such terrific photos, Sophie. Thanks so much for sharing!

    And as for the modern art, I am totally in agreement. I’m not a fan of modern art in general, but it certainly doesn’t fit into a gorgeous natural scenery area.

    • Yes it’s been rare that I’ve been to a house there and not thoroughly enjoyed myself. I think Saltram, another Adam house, is my all-time favorite, though, in part because they have so much of the house still intact (including the kitchen and some servants’ bedrooms) but more because it’s very informal in the setup. Very few ropes, so you get to get up close to the furniture and have a walk around the rooms. When I was there they even let a visitor play the old pianoforte!

  3. OMG!!! I am exhausted just looking at the pictures. How is it possible to tour and devour all the details in one trip? You did an excellent job in this post. I feel like I was there and enjoying it with you. WOW!! Excellent photos. What about that modern art in that beautiful historical garden????? What were they thinking? Man that is a jolt to the senses. Perhaps someday they will fix that and move it somewhere else. So glad you had a good trip and are safely back home. Get some much deserved rest and I look forward to future posts.

    • Haha, yeah, there were definitely points where it was exhausting! I usually can only do one house in one day because it’s really a lot to take in, and then I want to stroll in the gardens or the grounds, and have tea in the cafe, etc. And I only take public transit because I’m afraid of driving on the opposite side of the road, so that results in extra walking a lot of the time. But at least I got in better shape over the course of the trip!

      As for the modern art, I think they were trying to be irreverent, but it just didn’t work for me. At all. Urgh.

  4. Hi Sophie – What an amazing trip! Wow! I agree with your conclusions. I can’t really fathom living in a home like those, but I’d much prefer Kedleston Hall. Living in Chatsworth seems like it would be oppressive and maybe even cause bad dreams or insanity. I love what you put as the caption to the water feature/art. That’s too funny. Why indeed?

    • That’s a lot of what I do as I go through them (aside from geeking out about ceilings and such), is try to imagine what it would have been like to live in a house like that, in the Regency. At Kedleston I could easily see it. I agree, Chatsworth felt like it would have been very oppressive to live in. It would have been amazing to go as a visitor, but all of that, day in and day out….too much!

Your thoughts are precious!