Several blogs have been talking about Calke Abbey recently. A few weeks ago I shared some images of the magnificent state bed at Calke with Courtney Barnes. Janet Blyberg then showed us some beautiful pictures taken during her visit to Calke. Now Hannah has quite independently posted her own atmospheric photographs of the house.
Hannah mentioned that she had forgotten to photograph the exterior, so I thought I would show an image of it here. I found that we have this nineteenth-century painting on file, artist unknown. It seems to capture the brooding presence of the house in its wooded hollow.
As everyone has been discussing, what strikes you at Calke is the evidence of past generations, the seemingly untouched strata of objects and surfaces.
Paradoxically, it took a huge amount of work by National Trust curators and conservators to preserve and display the house in this way. The aim was to prevent the building and its contents falling apart altogether, while taking care not to over-restore anything.
Even the objects that are strewn about in apparent disarray have all been inventoried and, if necessary, treated. This is the subterfuge – or, if you like, the magic – of conservation at work.
This double portrait shows Henry Harpur Crewe (1763-1819) as boy with his mother. Henry was the first of the Harpur Crewes to display the profound reclusiveness that was to characterise succeeding generations of the family.
The wearing of skirts, by the way, was common for small children of both sexes. Janet has recently posted a photograph from the second half of the nineteenth century of a little boy in similar attire.
Most of Sir Henry’s descendants shunned society, preferring the company of their gamekeepers and tennants. Sir John Harpur Crewe (1824-1886) and his son Sir Vauncey (1846-1924) developed a passion for natural history and accumulated a huge and very diverse collection, much of which is still at Calke.
Henry Harpur Crewe (1921-1991), who inherited Calke from his brother, was determined to preserve the house with all its layers of history intact. After an intensive publicity campaign, and following complicated negotiations, the ownership of Calke passed to the National Trust in 1985.
The estate was accepted by the Government in lieu of tax and handed to the National Trust (about which more in a future post). Grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, from the Historic Buildings Council, a special grant from the Treasury and gifts from many private donors made this rescue a truly national effort.
And so Calke remains suspended in time, reminding us of the mystery of the past.