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Castle History

Friends Forward Plan



Elvaston GardenElvaston Castle Country Park was the first park of its kind in Britain. Following the proposal in the Countryside Act of 1968 that ‘country parks’ should be created to provide improved opportunities ‘for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public’ in conveniently located areas, the suitability of Elvaston as a site for a country park, situated only a few miles south-east of Derby, was immediately recognised.

The acquisition of Elvaston castle and surrounding land by the County Council and Derby Corporation was completed in 1969, and the park was opened on Good Friday 1970. Prior to its opening, however, the grounds required extensive work to overcome the problems created by over 25 years of neglect. Many trees were pruned and restored, and shrubs were cleared to bring light and air to other specimens. Unfortunately some areas like the Bower Garden were beyond restoration.

Following the opening of the park, the lower stable yard was restored and became home to the Working Estate Museum, opened to the public in 1980. It was (until closed down by the County Council), a working museum where staff in period dress helped visitors to experience something of the lives of those who worked on the estate in the early 20th century. The top stable yard was also developed to provide improved visitor facilities, including a shop, information centre, and a schools' field studies centre.

The park spans 325 acres of varied landscape, including beautiful woodland, gardens and open parkland. It offers a wide variety of facilities, from a riding centre and showground to caravan and camp sites. A permanent nature trail has been made there and part of the park has been set aside as a Local Nature Reserve. Surveys have also been undertaken in the past to monitor the wildlife and compile information on the different species of birds, plants, insects and small mammals present in the park.

Elvaston Castle and the surrounding parkland was the seat of the Earls of Harrington until 1939. The gothic-style castle was designed for the 3rd Earl of Harrington in the early 19th century by the architect James Wyatt, although Wyatt himself did not live to see his designs carried out. The 3rd Earl also wanted to see a new landscaped garden to go with his rebuilt castle, and offered the commission to a famous landscape gardener of the time, Lancelot (Capability) Brown.

Brown, however, turned down the invitation because the area was so flat, and so it was left to the 4th Earl Charles to finish the work at Elvaston. Charles was quite a character. When he inherited his title in 1829 he had earned himself a reputation as a dandy and Regency buck. He was a trend setter, and attracted the friendship of the Prince Regent, who copied his clothes, tea drinking, and addiction to snuff, the Earl had 365 snuff boxes, one to use on each day of the year! He designed many of his own clothes, and many of his fashions were copied, however odd.

In 1831 Charles married Maria Foote. She was 17 years his junior, an actress and an unmarried mother (neither of which were socially acceptable at that time). Although their love affair had begun in the 1820s, marriage had been out of the question while Charles’s father was alive, and the affair was a favourite topic of society gossips. The Earl was devoted to Maria, however, and it has been suggested that the gardens he commissioned at Elvaston were his tribute to their love (The inside of the Moorish temple in the Alhambra garden was decorated with symbols of the chivalric love of a knight for his lady, and there was even a statue of the couple showing an adoring Charles at Maria’s feet!).

The gardens were created for Charles the 4th Earl of Harrington by William Barron and a team of 90 gardeners between 1830 and the Earl’s death in 1851. Barron’s design created a series of theme gardens to the south of the Castle, including an Italian garden based on designs from Tuscany, and the Alhambra garden which included a Moorish temple. The bower garden, which became known as the Garden of the Fair Star, had a monkey puzzle tree in a star shaped bed at its centre, as well as many statues and green and yellow yew trees clipped into different shapes.

Barron also planted several avenues of trees and constructed a large lake on the site (where, incidentally, some of the scenes in Women in Love were filmed). Charles was impatient to see his new garden take shape, and so to meet his demands Barron pioneered a method of moving mature trees from one place to another. Some of the yews which became part of the gardens at Elvaston were already hundreds of years old, and were transplanted over distances of many miles to reach Elvaston.

By 1850 Barron had planted examples of every species of European conifer then known at Elvaston, as well as an avenue of limes which led to the Golden Gates. These gates, which had previously adorned the royal palaces at Madrid and Versailles, had been acquired by the 3rd Earl of Harrington in 1819. Under the 4th Earl the gardens at Elvaston remained a private place for the Earl himself and his wife. It had to wait for the succession of Leicester Stanhope as the 5th Earl of Harrington before the gardens were opened to the public.

When the gardens were opened thousands of people visited them despite the rather high admission fee of three shillings, often travelling to Elvaston on special excursion trains. During and after the Second World War the castle at Elvaston was home to a teacher training college, evacuated for safety from Derby. Every room in the castle was needed to accommodate over 150 staff and students, the cellar was used as an air raid shelter, and the Hall of the Fair Star became a lecture room and common-room.


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