It was the morning after the Riddles of the Night* workshop that I have shared again recently. We wandered out into the landscape. Although the workshop was over, apparently, the work begun on the weekend was only just beginning… Parts One and Two of the day’s adventures can be found by clicking the highlighted link.
Other than the Elizabethan connection, we really had, at that point, no idea why we had felt the need to visit Haddon Hall. We knew little about the place, apart from the legend of the romantic elopement of Dorothy Vernon and the fact that ‘ye harmytt’ of Cratcliffe Crags had supplemented his hermit’s income by supplying rabbits to the Hall for the pot.
We knew, though it had somehow failed to register, that the ‘Newark’… the chapel built at Bakewell church where Sir Godfrey Foljambe and the Knights of the Shrine had met, and which was proving such a fascinating ground for speculation… was also the chapel in which many of the Manners and Vernon family were buried. The very same families responsible for the building of Haddon Hall.
Coincidentally, Henry Foljambe had married Benedicta Vernon, linking their families too. And both the Foljambes and the Manners families had links by marriage with the Cavendish family who own nearby Chatsworth, arguably the greatest of the Great Houses… and whose emblem just happens to be a serpent nowed, knotted in a figure of eight, like the infinity symbol… which we had used as part of our first riddle, a couple of days before.
We had also learned that the Hall was thought to be on a ley… a dragon line… and a little knowledge of the land hereabouts would place Haddon Hall on a line midway between Hob Hurst’s House, an unusual, rectangular burial mound on the moors above Beeley, and the great stone circle of Arbor Low. The chances are that this alignment would correspond to one of the eight ‘spokes’ of the leys that radiate from the circle.
Would there be any clues scattered about the building? Any eight-pointed stars, geometries, or any dragons, for instance? Maybe the chapel would hold a clue or two… It would probably be, we thought, too much to ask. Until the stars came out, carved into the stonework. And the geometries in the lead piping. And the odd dragon or two…
And that was before we’d even left the courtyard! The Hall would repay a bit of careful attention… and probably a fair amount of research at a later date. Trying to note or photograph as much detail as we could, we set off to explore, grateful that visitors are allowed to be ‘free range’ and not herded through the rooms.
For there is much to see. It is a beautiful old house, with character and history on every wall and in every room. In places, you can see the evolution of the earlier building. In one corner of the courtyard, the base of the slender Eagle Tower is part of the original Norman construction. Permission to build the wall and tower had to be obtained from John of Mortain. It was granted on condition that it was tall enough to be defensive. John was also known as Lackland; he became King of England in 1177 and his reign ended in the signing of the Magna Carta, the beginnings of the constitution and often called the earliest document to set forth human rights.
At the opposite corner of the courtyard, odd masonry, adorned with eight-pointed stars, shows how the building was altered in the medieval period. Ancient wood, silvered with age, still frames the walls and keeps the winter wind from the halls and chambers. The Hall may have a history running back nearly a thousand years, but how old were the trees that went into its building?
An arched doorway leads from the courtyard into the great hall, with beautiful, mullioned windows either side and a border of fragrant herbs adding colour to the winter stone. The herbs would have been used in the kitchen, but also for medicine. Their bruised leaves would have fragranced rooms and perhaps clothing too.
As always, it is in such small details that you find the life of a place. Bruising the leaves of a hardy little plant, recognising its uses, because, hundreds of years later, you still use it yourself for the same purposes, you find a connection with the ancestors… those who went before us and who are part of our distant and extended human family.
It is in the practical things that made life more tolerable, the simple solutions to everyday problems…like the runnels that drain the rainwater from the courtyard… that you feel a connection with history and know it to be part of your own story.
*Riddles of the Night was a Silent Eye workshop in Derbyshire, in December 2017. Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen can be found by clicking the highlighted links.