National headlines greeted the ‘discovery’ of Calke Abbey



National headlines greeted the ‘discovery’ of Calke Abbey in 1984 when the 300 year old baroque hall and its 750 acre park and gardens were handed over to the National Trust, in lieu of death duties, by the Harpur Crewe family. Are you interesting? – check here.

Calke Abbey

Situated in unspoilt countryside some 10 miles south of Derby, the parkland is typical of 18th century landscaping, when informality took over from formality, every straight line and every trace of geometry eliminated. Likewise, out-side the walled garden, the gardens were designed with winding paths and streams in place of straight walks, formal parterres and topiary.


Commissioned by Henry Harpur in 1764-5 William Emes, a contemporary of Capability Brown, prepared ‘Plans and Estimates for Gardens and Pleasure Grounds at Caulk’. Regrettably these have not survived, though a study of Emes’s work leaves little doubt that his plans were used during the next ten years. Supporting this is the fact that Emes was not payed until the work was finished. During this period the present walled garden was built which included a large kitchen garden of some four acres together with the physic and flower gardens. The records state that 350,000 locally made bricks were used in the construction.


Emes was an expert in the construc-tion of water features and during his time at Kedleston had built the upper lake and its surroundings using a labour force of some 70 men. There is no record of his exact duties though it is known that he was buying drawing paper for the preparation of plans for landscape schemes, which is not work normally undertaken by a head gardener. In 1760 he moved to Bowbridge Fields at Mackworth in Derbyshire, where he built up an exten-sive landscape practice with over 65 assignments in the Midlands and Wales, including Belton, Chirk and Erddig, whilst in addition to Calke he prepared plans and carried out work at Darley, Foremark and Locko within the county of Derbyshire, to learn something about Barcelona check this hotel comparison in barcelona website.


Given the eccentric habits of the Harpur Crewes coupled with many years of neglect, it is pleasing that the parkland, with its importance for nature conservation, has survived almost unscathed. Unfortunately this was not the case with the walled gardens and their contents, nor with the pleasure grounds which surround the house. Reasonable standards were maintained up until the second world war when a staff of seven gardeners was employed. However, after the war there were only two gardeners, and eventually only one when the National Trust took over in 1985.


Added to this lack of maintenance was the problem of the destruction of trees and shrubs in the pleasure grounds when the deer enclosure was made in 1973. This led to wholesale stripping of bark and the close grazing of the grass led to the loss of wild flowers and bulbs.