Once upon a time, before 1066 and all that became the most famous date in British history, William of Normandy wanted to get his local French barons interested in helping him conquer England. Land was the answer. Vanquish those Anglo-Saxons and English lands would be there for the taking.
A lord called de Courson was one of those who answered that call and came to England, perhaps for the Battle of Hastings, perhaps a little later. He was rewarded by being given many acres in Derbyshire. Over the years, the family name became de Curzun, then Curzon, and the lands at Kedleston which had certainly been claimed by about 1150 have remained with the descendants ever since.
Now it’s one of life’s pleasures to visit the splendid buildings of Kedleston Hall, a classical showcase of fine paintings, sculpture and furniture*, and to stroll round the grounds.
And what grounds! When we arrived there the other day, it was sunny, with rain promised later, so we set off to make a three mile circuit of the so called ‘Long’ or ‘Ladies’ walk’. How natural and timeless the landscape seemed. A charming rustic bridge crosses a serpentine lake. Woodland was just becoming autumnal. Spacious meadows spread before us with grazing sheep. Just as nature intended.
Except it’s all a massive con-trick perpetrated by Robert Adam in 1758. Away with the out-moded formal geometric garden of Charles Bridgeman! He’d been the Royal Gardener, and only dead 20 years, but his work by then seemed suddenly hopelessly out of fashion.
In with the naturalistic ‘picturesque’ style promoted by Capability Brown. Out with the public road along which the village straggled untidily, far too near the Queen Anne redbrick house which has itself been replaced. Village and road were moved. A brook was dammed and excavated to become a lake, a stream, gently splashing weirs. Adam had a ha-ha built – an unseen ditch across which unwanted livestock couldn’t pass: so much more natural-looking than a fence or wall. Temples and other follies were built or planned, pleasure grounds too. Sadly today only the hermitage is still around, and even this thatched hut is currently being restored.
Our three mile walk was crammed with pleasure. There were waterbirds on the lake, Autumn leaves to enjoy, views across the park and surrounding countryside. Where did the grounds end and open countryside begin? We didn’t know and didn’t care. And we hadn’t even seen the house yet. You can get a taster here.
*There’s even a magnificent bedroom which has never been slept in and is currently being restored: designed to be used if ever the king should come to call…