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English Heritage

Bolsover Castle

Castle Street
Bolsover
Chesterfield
Derbyshire
Post Code : S44 6PR
Telephone : 01246 822844
Admission Cost Admission Charge

Bolsover Castle is a semi-ruined 17th century mansion set high on a wooded hilltop, looking west towards the heights of the Peak District.

A Norman castle once stood on the site but the present house was the creation of two generations of the ambitious Cavendish family.

Sir Charles Cavendish, younger son of 'Bess of Hardwick' acquired the estate from his step-brother, the 7th Earl of Shrewbury, in 1608.

He began work on a castellated villa, known as the 'Little Castle', four years later on the site of the medieval keep. This unusual pleasure house was completed in 1621 but a few years later it was considerably extended by his son, Sir William Cavendish. Sir William was a leading figure at the court of Charles I and was later created Duke of Newcastle.

He built an imposing range of state rooms on the west side of the original inner bailey and then added the impressive indoor Riding School to the south. During the Civil War work on the house was suspended and some damage was caused to the building by Parliamentarian troops.

The construction, however, was restarted and completed after the Restoration. On the death of the 2nd Duke in 1691 the estate passed through the female line and in the early 18th century the family abandoned Bolsover Castle in favour of nearby Welbeck.

The state rooms were unroofed but the 'Little Castle' and Riding School survived almost intact, though unfurnished. In 1954 the semi-ruined house was acquired by the Government as an ancient monument and it is now in the care of English Heritage.

Bolsover Castle is entered from the south and once in the main courtyard (the inner bailey of the Norman castle) the visitor can view all the parts of the house.

The 'Little Castle' towers over the other buildings to the north, to the west are the ruined staterooms and the Riding School is to the south. The 'Little Castle' was probably designed by Robert Smythson who built Hardwick Hall for 'Bess of Hardwick' and completed by his son, John. The tall, compact house has a crenellated roof-line and ogee-capped corner turrets.

Some of the empty rooms are vaulted and most have carved stone fireplaces. There is intricate wood panelling and much decorative wall painting. The adjoining Heaven and Elysium Rooms, which once formed part of the Duke's private apartment, have wall paintings which contrast Christian and pagan imagery.

The state apartments are best viewed from the west-facing terrace outside the main courtyard. The north end of the range, built in 1627 - 30, has a pedimented Dutch gable. The former Gallery, further south, has pilaster-like projections between the windows which symbolise cannon.

The Gallery was probably finished in time for the visit of Charles I and Henrietta Marie in 1634. This royal visit was celebrated by the performance of the masque 'Love's Welcome to Bolsover' by Ben Jonson.

The courtyard in front of this range is more classical and is thought to have been constructed soon after the Restoration. It was designed by Samuel Marsh, architect of Nottingham Castle, another of the Duke of Newcastle's properties.

The Riding School on the south side of the main courtyard was probably designed in the mid-1630s by John Symthson's son, Huntingdon Symthson, but the work may not have been completed until after the Restoration. The building is made up of a large room spanned by a wooden tie-beam roof with a gallery at one end. The gallery is flanked by a forge on one side and a harness room on the other. The roofline has an impressive array of Dutch gables and there is a broken pediment over the huge doorcase.

To the south-east of Bolsover Castle is a walled garden with a 'Venus Fountain' and three garden rooms. These were created by John Smythson out of the medieval walls.

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House Features
17th hall preserved as it was
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