Haddon Hall stands on an outcrop of limestone overlooking the River Wye and its surrounding water meadows.
William the Conqueror's illegitimate son, Peverel, and his descendants held Haddon for a hundred years until it passed into the hands of the Vernon family in 1170.
The chapel, which once served the vanished village of Nether Haddon, dates from 1195 when Richard Vernon received permission to build a high wall around his house.
The Vernons were not feudal barons and their house, built of old grey limestone with a picturesque skyline, was never a castle. The present appearance dates mainly from the 14th century, when the upper courtyard including the hall range was built, and the 15th century, when the second, lower courtyard was built to provide more lodgings for the household.
On the death of Sir George Vernon in 1567 the house passed to his son-in-law, Sir John Manners, younger son of the Earl of Rutland. At the end of the 16th century he made major changes to the upper courtyard including rebuilding the Long Gallery in its present form.
In 1641 his grandson inherited the earldom of Rutland and in 1703 the 1st Duke of Rutland moved to Belvoir Castle, the family's principal seat in Leicestershire. Haddon Hall was left to fall into picturesque decay.
In the early-20th century the 9th Duke rescued the house and made it habitable again. The appearance of Haddon Hall today reflects not only its long and romantic past but also the careful restoration carried out by the 9th Duke and his architect Harold Brakspear.
The approach to Haddon Hall is dominated by the north west tower. The visitor passes through this into the lower courtyard which is paved with local gritstone and rises to the Hall at the centre of the house. The courtyard is surrounded by 15th century lodgings and the older chapel, containing 15th century wall paintings and a Jacobean pulpit and pews. A 15th century porch is situated at the centre of the hall range with the service end to the east and the Hall to the right.
The Hall is lit by a traceried 14th century window beside the later chimneybreast. The two-storey chamber block to the right of the hall has large mullioned windows dating from 1500 which light the downstairs Parlour and the Great Chamber above. The porch leads into the screens passage with three doors on the left which originally gave access to the pantry, buttery and kitchen.
The huge kitchen still has its well-used shelves and chopping boards and in an adjacent room are some medieval cupboards. These include a 'dole cupboard' which was left by the front door to the Hall with scraps from the table for the villagers' dole.
The Hall's timber roof was built in 1923 - 25 during the 9th Duke's restoration but the 15th century screen has survived. The gallery dates from the early-17th century. The superb mid-15th century millefleurs tapestry hanging above the high table may have been given to Sir Henry Vernon, treasurer to Prince Arthur, by Henry VIII.
A door by the high table leads into the Parlour. This room dates from the 16th century room is one of the few in England to have survived virtually intact. There is a fine painted heraldic ceiling and wooden panelling dated 1545. Close to one of the bay windows are relief carvings of a man and woman in early Tudor dress.
The Great Chamber above was the most important reception room in the late medieval and Tudor periods. The open timber roof dates from 1500 and there is a late-16th century plaster frieze. The walls of this room and the adjoining 'Earl's Apartments', overlooking the lower courtyard, are hung with 17th century Flemish tapestries.
The Long Gallery dating from the early-17th century is 110 feet in length and occupies most of the south side of the upper court. The silver-grey wood panelling here has been lightened by an artificial grain painted on to the oak to make the most of the daylight. The diamond panes in the windows are all set at different angles which provide a marvellous effect from the outside and also maximize the light in the room. Over the fireplace is a painting by Rex Whistler dated 1932 which commemorates the completion of the 9th Duke's restoration of Haddon Hall.
The Orpheus Room was once the state bedroom but was later divided up. The late-16th century overmantel depicts Orpheus taming the beasts. The walls are hung with a set of 16th century Brussels tapestries of hunting scenes. In 1925 a fire destroyed many other tapestries from the house. A doorway from here opens onto worn stone steps that lead down to the terraced gardens.
The basic form of Haddon Hall's romantic gardens dates from the 17th century, which makes them among the earliest to survive in an English country house. The terracing of the garden was begun by Sir John Manners in the late 16th century and the great stone terraces and buttresses were constructed in the mid-17th century.
When Haddon Hall was abandoned during the 18th and 19th centuries the gardens became hopelessly overgrown. The gardens seen today were created by the 9th Duchess when she and the 9th Duke returned to the house in the early 20th century.
The terraced Rose Gardens are planned for colour and scent throughout the summer with climbing roses tumbling from the walls and down balustrades and steps. There are over 150 varieties of rose and clematis, many over 70 years old. The roses are underplanted with bulbs to provide spring colour. On the south side of the Fountain Terrace, below the windows of the Long Gallery, a huge variety of delphiniums provide a wonderful display of colour from mid-June onwards.
From each terrace there are views across the lush water meadows and Derbyshire countryside. Other features include smooth lawns, herbaceous borders, fountains and clipped yews. The tall walls shelter tender plants and clematis and lavender hang from the buttresses. The cottage adjoining the converted stables (that now provide refreshments) has remarkable clipped yew topiary representing the Vernon and Manners families.