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Saturday, 18 August 2012

Visiting the past

I made it to Hardwick Hall today, as you can see from the photo.  It sits high on a hill with command views all around and thanks to the Cavendish's preferring Chatsworth House a few miles away it is almost unaltered from the time of the woman who had it constructed in the late 16th century, Bess of Hardwick.  In an age where women were ususally nothing more than the chattel of first their father and brothers, and then their husbands (Bess had 4) she became a woman of position, influence and wealth.  She wasn't born to this power, but to an obscure local squire and she aquired her position through a series of marriages.  The house has the tapestries that would have hung in a great house to cover the walls before wallpaper became the vogue, though their colours have faded it still makes quite an impact.  The floors are the orginal concrete and covered with rush matting, just as they would have been strewn with rushes and scented herbs when Bess lived there.  It is possible to imagine her taking her exercise along the great gallery on wet or cold days, or just walking up and down mulling over a problem.  The last person to live in the house was Audrey, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire who was widowed in about 1938 and lived then on and off until her death in 1960.  The house now belongs to the National Trust.

The Tudor period is one of the most interesting and evocative periods.  It was a time when women ruled the country through the turbulence of the Reformation, Mary's attempt to return the country to the Roman Catholic religion, and then the remarkable age of Elizabeth I.  An age when England changed more that it had in the previous 500 years, and an age which must have challenged all those who lived through it and the religious upheaval.  To remain catholic?  Become Protestant?  A Puritan?  Extremes of views that Elizabeth tried to pick her way through to maintain peace.  Two remarkable women with the same name during the same age.

Finding a path to follow for yourself is never easy, and for me it has been a constant challenge to be able to find a direction to go in.  The last few years have forced me to really focus on the way I want to go.  It is not something that anyone would ask for, but it can also be very instructive to have to focus on the here and how; to have to make decisions; to have to let go of many things in order to be able to get a grip on the reality of the present.  I can no longer just drift through life.  There are things I want to do and I now have to just get on and do them.  Visiting Hardwick Hall was one of those things that I can now mark off my 'bucket list' and I think the memory of it will stay with me for a long time.



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