Tucked away in Bakewell in Derbyshire lies what Simon Jenkins described as “the most perfect English House to survive from the Middle Ages”.
It’s owned by Lord Edward Manners, who also owns the wonderful nearby hotel/restaurant, the Peacock at Rowsley
. Haddon Hall
has belonged to the Manners family for over 800 years and they’ve had the good sense not to change it much since then. A two hundred year spell of no occupancy also did no harm to the survival of a spectacular quantity of original features.
First built in Norman times and mentioned in the Domesday book, room after room has a proper fairy tale castle feel to it. The kitchens provide an extraordinary glimpse into ancient cooking practices, and most of the downstairs dates to a time when everyone ate and slept in the same large room in feudal splendour/squalor depending on who you were.
The chapel is particularly extraordinary. Ancient frescoes adorn the walls in a way you might expect in Italy or Bulgaria rather than Derbyshire. There's lovely stained glass windows and a timeless, secret aura that's genuinely spiritual.
Our brilliant guide was a goldmine of information and trivia. Did you know that the “buttery” next to a bar has nothing to do with butter, but was simply an antiquated word for pantry, and is also the root word for “butler”? Haddon Hall boasts a rare collection of “dole-boxes”, in which medieval seigneurs would place unwanted food leftovers for the starving local residents to collect, hence the modern expression “on the dole”.
I visited with my father on the day of the Easter egg hunt, and there was face-painting and happy children scurrying around everywhere. The Tudor Group has also just hosted their very popular Tudor cookery weekend, displaying how the food of a Tudor household was cooked and served. On 22 and 23 June, the rather brilliant-sounding Tudor wedding event is taking place, although I might pass on the chance to join in the singing and dancing…for everyone’s sake.
Don’t rush past the gorgeous gardens into the house now that spring is here. The fascinating and historic topiaries feature the emblems of past owners, including the boar and the peacock. Recently, the garden designer Arne Maynard laid out new plants and borders with many nods to the house’s rich Elizabethan heritage.
has a licensed restaurant in the old stable block, but I’d recommend treating yourself to lunch at the Peacock
down the road, where during my stay I could have enjoyed Haddon Estate venison sausages, pumpkin and sage risotto, rum & raisin baba and numerous other diet-smashing delights.