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The story of Hardwick Hall, or strictly speaking Halls as there are two of them, is the story of one remarkable woman, Bess of Hardwick.

Born in 1527 to impoverished minor gentry, Bess rose, through a series of four judicious marriages to be one of the richest and most powerful women in England.

Legend says that there was a prophecy that she would never die whilst she was building and, certainly, she spent a great deal of her life building or improving her various homes.

It started with her second marriage to Sir William Cavendish. He bought her the nearby estate of Chatsworth and, together, they proceeded to pull down the old house and rebuild it.

It was not until 1585, however when, as a result of the breakdown of her fourth marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury, Bess returned to Hardwick and began to remodel and extend the old family home into what we now know as Hardwick Old Hall

She never finished it, as in 1590 Lord Shrewsbury died, and she had the funds to embark on a much grander project, Hardwick New Hall, next door.

The story goes that building work continued until ferociously hard winter of 1607-08 put a stop to it and Bess duly died on 13 February 1608. Actually the New Hall was finished some five years earlier, but why let facts spoil a good story.

Although not quite two for the price of one, joint entry tickets are available covering both the Old Hall (See the English Heritage web site for opening times, admission prices, etc.) and the New Hall (further details of which can be found on the National Trust's web site), together with various other buildings on the estate.

The chief glory of both properties is the plaster friezes. Those in the Old Hall are impressive; as for those in the New Hall they are breathtaking (particularly the High Great Chamber). Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the main house, so you will have to take my word for it.