The men who built hardwick

The stunning creation of Robert Smythson © NTPL/NThardwick

The stunning creation of Robert Smythson

The story behind the stone

It was the formidable Bess of Hardwick who first created Hardwick in the late 1500s, but it was Robert Symthson who designed this magnificent house. The new Hall was designed deliberately to symbolise Bess' wealth and status and pushed the boundaries of architectural design.

 

The use of glass

The towers are the first thing you see as you climb the hill.

Glass in Elizabethan England was a luxury item, very expensive and in short supply. The fact that Hardwick, ‘more glass than wall’, used so much glass in its design was an indication of the great wealth of the Bess of Hardwick. The windows are made up of hundreds of small diamond shaped glass pieces as these small panes were the largest pieces of glass that could be made in large numbers. Elizabethan glass was usually quite thick with lots of imperfections and often had a green colour.

Hidden arches

Hardwick Hall - more glass than wall

Having such large walls made up of glass created enormous problems for the team of masons building the house. Elizabethan glass was quite brittle and did not support any weight so the builders had to find another way of taking the huge weight of the massive timbers and stone walls. One way of doing this was to build in numerous hidden arches over many of the windows that transferred weight through to the load bearing stone walls. These arches are not visible from the outside but you can still catch glimpses of some of them on the inside of the house.

Symmetry

It can be seen from any angle that Hardwick Hall is more glass than wall

Hardwick Hall has a symmetrical design, with the turrets and front and rear facades all looking the same. In late sixteenth century England this approach was very new; the Old Hall at Hardwick only pre-dates the New Hall by about 5 years and yet has no indication of symmetry. This new idea of symmetry could only be achieved with a lot of thought about what the house would look like once finished, in fact it could only work when the house was ‘designed’.

Find out more

You can find out more through the tours and talks happening at Hardwick each day. Or why not join on of our behind the scenes tours?

The men who built Hardwick

Robert Smythson, the Surveyor

Stone masons have been at Hardwick for 100s of years © National Trust/David Levenson

Smythson had 20 years' experience as a master mason before becoming involved with designing. During his lifetime he worked on Longleat in Wiltshire, Workshop Manor Lodge. His first design project was Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire. As the Surveyor he was responsible for both designing and supervising the build.

Abraham Smith, Skilled plaster

The tools of the trade © National Trust

Smith's work included the carving of the Hardwick coat of arms on the over-door to the High Great Chamber and the decorated stone surround of the Hall fireplace. He was paid £6.13s.4d and we was allowed to wear the Cavendish livery, indicating a long-term and trusted place within Bess' household.

Thomas Accres, Decorative Mason

The decorative South Banqueting tower © Nick Guttridge

As a decorative mason, working largely in marble on the Hall's interior fittings his work did not begin until the roof was in place. He also seems to have been something of an engineer because the accounts refer to his having received an additional sum for the "makeinge of an engyne for sawinge of blackstone". His wages reflect his skilled status - he received £6.13s.4d and rent free possession of a farm.

John and Christopher Roods

Elizabeth of Shrewsbury’s initials are set in stone on the roof of Hardwick © David Levenson

They undertook all of the rough-walling and its facing from the top of the first floor upwards and built the entire great stone staircase. They also manufactured the cornices, the windows, the doors and fireplace mouldings. In total they received £890 - wages increased according to the height at which they worked. Although exceptionally skilled, we know John could only write - his signature is signed with a simple X.

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