HumanKind at Calke Abbey

HumanKind at National Trust Calke Abbey in Derbyshire

HumanKind is an ongoing project at Calke Abbey that began in 2019, a year that marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Henry Harpur, who was dubbed ‘The Isolated Baronet’. For more than thirty years, the story of Calke Abbey has revolved around ideas of an isolated and solitary family – but new research has revealed a different side to Calke’s story. HumanKind delves deeper into Calke’s history of isolation, and tells new stories of loneliness, kindness and compassion.

What's the story behind HumanKind?

The story of Calke Abbey and its significance has been built around the tale of a reclusive and socially-isolated family who guarded the estate from modern life and lived eccentric, disconnected lives. Today, as awareness grows of the enormous challenges posed by loneliness and the harmful impact of social isolation on more and more lives, we are looking afresh at Calke’s past, reassessing the stories told about this place and exploring their potential to foster more, and more meaningful, contemporary human connections.

" 92% of us find it difficult to tell others they are lonely. "
- Campaign to End Loneliness, 2019

Recent research has shed new light on the lives of the people who lived at Calke. This has revealed powerful, rich and sometimes surprising stories of love, compassion and kindness, rooted in complex life experiences and events, alongside the more familiar ones of isolation and disconnection.

Spanning more than 200 years, these are stories that many of us would recognise today. The people who lived at Calke needed one another and took care of one other. Their routes out of difficulty were always aided by others – by humankind and human kindness.

Delving deeper into Calke’s history

Inspired by these new stories and insights, in 2019 we launched a project to challenge the stigma surrounding loneliness and social isolation – we wanted to get people talking about this pressing social issues, foster human interaction and connection and, in true Calke tradition, to encourage small acts of kindness.

HumanKind was intended to run for two years, with an immersive exhibition, outdoor installations and spaces where visitors could reflect, connect and communicate. Sadly, the pandemic halted the project in 2020 – but the legacy of HumanKind remains, and in 2021, we will continue to tell some of these new stories and inspire acts of kindness.

HumanKind is a research-led collaboration between the National Trust and the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester.

HumanKind at National Trust Calke Abbey in Derbyshire

Where to find HumanKind at Calke Abbey

As you explore Calke Abbey this year, look out for stories of isolation and loneliness, and be inspired by small acts of kindness.