The Gardeners' Bothy at Calke Abbey

Gardener's Bothy at Calke Abbey

The Gardeners’ Bothy, once called the Gardener’s Building, was once the nerve centre of Calke’s 6-acre working garden. Among its many uses, the bothy has been used as a dormitory for unmarried gardeners, an office for the head gardener, and a storeroom for apples, pears, seeds and tools.

Peer into the past

Today, the bothy is one of Calke’s most distinctive garden buildings. Peer through the door and you’ll find old seed drawers, broken glass cloches, lots of pots and all manner of gardening equipment. It’s thought the walls were painted in a blue limewash to detract insects and pests – you’ll notice that the kitchens in the house also have the same blue limewash. 

This area was the preserve of the gardeners and was probably never visited by the family or their guests. Garden business was run from here. You can see the head gardener’s office where wages would have been collected and the plans for the gardens created and stored.

An array of garden tools

Look closely in the bothy and you will see plenty of garden tools which are familiar to the modern-day gardener – but there are also plenty of unusual-looking contraptions!
Bell-shaped glass cloches were a feature of the time; see if you can spot them inside. In almost all cases the round glass carrying handle used to lift the cloche has been broken off. This damage has been done quite deliberately – it’s thought that the handles magnified the sun’s rays, causing scorching to surrounding plants or shrubbery, so the gardeners would knock them off to prevent damage to their plants.

A glass cloche in the bothy with a broken handle
Calke Abbey glass cloche in the bothy
A glass cloche in the bothy with a broken handle

Central heating in the gardens

As you explore the garden, you’ll notice a network of pipes and various boilers. The purpose of these was to heat the different glass houses and buildings in the gardens. This allowed the gardens to produce fruits such as pineapples, grapes and tomatoes, and exotic plants like orchids. 

The bothy had its own boiler to generate heat, an appliance known as a cockle stove, located in a building next to the bothy. The cockle stove is a very early hot air heating system, designed by local industrialist William Strutt in 1790 and installed at Calke in the 1820s. The cockle stove heated what is now the apple store, which suggests this room was perhaps used earlier to dry herbs.

Leaving their mark

Look closely at the stone windowsills on the outside the bothy. You’ll see that the sills have been gently worn, leaving what looks like scalloped edges on each sill. This is not wear and tear but where the gardeners would sharpen their tools against the sills. Years of sharpening have left their mark on the building.

When you step inside these historic gardens, it helps us to keep the gardens growing for generations to come. Thank you for your support. 

Horticultural show prize certificates in the gardener's bothy
Horticultural show prize certificates in the gardener's bothy at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
Horticultural show prize certificates in the gardener's bothy