The history of Calke Abbey

Late 19th-century painting, English School at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Hidden away in a hollow within ancient park land, Calke Abbey appears to have turned its back on the modern world. The telephone first rang in 1928 at Calke and electricity wasn't introduced until 1962. The often eccentric Harpur-Crewe family preferred a solitary life which excluded mod cons.

Religious roots

Calke Abbey stands on the site of a medieval religious house. Calke Priory only lasted a few years as the canons moved to nearby Repton. The priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 but the canons had anticipated this and granted leases of Calke.

After passing through several hands Richard Wendsley acquired Calke, eventually selling the estate in 1585 to Robert Bainbridge. His son sold the estate to Henry Harpur in 1622 for £5,350. It stayed in the Harpur family until the National Trust began caring for it in 1985.

An isolated heir

The son of Sir Harry Harpur 6th Baronet and Lady Frances Greville, of Warwick Castle was known as the 'isolated baronet'. Sir Henry Harpur became the 7th Baronet in 1789.

He was destined for high society after being born into aristocracy. Instead he withdrew from society, a characteristic which continued in the family for the next 200 years. This solitary nature has shaped the house we see today.

The family man

Sir George Crewe 8th Baronet, returned life at Calke to the usual conventions of English upper-class life. More outgoing than his father, he accepted his place in the life of the county.

Sir George devoted himself to fulfilling his duty as a Christian landlord, family man and country gentleman. He was a great collector of art and many of the paintings hanging in the house today were bought by him.

A gentle tyrant

Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe 10th Baronet, was little seen outside the bounds of Calke Abbey. Much like his ancestors he preferred isolation. He was kind to his workers but lacked in manners when it came to his own family.

His passion was for collecting stuffed animals and when he died in 1924 there were several hundred specimens in the house. Discover how his passions shaped the house interior you see today.

An oral history

We have some great volunteers who are digitising our oral history collection. We've got recordings from servants that lived and worked here and memories from people who visited the estate.

Find out more about Calke Abbey's social history and what Second World War evacuees thought of their time at Calke in the videos below: