Kedleston's best-kept secret revealed: The Hermitage

Design for a hermitage from William Wrighte's Grotesque Garden Buildings (1767), a book in Kedleston's Library

Hidden away from the glitz and glamour of Kedleston’s eighteenth-century mansion, the tiny Hermitage sits underneath a large Plane tree on the Long Walk. Why was it built? How was it used? And what are we planning to do with it?

Imagine you live somewhere completely on your own: no other people; no toilet; no comfy bed. The only thing you do all day is listening to sounds of nature around you, thinking about life’s questions, or perhaps read a book.

Boring? Not if you were a lady or gentleman living in the 18th century.

Originally, a hermitage was a small hut lived in by a religious man or woman. It was usually built away from other people’s houses. But in the 18th century, a hermitage was one of many small buildings landowners added to their parks and gardens.

Like the other garden buildings, a hermitage was used for entertainment or as space to get away from society. A landowner might also advertise for a hermit to come and live in the hermitage as an attraction for visitors.

" And may at last my weary age / Find out the peaceful hermitage, / The Hairy Gown and Mossy Cell, / Where I may sit and rightly spell … "
- John Milton, Il penseroso (1645), lines 167-170

When Robert Adam and Lord Scarsdale began to design the Long Walk, their idea was to have resting places along the way. At these points (called ‘incidents’) people could sit and take in the views. Today, the Hermitage is the only surviving built incident on the Long Walk.

The area was always meant to be quite dark. Like today, people walked in from the open space into this secluded spot. The gloom was thought to encourage silence and reflection.

Because the building isn’t supposed to look like a ruin, we are making plans to restore it.

But how did it look? We've done archival and archaeological research, which has told us much about its original appearance. However, there are a couple of things we're not entirely sure about, so we're also looking at other examples of the same period.

Design for a hermitage from William Wrighte's Grotesque Garden Buildings (1767), a book in Kedleston's Library
Design for a hermitage from William Wrighte's Grotesque Garden Buildings (1767), a book in Kedleston's Library
Video

What is the Hermitage?

In this short film, our curator Andrew Barber talks about the origins of the Hermitage and some of the issues we're facing in restoring the building.

Hermitage on the Long Walk at Kedleston Hall as it looks today

Room for Gloom: Restoring Kedleston's Hermitage

What's that building on Kedleston's evocative Long Walk? Why is it called a Hermitage? And, more importantly: what are we going to do to preserve it for future generations of visitors?