Calke Abbey is a Grade I listed country house near Ticknall, Derbyshire, England, in the care of the charitable National Trust. The site was an Augustinian priory from the 12th century until its dissolution by Henry VIII. The present building, named Calke Abbey in 1808, was never actually an abbey, but is a Baroque mansion built between 1701 and 1704. The house was owned by the Harpur family for nearly 300 years until it was passed to the Trust in 1985 in lieu of death duties. Today, the house is open to the public and many of its rooms are deliberately displayed in the state of decline in which the house was handed to the Trust.

The estate was bought by the Harpur family in 1622. They were baronets from 1626. The current house was rebuilt by the 4th baronet, Sir John Harpur, between 1701 and 1704. The 10th baronet, Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe was devoted to his collection of natural history specimens. When he died in 1924, his daughter, Hilda Mosely, sold some of his collection of birds, butterflies and fishes to pay death duties. When she died in 1949 she was succeeded by her nephew, Charles Jenney who changed his name to Charles Harpur Crewe (born 1917). His sudden death in 1981 led to crippling death duties (£8m of an estate worth £14m) and the estate had to be handed over to the nation by his brother Henry (born 1921). To the side of the house is a large quadrangle of buildings forming the old stable yard and farm, complete with old carriages & farm implements. The out buildings incorporate a brewhouse, that was linked to the main house by a tunnel.

Present day
Set in the midst of a landscape park, the National Trust presented Calke Abbey as an illustration of the English country house in decline. A massive amount of remedial work but no restoration has been done and interiors are almost as they were found in 1985 so the decay of the building and its interiors has been halted but not reversed. Before the National Trust work of the late 1980s everything had remained untouched since the 1880s. The Trust manages the surrounding landscape park with an eye to nature conservation. It contains such features as a walled garden, with a flower garden and a former physic garden, now managed as a kitchen garden. Some years after Calke was handed over to the National Trust to settle death duties, an heir was discovered: Andrew Johnson, a distant cousin of the Harpur family. Johnson was a wealthy resident of Vermont and the owner of important stands of timber and of a lumber business, though the popular press in Britain referred to him as a "lumberjack". Johnson was given the use of an apartment in the Abbey, which he and his family have used on occasional visits.


4 photos

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator