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Review: Bolsover Castle

Attraction - Castles & places of worship

Bolsover, United Kingdom

The little castle and fountain garden

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2345 reviews

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  • June 2015
  • Family including children under 16

93 people found this review helpful

This is one of a series of detailed reviews about Bolsover Castle.

The Little Tower isn’t little and dominates the castle. Superficially resembling a Norman keep, this was designed for pleasure and luxurious parties. No expense was spared and it was designed to impress. It is surrounded by the garden wall which follows the line of the medieval castle wall.

There is a broad wall walk round the top of the walls accessed from the first floor of the Little Castle. There are niches with seats along the walls and smaller niches for bee skeps.

The wall encloses the Fountain Garden with the Venus Fountain. Venus is emerging from her bath. Round the inside of the basin are busts of Roman emperors. This was the site of the Royal entertainment, based on the theme of love, given by William Cavendish to impress Charles I and Henrietta Maria in 1634.

Round the bottom of the walls is a narrow border planted with C17th plants. On the walls are espalier fruit trees. There are small rooms set into the walls. That next to the entrance to the Great Court has glazed doors was probably used for intimate banquets.

The Little Castle was designed to be entered via the terrace, up a flight of stone stairs. On either side of the entrance are small lodges. There is a small paved courtyard and another flight of stairs to the grand entrance.

Above the doorway is a statue of Hercules holding up the balcony of the Marble Closet. On either side of him are lions. This leads into a small porch with stone seats on either side. Immediately on the left a doorway leads into the ANTEROOM with a vaulted plaster ceiling.

This has panelled walls with a dark painted motif in the centre of the panels. The windows have wooden shutters. Above the panelling are paintings representing three of the four classical temperaments.

On the long wall is Choleric (ambitious and passionate) represented by the soldier with his mistress. Next to it is Phlegmatic (relaxed and stable) with a fisherman and fishwife. Above the door is Melancholic (introverted and thoughtful) with an old man tempting a semi naked girl with jewels.

The room has a small fireplace, so could have been used for welcoming visitors. Another suggestion is that it was used for visitors conducting business with William Cavendish. Off it is a small room which may have contained a latrine.

Beyond it is the HALL which was used as the main reception area. Pillars support the rib vaulted ceiling. There is a splendid stone fireplace. The base of the walls is covered with grey painted panelling which would have had tapestries hung in front of it. Above are paintings of four of the twelve labours of Hercules.

On one wall, a spiral staircase gives access to the wine cellar in the basement. At the far end of the room, a lobby gives access to the stone staircase to the upper floors and also to the PILLAR PARLOUR. This was used as an intimate dining room by William Cavendish and his guests. Lit by candlelight this must have been a stunning room. In the centre a pillar supports the rib vaulted ceiling. The base of the ribs are decoratively carved.

The room has been restored to its original state with deep reddish brown wooden panels lined with gold leaf and gold paint with decorative black infill. This was made from coal dust, chalk and egg white. The small paintings illustrate the five senses. The equally impressive fireplace made of local sandstone with black jet and decorative marble insets. Next to it are some of the original panels which haven’t been restored. The quatrefoils in the windows were the work of the C19th vicar who lived in the Little Castle.

Stone stairs off the ground floor lobby lead to the first floor. A doorway gives access to the wall walk.

A small lobby gives access to the STAR CHAMBER, the most important room in the Little Castle. This was the great chamber of the Little Castle and was a formal reception room where William Cavendish and his wife received privileged guests. It is a light and airy room with large windows with wooden shutters.

There is a beautiful sky blue ceiling which was painted with a pigment from the by-products of silver refining. The stars were made of lead which has been gilded.

Two of the walls have grey panelling which is now covered by reproductions of mid C17th tapestries with religious scenes. On the floor is modern rush matting which is the likely C17th floor covering. The red velvet chairs are also reproductions. That used by William and his wife to receive guests is set on a dais. On important occasions this may have had a canopy above it.

Round the base of the other two walls is brown panelling picked out in bottle green and ochre. Above are large paintings of Moses, King David, King Solomon and the prophet Aaron. The smaller paintings are of male saints.

There is another splendid sandstone and jet fireplace which has the coat of arms of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, the last husband of William’s grandmother Bess of Hardwick. In a corner is a small latrine.

Off the Star Chamber is the MARBLE CLOSET, a small room with double doors opening onto the small balcony above the main entrance. The name comes from the black and white marble floor and white marble vaulted ceiling with black marble ribs. This was planned as a withdrawing room and is now furnished with a couch and table with more red velvet chairs.

The paintings above the bright scarlet wall hangings are personifications of virtue, although they look a bit like lesbian love scenes. They represent Fortitude and Patience, Justice and Prudence and Concordia and Peace. There is a stylish white sandstone and black jet fireplace.

Back through the Star Chamber, more stairs lead upwards to a set of private rooms. William’s BEDCHAMBER has a small fireplace and is unfurnished. It has grey panelled walls which would have been hung with tapestries, hiding the open cupboards set in the panelling.

Off it is the small HEAVEN CLOSET. This has a ceiling painting of the Ascension with a small central figure of Christ surrounded by cherubs. Round the edge and on the top of the walls are more cherubs playing instruments. It represents divine love.

Below the paintings, the walls are covered with panelling squares. These are painted bottle green and have a double gilt border and small designs in the centre with pastoral scenes. There is a small fireplace and wooden shutters on the windows. This seems to have been William’s private study and where he kept his treasured possessions and personal papers.

The ELYSIUM CLOSET is off William’s bedchamber and is opposite the Heaven Closet. It has a balcony overlooking the Fountain Garden. This was used for intimate social gatherings and the paintings are of gods and goddesses enjoying sensual pagan pleasures.

The stone stair case continues up to the top floor with an octagonal room below the central lantern. This has corner niches where guests could sit.

Off it are a series of smaller rooms. Those with fireplaces are thought to be bedrooms. Those without may have served as wardrobes or else sleeping quarters for personal servants. In the walls are recessed open cupboards. The fireplaces are small but again are decorated with black jet and are exquisitely carved.

The rooms are unfurnished although one has copies of Titian’s paintings of Roman emperors. Another has clothes for dressing up. The stairs continue up to the roof but are now fenced off to visitors.

The tour continues down a spiral staircase to the basement and contains the kitchens and service rooms. These rooms are built partially below the ground and have very high windows. Over the years they have suffered from damp and the growth of algae on the walls. This leads to a passage way with a wooden shuttered service hatch.

The PASTRY ROOM has a bank of three ovens. Next to it is the KITCHEN with a central pillar supporting the vaulted ceiling. On one wall are two large open fireplaces. One was used for roasting and the other for boiling. Opposite them is a very shallow sink with drying racks above.

Beyond the Kitchen is the the WET LARDER with massive stone vats used for salting and preserving food.

Beyond is a large empty hall with stone floor with drainage channels and two pillars supporting the vaulted ceiling. This was the GREAT BEER CELLAR.

A doorway and steps lead up into the Fountain Garden.

There is more information and pictures here.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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