Elvaston Castle. Historic past; glorious future.

Highgate Sanctuary Ltd

Expanded history (page 1 of 2)

Elvaston Castle, as we see it today, dates from the early 19th century when the then 60 year old Charles, 3rd Earl of Harrington, ordered the re-building of the old, gabled manor house that had been home to the Stanhope family for more than 200 years.

The Earl commissioned Staffordshire-born architect, James Wyatt to draw up the plans which he began in 1812. Wyatt was an exponent of Gothic architecture and was highly acclaimed for his designs, including those for Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire and the Pantheon in Oxford Street.  Elvaston Castle was to be one of his last commissions. He did not live to see his plans carried out, as he was tragically killed in a riding accident in 1813. It was another two years before the 3rd Earl appointed Robert Walker to supervise the building of the Castle to Wyatt’s Gothic design. The plans included a large courtyard, a hound enclosure, two gatehouses and a water tower, also in the Gothic style.

The 3rd Earl also approached Capability Brown to landscape the gardens, but the commission was refused when Brown saw the flatness of the grounds. It was the 4th Earl, Charles who, on his father’s death in 1829, set about creating gardens that were to become the talk of England. Charles also appointed architect Lewis Cottingham to re-build the East front of the Castle and to refurbish parts of the interior.

Charles, Lord Petersham, had created a scandal by living with his actress-lover, the beautiful Maria Foote in London, but they only married after his father’s death. Polite society refused to acknowledge the new Countess of Harrington and the couple lived a reclusive life at Elvaston Castle. The Earl did not allow her outside the grounds, nor did he allow anyone else access. The head gardener had strict instructions that only the Queen could be admitted! The creation of the gardens and the refurbishment of the interiors was in tribute to Maria. Cottingham redecorated Wyatt’s original entrance hall to be a symbol of the pursuit of love, with heraldic symbols and mottoes of love, honour, courtesy and gallantry.

Charles employed Scottish landscape designer, William Barron, to transform the 200 acres with extensive drainage, themed gardens, magnificent avenues, an artificial lake and even a Moorish Temple with a statue of Charles kneeling at Maria’s feet. Barron had trained at the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh and spent 20 years creating the Elvaston gardens, over-seeing 80 gardeners. He worked closely with the Earl, whose impatience demanded finished, planting effects which necessitated the transportation of mature trees, often from great distances. Barron’s transportation techniques for mature specimens later lead him to start his own nursery business, which he worked on with his son in Borrowash, after he finally left Elvaston in 1865.

© Elvaston Castle