A mix of romanticism and desperation
There is something about Kirby Hall that draws me back there again and again. It’s small, even familiar, it’s one of those stately homes that you can almost imagine owning and living in, there is nothing intimidating about it at all. It almost feels like a mix of romanticism and desperation all at the same time, beautiful architecture some standing in all its glory some in ruins. It’s a testament somehow to a dream that never quite made it but clung on anyway. It’s a house that beckons you to explore, interact, and imagine.
Set in rural Northamptonshire Kirby Hall is one of the finest houses built in the reign of Elizabeth 1 in the 16th century according to the brochure. Begun by Sir Humphrey Stafford in 1570 and completed by Sir Christopher Hatton it was built in the hope of receiving the queen, a dream never realized. It was at the forefront of architecture and design and its gardens were once described as “ye finest in England”. After the fourth Christopher Hatton died in 1706 the house was occupied less often and eventually fell into ruin and came into the guardianship of English Heritage in 1987.
Unlike a lot of stately homes, I visit Kirby Hall is always a place where I sit and think, dream a little, and imagine what it must have been like to live here. The house is set up to take in as much of the garden as possible, built around two open courtyards with large windows overlooking a never-ending view it can’t help been whimsical. You can spend many an hour sitting on a bench overlooking the garden undisturbed (I have never seen it busy even on a bank holiday). It’s a relaxing welcoming place but what I love most are the little surprises, the beautiful stairwell with the roof rafters on show, the intricate architectural detail open to the sky, and the occasional peacock who decides to display his feathers. It really is a delightful place to while away time.