Castle Street, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S44 6PR
Tel: 01246 822844
Dominating the countryside from its hilltop, Bolsover occupies the site of a medieval castle built by the Peverel family shortly after the Norman Conquest. Sir Charles Cavendish bought the old castle in 1612 and began work on his 'Little Castle' project. Despite its embattled appearance, his creation was not designed for defence, but for elegant living.
Sir Charles intended the house as a retreat from the world to an imaginary golden age of chivalry and pleasure. His son William, later Duke of Newcastle, inherited the Little Castle in 1616 and set about its completion, assisted by the architect John Smythson. An extraordinary survival, the exquisitely carved fireplaces and recently conserved murals and painted panelling of its interiors take the visitor on an allegorical journey from earthly concerns to heavenly (and erotic) delights.
William also added the vast and stately rooms of the Terrace Range, now a dramatic roofless shell. To show off his achievement, in 1634 he invited the Stuart court to 'Love's Welcome to Bolsover', a masque specially written by Ben Jonson for performance in the Fountain Garden. Finally he constructed the cavernous Riding House with its magnificent roof, perhaps the finest surviving indoor riding school in Britain: here he indulged his passion for training 'great horses'. There is also a Discovery Centre in the Stables, with audio-visual displays.
The castle battlements and the Venus Garden are in the process of being restored, and the fountain, with 23 new statues, plays again for the first time in centuries. A series of 'Caesar paintings' depicting Roman emperors and empresses has also recently returned to Bolsover. These were commissioned by William Cavendish and copied from originals by the great Venetian artist Titian - which have since been destroyed - making the Bolsover versions uniquely important.
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