Hardwick’s Last Lady breathes new life into Hall
Today our guest blog is from Nigel Wright, House & Collections Manager at Hardwick Hall, a stunning National Trust property on the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire border. Here, Nigel tells us about the experience of the new Last Lady of Hardwick exhibition. Duchess Evelyn Devonshire was the last of the Cavendish family to call Hardwick her home and now you can step into her life and experience Hardwick the way she lived it – and cared for it.
The sound of the 1920s now drifts out from the small cinema introducing people to the story of Duchess Evelyn Devonshire, the last member of the Cavendish family to make Hardwick her home. Born in 1870 and surviving into her 90th year before her death in 1960 Evelyn lived through a period of huge change, including two World Wars, an abdication and the ending of a family dynasty at Hardwick.
Young Evelyn credit National Trust archives
The ‘Last Lady’ story at Hardwick begins as you come down the stairs from the top floor and you hear the music from the cinema; take a seat in a proper cinema seat and watch the short film of Evelyn, incorporating images, words and Pathé film footage. From here you are free to explore the rooms on the middle floor in any order you wish, using the Dining Room as the base for your explorations; in this room the large table is ‘laid’ with a timeline of Evelyn’s life beginning with her birth and moving through key moments in her life, in the context of the events happening around her. This room also touches on two key themes from Evelyn’s life, her sense of duty and the charity work she did and the way she cared for the collections at Hardwick.
Off the Dining Room are a suite of rooms, the Cut Velvet Bedroom and Dressing Room, where the emphasis is on Evelyn’s early life and her travels. Her father had important jobs for the government in both India and Canada, so by the time she was 18, Evelyn had spent as much time outside England as in it. Take another route from the Dining Room and you move into the Paved Room and discover Evelyn as a very hands-on conservator. Another route off the Dining Room leads you onto the Gallery and an exploration of Evelyn’s role as Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary, a largely ceremonial role but one that saw Evelyn and Queen Mary spend much time together and form a strong friendship. Look out for the stunning robe, made by a master dressmaker Christine Anderson, that gives an impression of the robes Evelyn wore at the coronation of King George V.
The final two rooms on the floor, the Drawing Room and Evelyn’s bedchamber are more personal rooms, where the story focusses very much on the family and the exciting, albeit sometimes tragic, life of her children and grandchildren. Find out more in these spaces about the family connections to the American family of Fred Astaire and the Kennedy’s.
As you leave the middle floor we hope you will have gained a revealing insight into the Last Lady of Hardwick, Duchess Evelyn Devonshire.
Find out more about Hardwick Hall and plan your visit here.