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Notes on the Geography of The United Kingdom: Kedleston Hall

Kedleston (Ked'-leh-ston) Hall, five miles northwest of Derby, is of interest on two grounds: first as an aristocratic 18th century home of the first order and second as the near-twin of Government House, Calcutta. The link between the two is George Nathaniel Curzon, first Viscount Scarsdale, who as viceroy between 1899 and 1905 occupied the copy and as Marquess Curzon of Kedleston owned the original.

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The United Kingdom: Kedleston Hall picture 1

The North Lodge or entrance is a modestly subdued triumphal arch. The design was by Robert Adam, who was commissioned in 1759 by an earlier Nathaniel Curzon (the second of that name and the first Baron Scarsdale) to complete the design of a home on the property, which had been owned by the Curzons since the beginning of time. Very well: since 1297.

The United Kingdom: Kedleston Hall picture 2

We durst not enter this way.

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The tradesmen's entrance must perforce suffice.

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The forbidden entrance would have brought us over this bridge, another Adam contribution and a reminder of Roman gravitas. The landscaping was primarily his, too. It replaced an earlier, geometric design by Charles Bridgeman.

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Geometric water became serpertine.

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There's no such romantic relaxation in the house, which consists of a grand central block with arms radiating to two smaller blocks called pavilions. The original plan, drawn by Matthew Brettingham and adapted from an unbuilt design from Palladio's Quattro Libri, called for two more arms and two more pavilions at the back of the building. They were never built, though they were in fact built at Calcutta. From tip to tip, the building stretches over 300 feet.

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At Curzon's death in 1925 the house passed to his nephew, the second Viscount Scardale. He himself dying in 1977 without a male heir, the house passed to a cousin, the third viscount. The cost of maintaining the house, along with the capital tax levied in 1977 on the death of the second viscount, induced the third to sell the house to the National Trust on condition that he and his family be allowed to continue living in the left-hand pavilion. This wasn't a reduction in the style to which they had become accustomed, because the owners had always lived there. The central block was only used on grand occasions, and the right-hand pavilion always housed servants and the kitchen.

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Pevsner, in his Derbyshire volume (1978, pp. 256-8) calls this "the most splendid Georgian house in Derbyshire." The north front, he writes, "is oblong, of eleven bays, with a great N portico raised above a rusticated basement storey and reached by a double staircase. It has six Corinthian columns, a commanding if not especially imaginative motif, and in the portico blank niches and medallions (Vintage, Pasturage, Ploughing, and Bear Hunting)...." The design was by Brettingham, perhaps modified by Adam.

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Pevsner is much more impressed by the south front, despite its lack of arms and pavilions. He writes, "The much more original south front is entirely by Adam. It has as its centre motif, derived from the Arch of Constantine, four detached Corinthian columns standing close to the wall and each carrying its own piece of projecting entablature."

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The dome crowns a rotunda called the saloon and leading to the Marble Hall, the grandest room in the house and one alternatively entered directly from the north entrance.

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1765, Baron Scarsdale, for friends and himself.

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The view from the top of the stairs on the south front. The Kedleston estate by 1650 covered almost 10,000 acres. By the time the house was built a century later, annual rents exceeded 7,000 pounds.

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The Marble Hall, "one of the most magnificent apartments of the C18 in England," says Pevsner. It measures 67 by 37 feet and is 40 feet high, with fluted columns of pink alabaster brought some 15 miles from family-owned quarries at Ratcliffe-on-Sour. The ceiling is coved and plastered, while the walls are lined with casts of classical sculptures and, above them, monochrome paintings of subjects from Homer. The floor is Hopton Wood stone (a hard local limestone) inlaid with marble. Adam set aside the planned windows in favor of three oval skylights. His drawing of this room shows the columns unfluted. (See Leslie Harris, Robert Adam and Kedleston, 1987.)

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Another view of the hall, this time toward the saloon and the large door on the south front.

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The dome and oculus of the rotunda. Pevsner writes of the room that "the spatial effect of moving from the hall into the rotunda is delightful, for the rotunda is considerably higher." At 62 feet, it's about 20 feet higher than the hall.

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The adjoining State Drawing Room is too grand for any normal person. The bright upholstery and wallpaper are recent restorations, funded out of the Trust's endowment, originally 14 million pounds to purchase and maintain the property.

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Gilding is the order of the day. The sofas were designed by Adam and have dolphin feet and merfolk supports.

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The door frames are pedimented and of alabaster.

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Massive doors are perfectly curved to fit elliptical rooms.

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The bed in the state bedroom, also by Adam, has cedar posts carved into gilt palm-trees. Slept in? Very rarely, if ever.

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Mirror by Adam.

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Although now converted into a portrait gallery, this was originally the Tapestry Corridor, curving toward the family wing and perhaps most remarkable for its curved oak floorboards.

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Curzon the viceroy is buried in a nearby chapel along with his first wife, the American Mary Leiter, ex-Chicago and Washington, D.C. After a protracted engagement, the couple were married in 1895 in St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House, and though Curzon certainly appreciated her inherited fortune, he seems to have loved her. They took up their positions in India four years later. She left with her health undermined and died at 36, the year after Curzon resigned in a conflict with Kitchener. In this large portrait, hanging on a wall in the house, she wears the famous peacock dress created by Worth in 1902 for a Delhi ball celebrating the coronation of Edward VII. Her connection to the house is stronger than may at first appear, because she was an early supporter of the National Trust, without which the house might not have survived.

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There used to be a large collection of Indian memorabilia in the rooms below the Marble Hall. Among the items was a silver wine cooler made at Curzon's order by melting down the many silver rings that had held petitions presented to him as viceroy. The cooler and much else in the museum was stolen some years ago. The peacock dress survives, its original jewels prudently replaced by imitation ones.

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Curzon as chancellor of Oxford University, a position he held from 1907 to 1925. Fancy yes, but nothing compared to his Star of India vestments, with a light blue satin mantle and, on the chest, a golden sunburst the size of an abalone. The effigy of him atop his tomb in the nearby chapel shows him in the Indian getup.

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In the library: Curzon's desk? Could be; he was a paperholic. The desk was made at Kedleston.

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The chapel where he and Mary are buried. The second Lady Curzon chose the fresh air.


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