Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire
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Although barely more than an uninhabited and ruinous shell, this fine Elizabethan house still displays many of the ornate external features that formed part of the original building, which dates from 1570. Kirby Hall was built for Sir Humphrey Stafford, a distant family descendant of the Earls of Stafford, but he died before the work was completed, and the property was sold to Sir Christopher Hatton. A prominent local figure, and talented courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Christopher finished Kirby Hall, and a second property close by, in grand and elaborate fashion. For nearly 200 years the Hatton family modified and extended the house and gardens in a style most fitting for their tradition of providing the finest hospitality to the Kings and Queens of the time.

As happened so frequently, financial difficulties eventually caught up with the family successors, resulting from the cost of continual improvements and maintenance, coupled with the vast sums of money lavished on entertaining. Inevitably, Kirby Hall's importance began to decline during the 18th century, and by the middle of the 19th century this imposing and beautiful family home had been deserted, neglected, and subjected to shameful destruction in order to pay off a substantial gambling debt.

Thankfully efforts were made to prevent further decay of the structure, although by the time it passed into the care of English Heritage all fixtures and fittings had been removed, and the entire contents of Kirby Hall had long since been disposed of. With a little imagination, however, it is not difficult to appreciate just how splendid this vast residence once appeared. Standing in the inner courtyard, the magnificent fašades of the four ranges of buildings depict some outstanding Renaissance detail, not dissimilar to the style of Inigo Jones, which give a very Italian feel to the whole area.

In sharp contrast to this refined classical work, a simple but spacious medieval structure consisting of a great hall with minstrels gallery above is found on the inside of the house at ground level. Throughout Kirby Hall a labyrinth of rooms, staircases and passages eventually lead the visitor to the massive, double bow-fronted southwest wing of the property overlooking the rear grounds. Viewed externally, these great twin bays containing windows from ground to roof level, look strangely out of place with the flat-walled symmetry of the rest of the building, but they did form part of the original plan, albeit somewhat enhanced by Sir Christopher Hatton.

A real of sense of grandeur and good living emanates from the emptiness of the highly decorated courtyard buildings, and this gradually gives way to a more restrained but very comfortable atmosphere within the body of the private living accommodation. Surrounded at one time by orchards, wild meadows and huge formal gardens, Kirby Hallmust have presented an extremely peaceful and secluded retreat. That remains the case today. Even though it is only a few miles from Corby, it stands in a low-lying position well off the beaten track and is completely obscured from any modern day intrusions.

 

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