I’m not sure what it is about ruins that attracts me. They can be lonely places. Going around a stately mansion that has been restored to its former glory or has never lost its burnish is very different from visiting a place where the roof is off and the birds are nesting in the fallen towers. And yet there is something compelling about a ruin. Perhaps it’s glimpsing the ghosts of grandeur past. Perhaps it’s because it leaves room for the imagination to move into the gaps.
Last weekend I went to Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire. It was once the home of Sir Christopher Hatton, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourites. She apparently took a shine to him after seeing his moves on the dance floor! He developed Kirby in the hope that she would come to visit but sadly she never did. However by the 1690s the beautiful grounds at Kirby Hall were described as “ye finest garden in England.” By the nineteenth century the house had been in decline for a long time, the roof was off, and a shepherd and his sheep lived in a corner of the courtyard.
Kirby is a fascinating place to visit. You approach the house through the ruined loggia and courtyard but when you step into the Great Hall it is to find that it is complete, as is the Great Chamber and Great Withdrawing Room upstairs, plus various bed chambers and the Billiards Room, Library and Great Parlour downstairs. So the house is an odd mixture of ruin and roofed, with the west front one of the most elegant pieces of Elizabethan architecture I have seen. The bay windows are so huge that they light and warm the rooms beautifully. Here I am soaking up the sun on the window seat in one of the ground floor bedrooms, looking out over the gardens and imagining myself as an Elizabethan lady!
Kirby Hall’s peacocks add the final touch with their eerie cries echoing around the empty walls. There is a real atmosphere about the place. Close your eyes and you can feel the swish of those long skirts and hear the voices as Kirby’s ghosts pass by.
Do you like the atmosphere of a romantic ruin? Do you feel it brings you close to the ghosts of the past?