Elizabethan skyscraper: Barlborough Hall

Barlborough Hall, Derbyshire

Barlborough Hall, Derbyshire

Barlborough Hall, on the borders of Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, is one of a number of country houses which Mark Girouard ascribes to the architect Robert Smythson.

It has all the Smythson trademarks of Wollaton Hall and Hardwick Hall – symmetry, height, lots of glass – and it was built (c1583-4) for Francis Rodes, an ambitious lawyer, staunch Protestant and associate of George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, the fourth and last husband of Bess of Hardwick.

It’s ironic that Rodes’ house is now a Catholic prep-school, and Mass is celebrated in his drawing room.

I was very surprised to be told, on a recent guided tour of Barlborough, that there’s a priest’s hole in the building.

Why, I asked, in a Protestant house?

Because, the guide replied, Francis Rodes’ wife was a Catholic.

I’ve not checked this further, but if it’s so it must have been an odd marriage.

Barlborough Hall is a preparatory school and as such is not open to visitors:  http://www.barlboroughhallschool.co.uk/barlboroughhallschool.  However, the Barlborough Heritage Centre [http://www.barlboroughrc.btck.co.uk/BarlboroughHall] welcomes visitors.


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