Review of ‘Oldcotes’, by Pamela Kettle

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11th September 2000, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Pamela Kettle
ISBN 1-898937-39-7 (2000)

Oldcotes is the story of a stately home which vanished - the last mansion built by that most fascinating of Derbyshire women, Bess of Hardwick. To give her her full title, Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury, she is known to history as 'a builder, a buyer and seller of estates, a moneylender, a farmer and a merchant of lead and coals and timber.' Her name is inseparable from the history of her first two great Elizabethan houses, Chatsworth and Hardwick, but she also built a third, Oldcotes, and this has been largely forgotten since its demolition early in the 18th century. Visitors to the site today find only a farmhouse and barns.

Front Cover

As Pamela Kettle writes in her latest book, Oldcotes, few people have any idea even of its location but she, the author, knows [it] well. Long familiar with the site of the house and its estate, she has conducted years of research, establishing not only the lines of ownership and occupants but identifying what is believed to be a design for the mansion by the eminent architect Robert Smythson. Yet no actual illustration survives to give life to the great house which warranted a mention on the tomb of Bess of Hardwick in Derby Cathedral.

Bess built Oldcotes in suitably grand style for her second son William Cavendish, who became 1st Earl of Devonshire. Over the course of time, with a series of diverting episodes along the way, the property passed to the Earls of Kingston and their descendants the Earls Manvers of Thoresby.

The first writer to unravel the history of Oldcotes, Pamela Kettle opens up many old secrets to fresh scrutiny and, incidentally, whets the appetite for looking a little more closely at one or two characters, not least a maligned and exiled Dowager Duchess. The book prints the original contract between Bess and the stonemasons who worked on her 50-room house and also reveals a hitherto unpublished probate inventory of its contents taken in 1666.

Published by Merton Priory Press, Oldcotes admirably fills a gap on local history bookshelves. There are 96 pages and a well considered selection of illustrations, portraits and maps.

Review by Julie Bunting

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