The Abbey that never was. Calke Priory was founded by Richard d'Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester some time between 1115 and 1120 and was dedicated to St Giles; d'Avranches had inherited from his father vast estates in both England and Normandy, of which Calke and many of the surrounding villages were part. Calke Priory was initially an independent community, but after the death of Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester in 1153, it (along with most of his Derbyshire estates) became part of the dowry of his widow, Maud of Gloucester. Maud initially granted nearby St. Wystan's Church, Repton to the canons at Calke Priory, but subsequently had a new priory, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, built at Repton. In 1172 she moved the Canons from Calke to the new Repton Priory, with Calke then becoming a subordinate "cell" to Repton Priory. Repton Priory was dissolved in 1538, and its land confiscated by The Crown. The canons had, however, anticipated the dissolution and so had begun to lease out some of their estates: Calke was one of these, leased on 29 August 1537 to John Prest (or Priest) for 99 years.
John Prest (or Priest) was a member of the London Grocers' Company and lived at Calke until his death in 1546. The house then passed to his widow, then through his daughter Frances to her husband William Bradborne. The lease was granted by the Crown to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (later Duke of Northumberland), after which the estate passed through various freehold and leasehold owners before eventually being acquired by Richard Wendsley in 1575. Wendsley had twice been MP for Derbyshire and is known to have constructed a new house on the estate which he resided in; this is the Elizabethan House which forms the core of the house that still exists today, and of which parts are still visible within the house's courtyard. Little was known about how this Elizabethan House looked until repair work on the current house was undertaken by the National Trust in 1988. The house was built around a courtyard with the South range serving as the entrance front, with a gatehouse; two projections in the foundations at the North-East and North-West reveal the locations of 2 stair-turrets. The work also revealed later 17th-century arcaded loggia which were built next to both the stair-turrets.
In 1585, Wendsley sold the estate to three-time MP for Derby, Robert Bainbridge. He was an "extreme protestant" who was imprisoned in 1586 in the Beauchamp Tower of The Tower of London (where he engraved his name which can still be seen today) for refusing to accept Elizabeth I's Church Settlement. Bainbridge may have chosen to live at Calke as the parish was not under the control of a bishop: meaning he could worship as a Puritan without interference. Following Robert's death, Calke passed to his son, another Robert. This Robert sold the estate in 1622 to Sir Henry Harpur, for £5,350. The Harpur family had become established in the middle of the previous century; descendants of Richard Harpur who was a successful lawyer who had risen to become a judge at the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster and then Chief Justice of the County Palatine of Lancaster. The house was rebuilt by Sir John Harpur, 4th baronet (1680–1741) between 1701 and 1704. The house and estate were owned by successive Harpur baronets and were ultimately inherited by Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe (1846–1924), 10th (and last) baronet who was devoted to his collection of natural history specimens. When he died, his eldest daughter, Hilda Harpur-Crewe (1877–1949) sold some of his collection of birds, butterflies and fishes to pay death duties.
To the side of the house is a large quadrangle of buildings forming the old stable yard and farm, complete with old carriages and farm implements. The outbuildings incorporate a brewhouse that was linked to the main house by a tunnel. The Trust manages the surrounding landscape park with an eye to nature conservation. It contains such features as a walled garden, with a flower garden and a former physic garden, now managed as a kitchen garden. The ancient deer park of the Calke Abbey Estate is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and national nature reserve, particularly noted for its rare wood pasture habitat and associated deadwood invertebrate fauna. There is designated mobility parking and a vehicle service operates between the car park and the house/garden. Disabled toilet available near visitor reception. Wheelchair access to parts of the house with wheelchairs available to borrow (limited number). There are photograph albums with images of the contents of the House, Parkland and Gardens available in the entrance hall for those who cannot access the entire site. There is a virtual guided tour available for visitors, please ask at the Entrance Hall to view it. A Braille guide of the House is available to borrow as well as a large print guide of the House. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Ticknall, Derby, Derbyshire, DE73 7LE
Transport: Derby (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 2 and 206, alight at Ticknall, 1½ mile walk through park.
Opening Times : Daily 11:00 to 17:00
Tickets Whole Property: Adults £12.75; Children £6.60
Tickets Gardens + Stables + Park: Adults £8.65; Children £4.30
Tickets Park Only: Adults £3.40; Children £1.70
Tel: 01332 863822