ELVASTON CASTLE COUNTRY PARK HISTORY
Elvaston Castle Country Park was the first
park of its kind in Britain. Following the proposal in
the Countryside Act of 1968 that country
parks should be created to provide improved
opportunities for the enjoyment of the countryside
by the public in conveniently located areas, the
suitability of Elvaston as a site for a country park,
situated only a few miles south-east of Derby, was
The acquisition of Elvaston castle and
surrounding land by the County Council and Derby
Corporation was completed in 1969, and the park was
opened on Good Friday 1970. Prior to its opening,
however, the grounds required extensive work to overcome
the problems created by over 25 years of neglect. Many
trees were pruned and restored, and shrubs were cleared
to bring light and air to other specimens. Unfortunately
some areas like the Bower Garden were beyond restoration.
Following the opening of the park, the lower
stable yard was restored and became home to the Working
Estate Museum, opened to the public in 1980. It was
(until closed down by the County Council), a working
museum where staff in period dress helped visitors to
experience something of the lives of those who worked on
the estate in the early 20th century. The top stable yard
was also developed to provide improved visitor
facilities, including a shop, information centre, and a
schools' field studies centre.
The park spans 325 acres of varied landscape,
including beautiful woodland, gardens and open parkland.
It offers a wide variety of facilities, from a riding
centre and showground to caravan and camp sites. A
permanent nature trail has been made there and part of
the park has been set aside as a Local Nature Reserve.
Surveys have also been undertaken in the past to monitor
the wildlife and compile information on the different
species of birds, plants, insects and small mammals
present in the park.
Elvaston Castle and the surrounding parkland
was the seat of the Earls of Harrington until 1939. The
gothic-style castle was designed for the 3rd Earl of
Harrington in the early 19th century by the architect
James Wyatt, although Wyatt himself did not live to see
his designs carried out. The 3rd Earl also wanted to see
a new landscaped garden to go with his rebuilt castle,
and offered the commission to a famous landscape gardener
of the time, Lancelot (Capability) Brown.
Brown, however, turned down the invitation
because the area was so flat, and so it was left to the
4th Earl Charles to finish the work at Elvaston. Charles
was quite a character. When he inherited his title in
1829 he had earned himself a reputation as a dandy and
Regency buck. He was a trend setter, and attracted the
friendship of the Prince Regent, who copied his clothes,
tea drinking, and addiction to snuff, the Earl had 365
snuff boxes, one to use on each day of the year! He
designed many of his own clothes, and many of his
fashions were copied, however odd.
In 1831 Charles married Maria Foote. She was
17 years his junior, an actress and an unmarried mother
(neither of which were socially acceptable at that time).
Although their love affair had begun in the 1820s,
marriage had been out of the question while
Charless father was alive, and the affair was a
favourite topic of society gossips. The Earl was devoted
to Maria, however, and it has been suggested that the
gardens he commissioned at Elvaston were his tribute to
their love (The inside of the Moorish temple in the
Alhambra garden was decorated with symbols of the
chivalric love of a knight for his lady, and there was
even a statue of the couple showing an adoring Charles at
The gardens were created for Charles the 4th
Earl of Harrington by William Barron and a team of 90
gardeners between 1830 and the Earls death in 1851.
Barrons design created a series of theme gardens to
the south of the Castle, including an Italian garden
based on designs from Tuscany, and the Alhambra garden
which included a Moorish temple. The bower garden, which
became known as the Garden of the Fair Star, had a monkey
puzzle tree in a star shaped bed at its centre, as well
as many statues and green and yellow yew trees clipped
into different shapes.
Barron also planted several avenues of trees
and constructed a large lake on the site (where,
incidentally, some of the scenes in Women in Love were
filmed). Charles was impatient to see his new garden take
shape, and so to meet his demands Barron pioneered a
method of moving mature trees from one place to another.
Some of the yews which became part of the gardens at
Elvaston were already hundreds of years old, and were
transplanted over distances of many miles to reach
By 1850 Barron had planted examples of every
species of European conifer then known at Elvaston, as
well as an avenue of limes which led to the Golden Gates.
These gates, which had previously adorned the royal
palaces at Madrid and Versailles, had been acquired by
the 3rd Earl of Harrington in 1819. Under the 4th Earl
the gardens at Elvaston remained a private place for the
Earl himself and his wife. It had to wait for the
succession of Leicester Stanhope as the 5th Earl of
Harrington before the gardens were opened to the public.
When the gardens were opened thousands of
people visited them despite the rather high admission fee
of three shillings, often travelling to Elvaston on
special excursion trains. During and after the Second
World War the castle at Elvaston was home to a teacher
training college, evacuated for safety from Derby. Every
room in the castle was needed to accommodate over 150
staff and students, the cellar was used as an air raid
shelter, and the Hall of the Fair Star became a lecture
room and common-room.