Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield (Hardwick Hall Historic England Listing Grade II; Hardwick Country Park Historic England Listing Grade II*)

Hardwick Hall is an up-market hotel adjacent to what is now Hardwick Hall Country Park, located on the western edge of the County Durham village of Sedgefield.  Together, the house and parkland formed a relatively small but nonetheless impressive eighteenth century landscaped estate, began in 1748 at the behest of its new owner, John Burdon, son of a very wealthy salt and shipping merchant from South Shields.

The Hall itself, still discernible within the hotel’s twentieth century accretions, was a large farm or manor house, and not the palatial residence the name suggests.  In 1794 William Hutchinson waxed lyrical about the grounds but didn’t mention the house.[1]  However, in 1857 William Fordyce saw a ‘mansion . . . a spacious building, fronting the south, and overlooking the highly ornamental pleasure grounds. . .‘ [2] Eyes of the beholder, I would imagine.

Later, in 1928, The Victoria County History argued, ‘Hardwick Hall is of no architectural interest, being a plain two-story building with cornice and slated hipped roofs.’[3]  And in 1953, Nikolaus Pevsner tells us,

‘The existing house, probably that mentioned in 1634, was retained. Its façade, though roughcast with modern glazing and porch, looks early-to-mid-C18, so may have been added before Burdon’s time.  It is of five bays and two storeys, with a hipped roof with modillion cornice and two segmental pedimented dormers.  Lower half-octagonal wings each side and a plain eleven-bay wing at the back could be Burdon’s extension after the mansion house idea was abandoned.’[4]

An intended replacement, a much grander hall, was never realised, and it has been suggested that the creation of a romantic park with various architectural focal points was Burdon’s main priority.  It is also possible that by the time he came to build a house in keeping with the landscaped surroundings, his money had run out.  (John Burdon sold the Hardwick Estate to William Russell of Brancepeth Castle in in 1790.)

Burdon appointed James Paine, a nationally renowned and well-respected Palladian architect, to design the new mansion and a range of garden buildings.  Together, Paine and Burdon, along with Durham architect John Bell,[5] created a romantic landscaped ‘circuit walk’, dotted with architectural ‘eye catchers’, waiting to be ‘discovered’ by guests perambulating along the Grand Terrace, around the 17-acre man-made lake and along the adjacent serpentine river.  Carefully considered planting ensured progressive revelation of these architectural gems in their verdant settings.

The pleasure gardens and the buildings or follies were described by Hutchinson in 1794 as being ‘laid out with exquisite taste, and . . . extremely elegant’[6].   A recent renovation project undertaken by Durham County Council, driven by Sedgefield Civic Society and helped by a raised Historic England Listing to Grade II*, plus Heritage Lottery funding, means some of the pleasures of this historic landscape can still be experienced and enjoyed.  Hardwick’s visitors did not always follow the intended route, and what follows here is an annotated list of the main landscape features.

The Tuscan Temple or Alcove did not feature on the circuit walk but was located against a tall garden wall now in the hotel grounds.  Its restored (almost completely rebuilt) Tuscan portico shelters a replica wooden bench in the Chinoiserie style and from which an inspiring view of the lake and Grand Terrace could, and still can, be had.

The Gothick Seat is located halfway along the Grand Terrace and was situated to enable sight of a circular pond to the south.  Trees planted behind created a shady and inviting ‘cool recess’[7] to sit and contemplate the scenery.

The Bath House, which sadly no longer exists, closed the vista at the western end of the Grand Terrace.  This small Palladian building had an open Doric portico (containing a bust of Diana, the huntress), with two rooms on either side (a bedroom and a breakfast room), and a plunge pool.  The foundations and the bath are still intact, and one hopes this might be rebuilt in the future.

The Temple of Minerva, dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and patroness of the arts, sits on a small rise, surrounded by a ha-ha, which would have protected the stonework from grazing cattle. (Now it is fenced to protect the public from the ha-ha!) The Temple is arguably the most impressive of the newly restored ‘follies’, although much of the original and elaborate interior decoration is long gone.  The Temple is a domed square room surrounded by a colonnade of twenty Ionic columns.  Each façade is identical, with a central window or door flanked by niches.  Like all of these buildings it is thoughtfully and aesthetically sited.

The Gothic Bridge is artfully simple yet strikingly sophisticated. Its single graceful arch was carefully placed across the Serpentine River to enable a view of the Statue of Neptune, located on an island in a bend of the watercourse.  Originally made of lead, the statue disappeared sometime after the Second World War; the present-day Neptune is a bronze reproduction, but visually impressive nonetheless.

The Gothic Gatehouse was designed as a sham ruin and is said to have been built with stone taken from the ruins of Guisborough Priory.  Intended to look as if it had been there since the middle ages, this is a good example of the self-conscious approach to landscape creation which was intended to impart authenticity and an historic pedigree.  The tower leans because of its foundation in sandy soil and has been reinforced rather than corrected.  The single storey main section was originally two storeys high but has been left as one.

The Banqueting House was possibly the high point (and termination) of the garden tour.  It was demolished in 1947, although a photograph from 1900 shows a building not unlike the Banqueting Houses at Studely Royal (c.1729).  Paine’s original drawings for the Banqueting House are held in the Durham County Record Office.[8]  An 1800 guidebook describes it as having been

‘. . . built on an artificial mount, having a spacious lawn in front and surrounded by an amphitheatre of wood. The style of building is superb: the front is adorned with six pilasters of the Corinthian order, a Venetian door of glass, and a window on each side in the Ionic order, with a pediment over each, a circular arch above, and finished with an open balustrade. There is also a handsome bow window at each end of the building, both of which are finished with balustrades, similar to those in the front. Strangers are introduced at the back entrance, in order that they may be the more struck with the magnificence and splendour which everywhere prevail in this noble apartment.’[9]





[1] William Hutchinson, History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, Carlisle (1794), pp.77-79 (The Internet Archive, www.archive.org )

[2] William Fordyce, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, Vol.II, Newcastle (1857), p.341 (The Internet Archive, www.archive.org )

[3] Victoria County History, 1923, ‘Parishes: Sedgefield’, in A History of the County of Durham: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1928), pp. 321-343. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/durham/vol3/pp321-343  [accessed 21 March 2018]

[4] Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, County Durham, 2nd Edition, reprinted 2000, pp. 300-301

[5] Steven Desmond, ‘A Walk Through Hardwick Gardens’, Northern Landscapes, Representations and Realities of North-East England, Woodbridge (2010), p.72

[6] Hutchinson, op.cit.

[7] Hutchinson, op.cit

[8] Foll-e, the e Bulletin of the Folly Fellowship, Issue 18, October 2008, www.follies.org.uk

[9] Anon., A Walk Through Hardwicke Gardens, Near Sedgefield, in the County of Durham, Stockton (1800), cited in ‘Hardwick Park – the Circuit Walk’, Parks and Gardens UK (blog), https://parksandgardensuk.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/hardwick-park-the-circuit-walk/