Calke Abbey is a rather unusual National Trust property. As you start the tour of the house all seems normal; your standard stately home décor (albeit with a rather large amount of clutter including an unusual amount of taxidermy). Many of the rooms are beautifully decorated and contain the usual family portraits. But as you enter the second stage of your tour the grand interiors are replaced by flaking wallpaper and discarded bric-a-brac.
Calke Abbey is the National’s Trust ‘un-stately home’, and has been preserved in the state that it was received in by the Trust in order to educate the public of the dramatic decline that plagued many country house estates in the twentieth century. The Trust aims to raise awareness of the many estates that did not survive.
While I enjoy looking round the more normal National Trust properties, Calke Abbey is fascinating and amazingly atmospheric. Many of the deserted rooms retain remnants of their former grandeur; the Nursery has a rather eerie feel, with its collection of broken and abandoned toys scattered across the floor. The seemingly endless warren of empty corridors would not seem out of place in a horror movie.
In the midst of this decay, visitors encounter the State Bed, in pristine condition having remained unpacked since its arrival as a gift in the eighteenth century. Its beautiful canopies draw attention to the hidden gems that are lost in these decaying houses, and the importance of their conservation.
It takes a huge amount of effort and ingenuity to safeguard Calke Abbey while maintaining it in its current state of disrepair. But it is certainly worth it; Calke Abbey is not only a fascinating and atmospheric building but also a monument to the decline of the British country estate and the lost lifestyle of the families that once lived in them.