Kirby Hall is considered one of England’s greatest Elizabethan houses, boasting intricate and masterful stonework, and set in acres of beautiful Northamptonshire countryside. It was built by Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth I, in 1570. Today, this vast mansion is mostly roofless and has dwindled to ruin across the centuries. Elaborately carved columns, spindly gables, and weathered stone finials pierce the sky and these honey-coloured stone walls still bear testament to the exceptionally rich decoration that were once some of the finest in England.
What stands today are the mere bones of what was once the finest house in sixteenth-century England.
Christopher Hatton was a favourite of Elizabeth I and he began work on the house in 1570, with a view to impressing his monarch enough to warrant a royal visit. It was built to display status, extraordinary wealth, and the patriotism of the golden age. The mastery of the stonework and graceful parterre gardens were complemented by fashionable bay windows, and the house continued to be elaborated and altered across the next century. The flag-stoned Great Hall and airy state rooms are all that remain intact today, refitted to their authentic seventeenth-century design, whilst the rest of the house is a skeletal ruin, weathered and hollowed, an eerie elegy to a world long lost.
Kirby Hall has a stark and uncompromising beauty. Bare brick walls and sweeping, roofless corridors are peppered with fireplaces hanging in mid-air where the floor fell away centuries ago. Worn and stained archways, thick with moss, are empty where statues once stood. The long gallery would once have been adorned with paintings and brightly-coloured tapestries, filled with the laughter of lords and ladies mingling and playing games. Now it is roofless, a long hallway of glassless windows and cracked flag-stones under an unforgiving sky.
Kirby Hall is a unique combination of grandeur and decay, extravagance and decline, and remains a fascinating commentary on the human ability to create so much beauty and on such a vast scale, only for it to crumble to ruin. The conservation of this site is now maintained by English Heritage, so visitors for many years to come will be able to witness the curious antiquated beauty of Kirby Hall that has been so ravaged by time.