Castle Country Park was the first park of its kind in Britain.
Castle Country Park
History and Facilities
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 immediately recognised.
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.
were pruned and restored, and shrub was cleared to bring light and
air to other specimens.
example of topiary at the Country Park
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
It is a working museum where staff in period dress help 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
Castle - today and the future
The park spans over 200 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.
permanent nature trail has been made there and part of the park has
been set aside as a nature reserve.
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.
Castle and the surrounding parkland was the seat of the Earls of Harrington
avenue of Limes leading to the castle
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
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 Charles’s father was alive, and the affair
was a favourite topic of society gossips.
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 Maria’s
The gardens were created for Charles the 4th Earl of Harrington by
William Barron and a team of 90 gardeners between 1830 and the Earl’s
death in 1851.
Barron’s 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.
Castle - today and the future
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
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.
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 Elvaston.
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
These gates, which had previously adorned the royal palaces at Madrid
and Versailles, had been acquired by the 3rd Earl of Harrington in
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.