The true love story of the Elvaston Castle estate as we know it today really begins in the early 1800s but the full history of the Elvaston estate can be traced back to the 11th century and earlier with ownership changing hands several times in the proceeding centuries. Records show Sir Thomas Hanselin as one of the original estate owners before it passed into the hands of the Musards of Staveley, followed by the Frenchvilles before being purchased by Sir Walter Blount in 1420.
The History of Elvaston Castle
The estate then passed through several other families before it was transmitted to Sir Thomas Stanhope of Shelford in the reign of Mary I, and his grandson Philip, the first Earl of Chesterfield, commissioned a new house which was built in 1633. A branch of the Stanhope family took up residence in the house and oversaw various developments of the property over the next century.
In 1742, the Elvaston Stanhopes took up the title of Earl of Harrington and proceeded to commission more rebuilding. But the house as we know it today really started to take shape when the third Earl of Harrington, Charles Stanhope, commissioned James Wyatt to remodel the old house. Wyatt didn`t live to see his plans to fruition, the designs instead being executed by Robert Walker between 1815 and 1829.
Amongst the changes designed by Wyatt (pictured right) were the gothic fa?ades which still grace the house today. A new great hall was added to the west and a new wing added to the north-west. Much of the existing interior was also Wyatt`s design, including the spectacular screen of four-centred arches, niches, fan vaulting and pendants in the great hall.
The fourth Earl of Harrington, Viscount Petersham, was nearly 50 when he inherited the title and estate in 1829. He had a reputation as something of a Regency buck, renowned for his stylish dress, tall and handsome looks, charming personality and way with the ladies.
When he finally married in 1831, it was to Maria Foote – a Covent Garden actress seventeen years his junior. Prior to their marriage, their affair had been the talk of the town in both London and Derbyshire and their relationship had been heavily frowned upon by the previous Earl and many other members of the family.
Lord Petersham and his wife (pictured right) took up residence at Elvaston shortly after their marriage. The couple were inseparable and besotted with one another. The Earl would never allow Maria out of the grounds – nor would he allow visitors in – such was his love and obsession for his wife. To that end, the Earl set about creating an private and secluded oasis of great beauty for himself and the love of his life – a Gothic paradise designed as a symbol of his undying love for her. It is here that the Elvaston estate as we know it today began to take shape.
The final phase of building at the house began in 1836 when Lewis Cottingham was called in to rebuild the south front with the brief to give the facade, still the original from 1633, a more harmonious look to match the rest of the newer building work on the house.
The Ghosts of Elvaston Castle
There are a few ghosts that are said can be found at Elvaston Castle. There is a grey lady that has been reported on numerous occasion walking the halls of the castle, however, very little is known of her.
Within the kitchens, there is apparantly the ghost of a maid that has been seen a few times, no doubt harking back to the times when Elvaston was in its pomp, and it is said there is a man who has been seen on the upper floors of the building – again, though, nothing about him is known.
There are numerous strange noises that have been reported within Elvaston but nobody has yet been able to describe them in any detail nor find their source. Finally, some of the doors in the castle become stuck shut and are unable to be opened – no obvious explanation for this has yet been found.