Wednesday 30 April 2014

Calke Abbey: Documeting Decay

For a number of years now I have curiously desired to visit Calke Abbey, after being exposed to its existence by Rhiannon Williams during a context lecture, and now a number of years later on a dark and dismal Saturday afternoon, I had my chance.

On approach it struck me that externally the house resembled a miniature Chatsworth. With its regimented symmetry, countless features borrowed from classical architecture and rolling grounds, on first glace Calke Abbey was not dissimilar to the most Stately homes which dot the hills of Derbyshire.

But looks can be deceiving, and within the house reveals itself as a magnificent labyrinth of rooms in varying states of decay and disarray. Once you've made your way past the warm open fires and greeting smiles, you can truly begin to appreciate and understand what sets Calke Abbey apart from the usual Stately Home experience. Each layer of history is left tantalizingly exposed, with the different stages in the houses history easily distinguishable. Some rooms remained full of furniture, books and everyday objects, in  a state of fading deterioration, others claustrophobically packed with an eclectic array of collections. The dank smell of damp hanging heavy in the air was an ever present part of most rooms, and an occasional cold chill, only enhanced the lonely, eerie neglect of the building. In one room however, the ethic of preservation not restoration, appeared to have been lost. The only room in the house to have been restored felt somewhat uncomfortable and bizarre in comparison to the ruinous, threadbare atmosphere of the rest of the house.

The element within Calke Abbey which struck me most, was the bizarre ever present reminder of death and decay, not only in the house itself but also in the vast collections on display. In virtually every room was not only taxidermy but countless skulls, horns and antlers. This unabashed, slightly grotesque display of death sat strangely beside portraits of the great and the good, giving the house an inescapably sinister atmosphere.

Visiting Calke Abbey provided a wonderfully inspirational insight into the decline and decay of the stately home. A visually exciting and inspiring experience I encourage any creatives, especially those with a slightly morbid constitution to pay Calke Abbey a visit, I doubt you will be disappointed.

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