Mysteries of the ‘pleasure palace’

Bolsover Castle, near Chesterfield
Bolsover Castle, near Chesterfield
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HE had a reputation as a philanderer and his parties were among the most excessive of the seventeenth century,

Almost 400 years after the legendary antics of wealthy socialite William Cavendish inside Bolsover Castle, some aspects of his Derbyshire “pleasure palace” continue to baffle historians of the period.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors who have passed through the doors since it became an official tourist attraction in 1945 have been enchanted by the beauty of the Little Castle and the spectacular Riding House, both built by Cavendish to indulge his passions for horsemanship and high living.

But now for the first time in living memory, lodges, which resemble small living areas which were built into the thick castle walls, are being opened to the public.

Even today it is not clear what the well-appointed lodges were used for.

Keith Holland, English Heritage manager at Bolsover Castle, says the rooms may have been used for “entertaining”, but nobody really knows.

“Mystery surrounds the purpose of these lodges,” he says.

“The Master’s Lodge is certainly quite grand with two rooms, and ornate fireplaces.

“There are a further two lodges either side of the main gate, again with impressive fireplaces.

“Who used them and for what purpose is a mystery. They may have been used for entertaining.

“William Cavendish was a cavalier who built the castle for pleasure rather than war.

“You can see the grandeur of his entertainment by the grand fireplaces in the lodges 
and the inner room in the Master’s Lodge also has the 
same floor as the beautiful and ornate Pillar Parlour in the Little Castle.

“An alcove in one of the other lodges has the remnants of a yellow and orange shell decoration painting.”

It is also possible that they could have been used by the Bolsover militia, the White Coats, at the time of the English Civil War.

William Cavendish, as well as being a lover of good food, fine clothes and women, held various political offices, including Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, and the militia would have come under his command.

There are four “cupboards” in the walls of one of the rooms in the Master’s Lodge that are the perfect size to fit a seventeenth-century musket.

The militia would have needed somewhere in the local area to store their munitions and a grand castle on a windy hilltop would be ideal.

The lodges also contain evidence of tourism long before English Heritage took over Bolsover Castle.

“Previous visitors have also left their mark in these lodges with centuries old graffiti, a great deal coming from the Victorian period.

“A group from Wicken Congregational Church, Sheffield visited in 1890 and left their list of attendees on the wall of one of the lodges.”

The Master’s Lodge is open for visitors to look round and an English Heritage volunteer or member of staff is on duty in the area with keys to show visitors inside the two Gate Lodges.

Says Mr Holland: “We have opened the Lodges as a temporary additional attraction as part of our winter timetable. Bolsover Castle is now open every weekend until the end of March 2013. We currently have no plans to open the Lodges after the end of March 2013.”

Throughout December and into the first weekend of the New Year children can take part in the Festive Family Fun Trail around the castle and win a prize.

Visitors can also browse for Christmas presents in the gift shop and enjoy a warming treat in the café.

The Festive Family Fun Trail is at weekends in December and on January 5 and 6.

Bolsover Castle is open from 10am until 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays only during the winter.

It is open daily for half term, February 18-24.

Admission prices are: Adult £8.00/Concessions £7.20/Child £4.80/Family £20.80. Entry is free for members of English Heritage.

For further information, call Bolsover Castle on 01246 822 844 or visit: www.english-heritage.org.uk/bolsovercastle