Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:


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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Bolsover (District Authority)
Old Bolsover
National Grid Reference:
SK4700570698, SK4701270692, SK4703070714, SK4706070702, SK4710870637, SK4714270664


SK 4771 16/58



Country House. C17. The keep was built 1612-21 for Sir Charles Cavendish, in a medievalizing style. The architects were probably Robert and John Smythson. Additional ranges c1627-42 by John Smythson; c1635-42 probably by Huntingdon Smythson. Later alterations. Coursed squared limestone and ashlar, from quarries at Bolsover, Bolsover Moor and Shuttlewood. Tiled roofs and roofs hidden behind parapets. Square keep with enclosed forecourt at the north west end of the complex, Fountain Garden enclosed by massive walls, angled Terrace Range to south west, return Riding School Range, and return wall enclosing the Inner Court. The keep is square in plan and rises to three storeys over a semi-basement. Square projecting angle turrets and larger square stair tower in the north east corner. Moulded plinth, moulded band at the base of each storey, and battlemented parapet. Pyramid caps on the turrets. South elevation of five symmetrical bays. Full-height, square, projecting porch bay. Long straight flight of stone steps lead up to the keyed round-arched entrance on the piano nobile. Latticework balustrade. The window above has a pediment on banded half-columns. Corbelled out balcony. Mullioned cross window above again. Central bay flanked on each side by two 2-light mullioned windows to the basement; two 2-light mullioned windows above and above again, with two transoms; and two stone cross windows above again. The side elevations of four and five bays have similar fenestration, mostly with cross-windows. The stair tower rises higher than the main building and has single-light windows with recessed and chamfered surrounds, placed at alternate heights corresponding to the rise of the staircase. Forecourt to the south enclosed by walls and four square towers, two flanking the entrance. These towers are battlemented and have prominent pinnacles and rectangular windows with raised surrounds. Central entrance flanked by blind piers. Double flight of stairs across the front, each with a half-landing. Interior of the keep: The principal rooms on the piano nobile are rib-vaulted and the piers are classical columns. Bosses with scrolly ornamentation. Fireplaces with highly unusual projecting canopy heads with bold Jacobean panelled decoration. The overall character of the decoration is medievalizing. Basement kitchen and service rooms. On the ground floor the main hall and the Pillar Parlour. The hall is entered from a vestibule and has two pillars; the Pillar Parlour is entered from the other side of the vestibule, and between them is a service stair. The hall has a fireplace with medievalizing ogee arch, but based on designs in Serlio's Book VII. Panelling and lunettes painted with the Labours of Hercules, added after 1617. Panelling in the parlour derived from Elizabethan panelling at Theobalds, drawn by John Smythson in 1618. Vault bosses like horses heads. Gothic windows inserted in 1834. The Anteroom has lunettes painted with figure subjects after Martin de Vos and an architectural scene. The two principal rooms on this floor are of different heights, giving space for the Star Chamber above. The Star Chamber has arcaded panelling with painted figures of the prophets and in the window reveals of saints, and stars on the ceiling. Three-tier fireplace, the most elaborate in the keep. The Marble Closet over the porch has a black and white colour scheme. Sir William's private suite fills the south side and is ranged around an internal lobby. Best bedchamber, Elysium and Heaven rooms; all with Italian Mannerist style decoration. The top floor has a central octagonal lobby surrounded by arched niches. The Fountain Garden to the south is enclosed by massive wall incorporating some medieval masonry of the inner bailey walls. Garden rooms set in the thickness of the walls, some vaulted and with fireplaces. In the centre of the Garden the Venus Fountain adapted from a design by John Smythson. To the south west is the angled Terrace Range. At the north end are the Cavendish Apartments, of two storeys over a basement. Two plus four bays, and two storeys over a basement. The first two bays are angled and have a Dutch gable. Blocked 2-light window to the basement and two cross windows to each floor above. The four bays to the right have similar fenestration and a large rusticated and pedimented doorway. Between the windows are strange buttresses or banded half-columns, rising from corbels. The main range to the right is of one storey over a basement and is symmetrical, of ten bays with a central doorway with banded rustication. Large cross windows with curious pediments broken into three pieces, and divided by similar banded half-columns. Double flight of steps up to the main entrance. At the south west end is one half of the south west gate, with vermiculated rustication, half a segmental pediment and a banded ball finial. The elevation to the Inner or Great Court has a battlemented range at the south end, with tall cross windows and low rectangular windows above, all with classical moulded architraves. The northern part has an irregular row of six Dutch gables. Cross windows and tall windows with two transoms. Two-light mullioned windows to the basement and in the gables. The interior of this derelict range had the Great Gallery running along the full height of the south side, and behind it facing into the court, a bedchamber, withdrawing room, hall and great hall/dining room. Service rooms and private apartments at the north end. The Riding School range has on both sides a row of gabled dormers with alternating triangular and segmental pediments. Elevation to the court of 3-5-7 bays, almost symmetrical. The centre part containing the riding school itself, projects forward on both sides. In the court there is a massive central entrance or triumphal gateway, heavily rusticated and with a broken segmental pediment enclosing a ball finial. Flanked by pairs of large cross windows with moulded architraves. Two-light mullioned windows to the dormers. A similar composition to the right hand part, with five symmetrical bays plus two additional bays. A second triumphal gateway. This part housed the forge. Three bay range at the east end, with three tiers of 2-light mullioned windows. Various small chambers within. The forecourt of the present keep stands on the foundations of the medieval castle of c1173-9. In 1553 it was granted to George Talbot, later Earl of Shrewsbury and the husband of Bess of Hardwick.

Sources:Bolsover Castle by P.A. Faulkner, English Heritage Handbook.

Robert Smythson & the Elizabethan Country House by Mark Girouard, Yale University Press 1983.

Listing NGR: SK4702970718


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Faulkner, PA, Bolsover Castle
Girouard, M, Robert Smythson and the Elizabethan Country House, (1983)
Serlio, S, The Five Books of Architecture, (1611)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 14 Apr 2005
Reference: IOE01/13388/36
Rights: Copyright IoE Dr Eric Ritchie. Source Historic England Archive
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