"The record reveals that for 400 years my ancestors felt that, for them, Holker was more desirable, more favoured by Providence and more enhanced with natural beauty than any other place on earth. With my family, this feeling persists today; and with it a sense of purpose that Holker must be conserved, not just for ourselves and our children, but also for the thousands of visitors who come here each year. We hope you will feel as welcome today as would the family relations and friends arriving at Holker 100 years ago."
Lord & Lady Cavendish
The earliest records of a house on the present site date back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. From then until the present day it has been the home of three families: Preston, Lowther and Cavendish. The Estate has never been bought or sold but has passed by inheritance through the family line, with each generation leaving its impressions, either by planning and altering the landscape or by changing the house by adding, re-facing, embellishing or even rebuilding - as was necessary after the disastrous fire of 1871.
The fire destroyed the entire west wing, including numerous paintings, pieces of furniture, statues, portraits and valuable books. Undaunted by this catastrophe, William Cavendish, the 7th Duke of Devonshire, began plans to rebuild the west wing on an even grander scale, and employed the architects Paley and Austin of Lancaster. Built in red sandstone, it was described by Pevsner at the best Elizabethan Gothic in the north of England. This wing is the part of the house that is now open to the public. It covered the same site as the previous wing, and despite its emulation of Elizabethan architecture, it remains unmistakably Victorian.
It is a marvellous reflection of its age with its atmosphere of confidence, spaciousness and prosperity, and the craftsmanship in many of the rooms is outstanding. The Library contains a collection of 3,500 books, many of which survived the great fire and others subsequently brought from Chatsworth. Furniture, always popular with visitors, includes the Estate Rent Table, work by Chippendale, the Regulator Clock and the Nursery Yacht. The grand staircase was hand carved by Estate Workers and works on the cantilever principle with every baluster having a unique design.
Its owners have always loved Holker. The 7th Duke preferred it to any of his other properties, and in 1908 when the house was left to the grandfather of Lord Cavendish, and not to his elder brother Victor, the Duke muttered bitterly 'Holker, the best loved house in England'. He and his family left in tears with a photograph to record the occasion.
One of the greatest joys of Holker is the garden, and the family are indebted to the generations of keen, enthusiastic and gifted gardeners for the wonderful collection of trees and shrubs. There are trees surviving at Holker suggesting that Lord Cavendish's ancestors had an interest in collecting unusual trees as early as the 1750's. Many exceptional plants are to be found that were introduced to Holker by his grandmother, Lady Moyra Cavendish. But gardens change and develop; renewal is vitally important, and especially so in the case of a garden that relies on the income derived from being open to the public. The present age provides wonderful opportunities and it has been possible to introduce to the Holker gardens, over the last thirty years, more species of plants than in the several hundred years that went before.
It is the hope that visitors will feel as welcome today as would the family relations and friends arriving at Holker 100 years ago.