Chatsworth House

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Things to do


Date of travel

July, 2016

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Chatsworth House was built to impress and justly deserves the description of one of the greatest treasure houses in Britain.

Set in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales it is surrounded by a Capability Brown Landscape and has been in the same family since it was built. Because there is so much to see, I have broken the review into four parts to keep it manageable. This covers the history of the house and visiting. “Part 2”: covers the ground floor rooms. “Part 3”: covers the State apartments on the first floor. “Part 4”: covers the guest bedrooms, library, great dining room and the sculpture gallery. The gardens are covered “separately.”:

A house was built here by Bess of Hardwick and her second husband Sir William Cavendish, who was Treasurer of the Kings Chamber and one of Henry VIII’s commissioners for the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Bess was a wealthy woman in her own right and a force to be reckoned with. Bess lived here with her fourth husband, George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was responsible for Mary Queen of Scots when she was held prisoner by Queen Elizabeth. Mary was kept a prisoner at Chatsworth at various times. Their son succeeded to the title and lived here after the death of Bess.

The house continued to be passed down through the Cavendishes and few changes were made until the William the fourth Earl was made 1st Duke of Devonshire for his part in setting William of Orange and Mary on the throne. He began rebuilding the house, although he kept the Tudor plan with the central courtyard. The original plan was just to rebuild the south wing and State Apartments, but once started, he didn’t stop. This was followed by the east front with the Painted Hall and Long Gallery. The west and north fronts followed and the north front was only just completed when he died.

He also designed formal gardens around the house. The canal pond was dug and the cascade built.

The second and third Dukes made no changes to the house or gardens but were great collectors buying paintings, statues and furniture for the house.

The fourth Duke was responsible for much of what we see today. He decided the house should be approached from the west. The existing stable block and the village of Edensor were pulled down as they interfered with the view from the house. New stables were built further up the hill and the village was moved.

Capability Brown was engaged to design the grounds into the then fashionable ‘natural’ parkland.

The fifth Duke was married to the socialite Georgiana Spencer and they filled the house with family, friends, writers and politicians. John Carr was commissioned to redesign the decoration and furnishings of the private drawing rooms.

Their son became the sixth Duke. He never married but loved entertaining and the English Country House Party was at its zenith. Anybody who was anybody came to stay, including Queen Victoria. The rooms on the east side of the house were converted into bedrooms with hand painted Chinese wallpapers, all the rage at the time. He spent a lot of his fortune in collecting objects to furnish the family homes and rebuilt the north wing with a sculpture gallery to house his collection.

He employed Joseph Paxton as head gardener and the garden was redesigned with the Conservative Wall and the monumental rock garden.

He was also responsible for the Emperor fountain in the canal pond. This involved draining moorland on the scarp behind the house to make a reservoir to feed it. He also built a massive conservatory, on what is now the maze. This was a fore runner of the Crystal Place but became too costly to run and was demolished soon after the First World War.

Such expenditure taxed even the sixth Duke’s resources and he was forced to sell property in Yorkshire. The Seventh Duke instituted strict economies after the excesses of the sixth Duke. The eighth Duke also entertained on a lavish scale, usually in the autumn and winter months.

The ninth Duke was the first to have to pay death duties of over half a million pounds. Many rare books in the library were sold as well as their London home.

The tenth Duke had only just succeeded to the title when the Second World War started and rather than letting the military use the house, it was arranged that it be occupied by a girls boarding school. He died in 1950 when death duties were set at the maximum rate of 80% on the whole estate. Hardwick Hall and estate, rare books and important works of art were surrendered to the Treasury in lieu of cash. To protect Chatsworth and other remaining assets, ownership of all the Derbyshire estates was then passed into a trust run by the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement.

The eleventh Duke, married to Deborah Mitford, lived in Edensor House before the decision was made to move back to Chatsworth House. The house needed modernising with new wiring, central heating system, bathrooms, kitchens and flats for staff. The Duchess was responsible for many changes in the gardens including the maze, serpentine hedge and a new display greenhouse. Between them, they were responsible for rescuing Chatsworth and protecting it for future generations to enjoy. They were insistent that Chatsworth be self funding with money from the trust and visitor income covering the costs of the house and grounds. Their work is being continued by the twelfth Duke. The house is now in the final stages of a multi-million plan programme of essential repairs, maintenance and restoration. More rooms have been opened for visitors and access improved with a new lift. Lead roofs are being replaced and the exterior is being cleaned and severely damaged stonework being replaced. Work is scheduled to finish in 2017.

Ever since it was built, Chatsworth has been open for visitors and the housekeeper had instructions to show visitors around for free. Charges didn’t start until 1908 when the income was given to local hospitals. Since the Second World War, the entry fees have gone towards the upkeep of the house and grounds.

The best views of the house are from the entrance road. As well as the house and gardens, there is a farmyard and adventure playground, geared towards the younger visitors. There is a charge of £4 for the car park and a variety of different tickets depending on what you want to do. The house ticket includes a free 15 minute introductory talk, run five times a day. A taster tour of the house is extra.

The house does get very busy with visitors. Plan a visit for lunchtime when it is quieter. Allow at least an hour for the house, longer if you are wanting to take photographs. Visitors are asked not to carry bags on their backs as they can damage the wallpaper. They must either be carried in the hand, or they can be left in the left luggage lockers near the garden entrance. Prams, pushchairs and rucksack style baby carriers are not allowed in the house. There are no toilet facilities in the house or gardens. Those near the house or garden entrance do get very busy, especially if there is a coach party.

The house is open Easter to the beginning of January from 11-5. From the end of May to the beginning of September, it opens at 10.30. Last entry is an hour before closing time. There is information about disabled access “here.”:

There is plenty of parking. There is no charge for parking with tickets bought on line. If using sat nav, the post code is DE45 1PN. The grid reference is SK 262703.

There is more information and a lot more pictures “here.”:


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