New Weekly Series: Great British Houses – Everything You Need to Know about Chatsworth House in Derbyshire

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The are many grand and remarkable houses in England that have been a part of British history for years. They are a must-see in any tourist itinerary or for those who wish to get away from the normal bustle of their daily life. Located along the eastern bank of the River Derwent, in Derbyshire, is a beautiful estate known as Chatsworth House.

Key Facts about Chatsworth House

  • It is the current seat for the Duke of Devonshire.
  • Approximately located 5.6 km north-east of Bakewell and 14 miles west of Chesterfield.
  • The house, which is backed by wooded hills, faces the land that divides the Wye and Derwent valleys.
  • Long standing structure of history, including the home to Mary, Queen of Scots.

A Brief Chatsworth House History

Chatsworth-House

The origin of Chatsworth House is dated back to the Elizabethan era, and begins with a woman named Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury. She is well known as Bess of Hardwick. As a native of Derbyshire, Bess was raised by a modest family. But she later became one of the second most powerful women, next to Queen Elizabeth I. She was married a total of four times, and it was after her marriage to her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that the Cavendish history at Chatsworth House became what it is today.

Sir William Cavendish originated in Suffolk, and became a powerful ally to King Henry VIII during the 16th century when he helped dissolve the monasteries. It was after his marriage to Bess, that he agreed to move to her home county, despite the remote location and the obvious flooding issues. They purchased the Chatsworth land in 1549 for a mere £600. However, it was not until 1552 that they began to build the first house.

After the death of Sir William Cavendish in 1557, Bess married two more men throughout the course of 10 years. Her last husband, George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, was the primary appointed custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots. From 1569 to 1584, Mary was held as a prisoner at Chatsworth countless times. Her lodgings were not too shabby, though. She had her own rooms on the east-side of the estate which are still referred to as the Queen of Scots Apartments.

Bess is also known for Hardwick Hall, which is a surviving house that contains tapestries, furniture, and embroideries from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was in the possession of the Cavendish Family until 1957, when it was donated to the government to pay for death duties. It is now a National Trust property (we have an article about this house coming up in a few weeks).

1st Earl of Devonshire

1st Earl of Devonshire

During her marriage to Sir William Cavendish, Bess produced two sons, one of which became the first Earl of Devonshire. He was also named Sir William Cavendish, and later became the heir to the Cavendish fortune. When Bess died in 1608, the Earl inherited four valuable houses which included Hardwick Hall, Chatsworth House, as well as Oldcotes and Worksop in Nottinghamshire. The Cavendish name was carried on with William’s marriage to Anne Keighley, who produced three sons and three daughters.

The Cavendish name continued on for centuries, with many heirs carrying on the name of Sir William Cavendish. The 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Spencer Cavendish, is still remembered as the “Bachelor” Duke. He was never married, but possessed a charming personality with many years spent entertaining friends and improving his inherited houses. William was responsible for the completion of the North Wing at Chatsworth, which was designed by architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville.

He also hired the specialties of a young gardener named Joseph Paxton to help evolve the gardens at Chatsworth into the beautiful masterpiece that exists today. William Spencer Cavendish died in 1858 at the age of 67. Since he had no direct descendants, the title of Duke was passed to his cousin, William Cavendish, the 2nd Earl of Burlington.

Chatsworth_House,_Dining_room

Most of the UK’s country houses were put to institutional use during World War II. Some of those used as barracks were badly damaged, but the 10th Duke, anticipating that schoolgirls would make better tenants than soldiers, arranged for Chatsworth to be occupied by Penrhos College, a girls’ public school in Colwyn Bay, Wales. The contents of the house were packed away in eleven days and, in September 1939, 300 girls and their teachers moved in for a six-year stay. The whole of the house was used, including the state rooms, which were turned into dormitories. Condensation from the breath of the sleeping girls caused fungus to grow behind some of the pictures. The house was not very comfortable for so many people, with a shortage of hot water, but there were compensations, such as skating on the Canal Pond. The girls grew vegetables in the garden as a contribution to the war effort.

The modern history of Chatsworth begins in 1950. The family had not yet moved back after the war and, although the 10th Duke had transferred his assets to his son during his lifetime in the hope of avoiding death duties, he died a few weeks too early for the lifetime exemption to apply, and tax was charged at 80% on the whole estate. The amount due was £7 million (£203 million as of 2014),[5]. Some of the family’s advisors considered the situation to be irretrievable, and there was a proposal to transfer Chatsworth to the nation as a V&A of the North; instead, the Duke decided to retain his family’s home if he could. He sold tens of thousands of acres of land, transferred Hardwick Hall to the National Trust in lieu of tax, and sold some major works of art from Chatsworth.

The 10th Duke was pessimistic about the future of houses like Chatsworth, and made no plans to move back in after the war. After Penrhos College left in 1945 the only people who slept in the house were two housemaids, but over the winter of 1948–49 the house was cleaned and tidied for reopening to the public. In the mid-1950s, the 11th Duke and Duchess began to think about moving into the house. The pre-war house had relied entirely on a large staff for its comforts, and lacked modern facilities. The building was rewired, the plumbing and heating were overhauled, and six self-contained staff flats were created to replace the small staff bedrooms and communal servants’ hall. Including those in the staff flats, seventeen bathrooms were added to the existing handful. The 6th Duke’s cavernous kitchen was abandoned and a new one was created closer to the family dining room. The family rooms were repainted, carpets were brought out of store, and curtains were repaired or replaced. The Duke and Duchess and their three children moved across the park from Edensor House in 1959.

In 1981 the family trustees created a separate charitable trust called ‘The Chatsworth House Trust’, to preserve the house and its setting. This trust was granted a 99-year lease by the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement of the house, its essential contents, the garden, park and some woods, a total of 1,822 acres (7.37 km2). The Chatsworth House Trust pays an annual rent of £1. The family sold some works of art, mainly old master drawings that could not be put on regular display, to raise a multimillion pound endowment fund. The family is represented on the trust council, but there is a majority of non-family members. The family pays a market rent for the use of its private apartments in the house. The cost of running the house and grounds is around £4 million a year.

The current occupant of Chatsworth House is Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and his wife Amanda, the Duchess of Cavendish. They have three children, William, the Earl of Burlington, Lady Celina, and Lady Jasmine. The Duke and Duchess have ten grandchildren. There are many works of art displayed around the gardens and in the house for visitors to appreciate. This is a shared passion between the Duke and Duchess and their son Lord Burlington.

Famous Cascade Waterfall

Famous Cascade Waterfall

A master plan to begin improvements on the house was formulated in 2008. This was organized after countless research studies and analysis proved specific services that could be utilized to help bring the Chatsworth House up to modern standards. This includes improvements made to the route that visitors utilize and extensive preservation of the exterior stone.

Chatsworth has been selected as the United Kingdom’s favourite country house several times and continues to be one of its most popular tourist attractions.

What Makes This House So Famous

Many popular names have come through the Chatsworth House. In 1944, the sister of John F. Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, was married to William Cavendish, the eldest son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire. However, this was a tragic and short-lived marriage due to the fact that William was killed in action not long after their marriage. Kathleen died in 1948 in a plane crash. William’s younger brother, Andrew Cavendish, took the title as the 11th Duke, and later married Deborah Mitford.

TV & Film

The Chatsworth House has been the location for numerous film and TV locations. The first was the 1975 adaptation of the novel ‘The Luck of Barry Lyndon’ by William Thackeray. It was also the location for the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, and the 2013 television version of Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, which is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. The actual house is mentioned in the P.D. James novel as one of the locations that Elizabeth Bennett visits before her arrival at Pemberley. Other films that utilized the Chatsworth House for location was The Duchess in 2008, and The Wolfman in 2010. It is believed that Jane Austen chose the Chatsworth House when she was writing Pride and Prejudice based on her description of Pemberley.

Further Research

If you want a true cultural experience, then a visit to Chatsworth during the annual County Fair is a must. During this event, you can sample local produce, purchase hand-made crafts by local vendors, and enjoy a weekend of family-oriented activities and performances. The County Fair is considered to be one of England’s most sought-after outdoor festivals. Every year, it is held in the park at Chatsworth, which attracts a major crowd from all over the country. Other events that occur at the County Fair include hot air balloon rides, a parade of vintage cars, parachuting, and military band performances.

Visiting Information

Chatsworth House is open every day from 16 March through to the 23 December. During their Christmas season, visits vary for the season between 8 November and 23 December. The opening times for all of the different features of Chatsworth House vary depending on the category, such as restaurants and shopping ventures. Before planning your visit, it is best to inquire on the official website which is www.chatsworth.org. There are also options for purchasing visitor tickets via their website.

Related YouTube Videos:

Royal Upstairs Downstairs – Chatsworth (30 Minutes)

Pride & Prejudice Behind the Scenes – Chatsworth House (2005) (3 Minutes)

 

Comments

  1. avatar says

    Chatsworth House is familiar to many of us around the world as the home of the fictitious Duke of Holdernesse in the Granada TV series Sherlock Holmes episode “The Priory School”. Sherlock Holmes, of course, was played by Jeremy Brett, while Alan Howard portrayed the Duke.

  2. avatarMarko says

    visited Chatsworth last year, what a great day it was! i stayed in Manchester and from there i took train to Sheffiled, where i caught a bus directly to Chatsworth. arrived early to be able to explore park first thing in the morning. the House was magnificent with helpfull staff. was happy to explore the shop at the end of day and had good meal in their restaurant.

  3. avatarTim Morten says

    We are fortunate to live with a forty minute drive of Chatsworth and are regular visitors. It is a truly magnificent house, brimming with great art and antiques, surrounded by wonderful gardens in a sublime setting. A full day’s visit is barely enough to appreciate all it has to offer.

    If you are planning to visit Chatsworth I would suggest staying a night or two in nearby Bakewell, home of the eponymous pudding, and a fine example of a small English market town. Close to Bakewell is Haddon Hall, which may be eclipsed by Chatsworth’s magnificent interiors but as a perfect survivor from the middle ages brooks no peer.

    http://www.peakdistrict-nationalpark.com/bakewell-tourist-guide.aspx

    http://www.haddonhall.co.uk/

  4. avatar says

    Jonathan, I love your idea of doing a weekly series on British great and country houses. I’ve only visited several, and there are hundreds in public, Natl Trust, and private hands. I have not been to Chatsworth; the family did the right thing to enjoy it and preserve it. Thanks to your series, the next time I am in north England I will make a point to visit this house. Please do more of these articles; they are a winner!

    I’m like you; I hope to find the right job in the UK someday and move there. Wiltshire most likely, but I’d be happy with London, too. What would be perfect would be a project manager for the Natl Trust preserving one of these houses…I’ve been applying via the NT Website but no luck for the obvious reasons.

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