Downton Abbey is Divine my dear but Chatsworth is The Gem!


The recent Downton Abbey series and three part series on Chatsworth House on PBS found me rooting though some of my old travel pics to revisit this much loved location in the Derbyshire countryside of England. Then as luck would have it, I spied the Duchess of Devonshire's book titled Wait for Me! at the library and the circle was complete. It was time to write about this home and vast estate that welcomes all to view and enjoy its stately magnificence!

Chatsworth - A Stately Lady

Chatsworth then and now!

Chatsworth House is a stately home in North Derbyshire, England, 3.5 miles northeast of Bakewell and 9 miles west of Chesterfield.

Chatsworth House has a long, storied and colourful history and it would take countless pages to tell all so let's have a fast look at the past history and then move onto the present, or almost present, and explore what this stately home has to offer.

The original owners Sir William Cavendish, Treasurer of The King's Chamber and his wife Bess of Hardwick acquired the property in 1549; new construction began a few years later. Today they would no doubt swoon if they could see their creation now.

Bess died in 1608 and Chatsworth went to her second son William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire and the ongoing centuries saw a long period of construction and alteration to both the land, gardens and home itself as it was upgraded, changed, refined, reworked and revitalized.

The Taxman Cometh!

Like so many of Britain's country houses, estates and castles, social change and high taxes took their toll at the turn of the 20th century. Death duties after the 8th Duke died in 1908 were a whopping £500,000 (745,901.27 USD today) so the family sold valuable books and a lot of acreage to cover the taxes, the dead Duke's gambling debts and failed business ventures.

In 1944 tragedy struck when William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington who was married to Kathleen Kennedy (The President's sister) died in the war. Sadly Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948 and suddenly Andrew Cavendish, William's brother was jettisoned into the front seat and became the 11th Duke in 1950. Andrew was married to the lovely Deborah Mitford and Chatsworth modern life really began earnest at this time.

Moving into the Modern Age

Taxes were an ongoing issue however and the death taxes of £7 million back then (£179 million today) were such a shock that the family considering handing over the house to the nation as a museum. In the mid 50's Andrew, the 11th Duke began to prepare to move into the house and it was brought up to snuff by upgrading the mod cons like power, heat and water plus some renovating. They moved in in 1959.

When Andrew died in 2004, his son the current Duke, Peregrine Cavendish (aka Stoker) and his wife Amanda moved into Chatsworth and things really got exciting on the home front. They, along with Andrew's widow, The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, strove to make Chatsworth House and the whole estate able to stand on its own two feet financially while increasing visitor income. Together they have spearheaded plans to add and alter gardens, update and create attractions and offer saleable items and functions and events that bring people back time and time again.

Some of their accomplishments include: the enhancement of the garden and the development of commercial activities such as Chatsworth Farm Shop, retail and catering operations; Chatsworth luxury Food, and Chatsworth Design which sells image rights to items and designs from the Chatsworth collections. Throughout the estate are cottages to rent along with the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow near Chatsworth and the Devonshire Arms Hotel at Bolton Abbey.

Interesting Chatsworth Facts

Things you probably didn't know

Chatsworth estate covers 35,000 acres. The house has 126 rooms but nearly 100 of them are closed to visitors.

The garden at Chatsworth play host to 300,000 guests a year, is blend from six different century styles and covers 105 acres. The surrounding wall is 1.75 miles (2.8kn) long and there are 20 full time gardeners on site.

A squat stone tower known as Queen Mary's Bower is so named because she liked to get some fresh air while she was imprisoned at Chatsworth.

The maze is made up of 1,209 yews and The Sensory Garden was created for the disabled and opened in 2004. The Display Greenhouse features three climate zones: Mediteranean, tropical and temperate.

There have sadly been no horses in the Chatsworth stables since 1939 but today the tea room located there feeds 30,000 people per month in visitor season.The stables, originally built in 1760 had space for 80 horses and a blacksmith shop. In 1987, after a few failed attempts, the tea and refreshment rooms opened and some of the shop stalls are cleverly integrated right inside the horse boxes.

Chatsworth makes its revenue from its house entrance fees, events, concerts, rental cottages, farming, food shop, farm shop, catering, and Chatsworth designs now licensed to an American firm.

What to do at Chatsworth

Chatsworth Events for 2013

Whether you want to spend a relaxing day at Chatsworth exploring the house and gardens or make it a real event at one of their special occasions, children and adults of all ages will be thrilled with what Chatsworth has to offer. Check for a complete list of events go to the Chatsworth link in the Links Section below.

This year as always, there is much in store:

Elemental Force: 23 March 2013

Lights, sounds and film bring the Chatsworth buildings alive.

Spring Flower Sale: 21 April 2013

Flowers abound so come and see and buy.

The Dodson & Horrell Chatsworth International Horse Trials: 10-12 May 2013

Three day eventing at its best throughout Chatsworth park.

Treasure Island: A fun filled Family Musical 31 May 2013

Food and Drink Fair :1, 2, 8 & 9 June 2013

More than 60 stalls offer food drink to taste, try and buy.

HORRIBLE HISTORIES : Barmy Britain 30 & 31 July 2013

A riotous history of Britain!

Pride and Prejudice: 1 August 2013

Jane Austen wrote "Pemberley" and Chatsworth was her inspiration!

West End Classics: 2 August 2013

All your favourite Classics are here in song and dance.

Party in The Garden: 3 August 2013

Get your party shoes on and enjoy the songs and sounds from the world's top musicians and singers

The Chatsworth Country Fair 30 August : 1 September 2013

This is an event not to miss: see craftsmen in action, antique cars, animals, parades, bands, have tea, shop and spend the day at the park.

Books to Read and Enjoy

Treasures, Treats, Tours, Walks and Talks

The House: Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The house architecture and the priceless art inside includes Old Masters,  ceramics,  Ancient Egyptian artifacts, and modern sculpture.

The Garden: Having evolved over more than 450 years, the 105 acre Chatsworth garden continues to change today. There is plenty to discover at every turn, including permanent sculptures, the awesome 300 year old Cascade, a huge maze, rose, cottage and kitchen gardens along with 5 miles of walks.

Farmyard: The farmyard at Chatsworth has been a favourite day out for children of all ages since 1973 where they can friendly ponies and lambs, swing and splash and just have fun!

Chatsworth gardens greenhouse

The Park: The 1000 acre park on the banks of the river Derwent, designed by 'Capability' Brown in the 1760's, is one of the most beautiful and historic man-made landscapes in Britain. It is open free all year during daylight hours. Come to picnic, walk and enjoy the free ranging sheep who roam throughout.

Where to eat: The Carriage House Restaurant, The Farm Shop restaurant and the Cavendish Rooms.

Where to shop: The Garden shop, Carriage House shop, Interiors, Orangery, Pantry and Farmyard shops will delight with the selection of treasures and treats to bring home and in doing so you support the Chatsworth House Trust.

Workshops and information sessions are fun and informative: (Some include lunch) Throughout this season learn about textiles, keeping pigs and chickens, gardening, glasshouses, flowers, breweries, and entertaining at Chatsworth. And, remember housekeeping day and see some rarely viewed Chatsworth rooms while the pros explain their secrets on how to keep this great estate spic and span.