Yesterday, I went to Chatsworth House. Chatsworth is a stately home in Derbyshire, about 20 miles from my house. It’s reckoned to be one the nation’s favourite and most loved stately homes in the UK, and I’m really lucky that it is on my doorstep ( I usually visit at least a couple of times a year, even if it’s just to see the grounds) It’s located in the rolling countryside of Derbyshire, and set in acres of parkland, including the main house gardens.
The house was originally built in the mid 1500’s, by Bess of Hardwick. Over the years, it has been changed and rebuilt and re-organised, and even now is undergoing further restoration ( the Chatsworth Masterplan). The main owners and occupiers have been the Cavendish family, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The current Duke is the 12th Duke, and he and his wife still live there, and are both actively involved in the decision making in the house and grounds, leading the way with regards what artwork is displayed where, and what food to sell in the estate farm shop, amongst other things. The house is home to an extensive art collection, and one the largest privately owned book collections in the UK is housed in the library, some of the books dating back decades. The walls in some rooms are decorated with old, exquisite tapestries, and the ceilings have beautiful cornices and artwork painted on them. It is a beautiful house.
The grounds are, as you’d expect, extensive and beautiful. Like the house, the park and grounds have been extensively redesigned over the years; even the river has been rerouted in the past, and some houses in the nearby village of Edensor were knocked down, just because they were in the way. Capability Brown and Joseph Paxton, who both worked at other parks/stately homes, both worked at Chatsworth. There are open lawns, the cascades ( a fountain which wasn’t designed for kids to play in, but proves very popular in the summer with kids of all ages), hidden ponds, secluded walks and pathways, a maze, a big rockery, big old trees, an ornamental lake and the Emperor Fountain, which was built for Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia.
It is a popular place to visit all year round (even in the winter with snow on the ground), what with the house itself, the park for walks, and the kiddie playground and farmyard which is open for viewing and cuddles with the animals. It also runs a variety of extra attractions and events, such as Christmas markets, a flower show, the recent Horse Trials, a bonfire at Bonfire Night.
It was one of these events that took me to Chatsworth yesterday – House Style. This is the display around the house of many clothes owned and worn over the years by various owners/occupants of the house. A chance to see actual clothes – the ultimate social history display – my favourite kind of history! I love history, particularly social history. I find it fascinating, finding out how people lived and what clothes they wore, and what food they ate, etc. And here was a display of their clothes.
Some of them were amazing, particularly the women’s dresses – big, extravagant, beautifully detailed. You do have to wonder how they wore them, even for a short time. Some were clearly evening wear, worn for a night out or ball. Others were ceremonial, worn at the Royal Court, for one event or other including the Coronation of the Queen.
There are photos from The Devonshire House Ball, held in 1897, at which all the guests were required to dress in fancy dress as a person from the past. The costumes they wore were amazing – some of them are displayed in addition to the photos.
In the dining room, the table is set for dinner, and all the mannequins around the table are wearing the most gorgeous dresses and dinner suits. It looks stunning! I would definitely want to wear one of those dresses for an evening.
But, it’s not just about the fancy clothes. It’s about the clothes, all of them, even the simple everyday ones. One long cabinet has a row of jumpers owned by the 11th Duke; plain navy jumpers, and they’re all embroidered with sayings, or place names or favourite horse names which he liked. My favourites were “never marry a Mitford” ( he was married to one the Mitford girls) “life’s a bitch and then you die”. They show an ordinary man, with a sense of humour. Other cabinets show jewellery, or beautiful leather gloves, or slippers. They show how simple life still is – even if you do live in a huge stately home!
It was all lovely, fascinating to see. A glimpse into another way of life. I don’t know about any of you, but I have never worn, nor am I likely to wear a dress like those below. But they were marvellous to see!
(Please note, none of the exterior photos were taken yesterday.)