Nestled in 35,000 acres of Derbyshire countryside, Chatsworth is one of Britain’s best-loved stately homes. Each year, thousands of admiring visitors flock to the estate that inspired Jane Austen’s vision of Pemberley in Pride & Prejudice. Jeremy Swan speaks to the Duke of Devonshire to find out how Chatsworth has been preserved for the public to enjoy.
The estate has passed down 16 generations of the Cavendish family and is now home to the 12th Duke of Devonshire and his wife, the Duchess. They have lived in Chatsworth since 2004 and have worked hard to preserve this important piece of Derbyshire heritage for the public.
“Chatsworth has been open to visitors ever since it was built”, the Duke explains. “But the transformation to an international tourist attraction happened very gradually from about 1950. The biggest change came in 1981 when Chatsworth house, much of the art collection on the visitor route, the garden and the park were leased to the Chatsworth House Trust, an independent charity endowed by my family, whose main objective is that there should always be access to Chatsworth for public benefit.”
Sir William Cavendish bought Chatsworth in 1549 for £600 at the request of his wife, Bess of Hardwick – one of the most influential women in Elizabethan England – and began constructing the house. Successive Dukes rebuilt the original house and the gardens were redesigned by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the 1760s.
The result was the magnificent Chatsworth estate that visitors can enjoy today. But with so much to see, does the Duke have a favourite spot?
“There is nothing I enjoy more than walking about the Chatsworth estate; I am always learning and constantly surprised by new details, but I suppose I spend more time in the garden than anywhere else.”
There’s also an impressive art collection that spans 4,000 years and includes Roman and Egyptian sculpture, Rembrandt masterpieces and works of modern art. Art is one of the current Duke’s passions and one he is keen to share with the public.
“Looking at, enjoying and learning about art gives an enormous amount of pleasure to millions of people across the world every day. I believe that juxtaposing contemporary work with the historic collection gives our visitors an opportunity to think of both the old and the new in a different way and we are greatly encouraged in this by the positive responses from our visitors.”
The idea of preserving our heritage for future generations is a theme that runs through the heart of Chatsworth, and it is something that the Duke takes very seriously.
“Chatsworth house, garden and park are separately, but particularly together, a remarkable cultural resource and their continued existence, always and inevitably incorporating change, seems to me to be of huge importance. In the present circumstances the prospects for Chatsworth are relatively benign and being involved in the management of this extraordinary place is, of course, a great responsibility, but also a huge pleasure.
One of the ways in which the Duke hopes to preserve Derbyshire’s heritage is through the £32.7 million renovation of Chatsworth, which was begun in 2005 and is expected to be completed in 2017.
“We have focused on restoring and preserving the fabric, the interior and the exterior of the house. There is a long list of very necessary work to be undertaken to put the house, garden and park into a first class state of repair and I am determined that we will continue to attack this list with great energy and enthusiasm.”
The Duke adds: “Despite some major hurdles along the way, Chatsworth’s preservation for the public benefit has been successful. This has been very largely down to private endeavour and I believe that, increasingly, the preservation of other parts of Derbyshire’s heritage will have to be led by the corporate and private sectors as, at least for the foreseeable future, I cannot see how public finances can afford to meet these challenges.”
“The eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of the valley into which the road into some abruptness wound.”
“It was a large, handsome, stone building standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.”
Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice