Chatsworth House

From Academic Kids

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A view of Chatsworth from the south west in 1880. The stables peep out from behind the house and the Hunting Tower can be seen in Stand Wood.

Chatsworth House is a large country house eight miles (13 km) north of Matlock in Derbyshire, England, originally built by Bess of Hardwick.

Chatsworth is the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, whose family name is Cavendish, from Cavendish, Suffolk, and the name of Bess of Hardwick's second husband, (William Cavendish).

Chatsworth stands on the left bank of the River Derwent and looks across the river to the sunset and the low hills that divide the valleys of the Derwent and the Wye. The Park lies for miles open to the sky, and behind the house, hills fall backwards. Up and above and beyond are rocks and bracken and heather.

The house contains a unique collection of priceless paintings, furniture, European Old Master drawings, neo-classical sculpture and other artefacts. Chatsworth's garden is one of the most famous in England. Chatsworth has been selected as the UK's favourite country house several times (see [1] ( [2] ([3] ([4] (



Outline of the structure of the present building

The building history and layout of Chatsworth are quite complex. The diagram in this leaflet ( gives a rough idea of the structure of the house and stables (but the carriage house at the back of the stables is largely omitted). North is on the left and the west front of the house faces the bottom of the page. The main block of the house is on the right. It is built around a courtyard and was reconstructed in its present form over about 20 years from 1687. The long north wing on the left was added in the early nineteenth century. The long building between two is the Conservative Walk, and the 1970 Display Greenhouse and the 1st Duke's Greenhouse are in front of it (see the garden section below). The house is built on sloping ground. The ground level is lower on the north and west sides than on the south and east (and so are the floors of the ground floor rooms inside). The east facing first floor rooms in the north wing are actually at ground floor level as seen from the garden, but the ground floor rooms underneath them look onto a gently sloping lawn, so they are not really basement rooms.

Early Chatsworth

There has been a mansion on the present site since the second half of the 16th century, but Chatsworth's history dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. The name is a corruption of "Chetelsourde" meaning "Chetel's manor". Chetel was disposed after the Norman Conquest and Chatsworth ceased to be a large estate until the 15th century, when it was acquired by a family called Leche who already owned other property nearby. They may have enclosed the first park at Chatsworth and built a house on the high ground in what is now the south eastern part of the garden. In 1549 they sold all their property in the area to Sir William Cavendish, Treasurer of the King's Chamber and then husband of the more famous Bess of Hardwick. Bess was the daughter of a Derbyshire squire called John of Hardwick and she persuaded her husband to sell all his property in Suffolk and settle in her native county.

Cavendish and Bess began to build their new house in 1553. They selected a site near the river, which was controlled by digging a series of reservoirs which doubled as fish ponds. The house was on the same site as the present main block and had the same basic layout. It was a quadrangle approximately 170 feet (52 m) from north to south and 190 feet (58 m) from east to west, with a large central courtyard. The front entrance was on the west or river side, which was embellished with four towers or turrets, and the great hall, still the focus of the house in the medieval tradition, was on the east side of the courtyard where the painted hall is now. Sir William died in 1557, but Bess finished the house in the 1560s and lived there with her fourth husband, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. In 1568 Shrewsbury was entrusted with the custody of Mary, Queen of Scots, who brought his prisoner to Chatsworth several times from 1570 onwards. She lodged in the apartment above the great hall which is now known as the Queen of Scots rooms. It was on the top floor and faced onto the inner courtyard. Bess died in 1608 and Chatsworth passed to her second son William, who was created 1st Earl of Devonshire in 1618.

The 1st Duke's Chatsworth

The 4th Earl of Devonshire, who was to become the 1st Duke in 1694, was an advanced Whig and was forced to retire to Chatworth during the reign of James II (1685–88). The occasioned a complete rebuilding of the house, but because he initially only planned to reconstruct the south wing, he retained the old courtyard plan, which was totally different from the layout of newly built country houses of this period. Work began in 1687.

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The South Front of Chatsworth from Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus.

The south and east fronts were built under the direction of William Talman and were complete by 1696. The 1st Duke's Chatsworth was a key building in the development of English baroque architecture. According the architectural historian Sir John Summerson, "It inaugurates an artistic revolution which is the counterpart of the political revolution in which the Earl was so prominent a leader." The design of the south front was revolutionary for an English house, with no attics or hipped roof, but instead two main storeys supported by a rusticated basement. The facade is dramatic and sculptural with ionic columns and a heavy entablature and balustrade. The existing heavy and angular stone stairs from the first floor down to the garden are a 19th-century substitute for an elegant curved double staircase. The east front is the quietest of the four on the main block, and like the south front is unusual in that it has an even number of bays and no centrepiece. The emphasis is placed on the end bays, which are each highlighted by double pairs of pilasters, of which the inner pairs project outwards.

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The West Front of Chatsworth from Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus.

The west and north fronts may have been the work of William Archer, possibly in collaboration with the Duke himself. The west front has nine wide bays with a central pediment supported by four columns and pilasters to the other bays. Due to the slope of the site this front is taller than the south front. It is deceptively large; many other nine bay three storey facades are little more than half as wide and tall. The west front is very lively with much carved stonework, and the window frames are highlighted with gold leaf which catches the setting sun. The north front was the last to be built and presented a challenge as the north end of the west front projected nine feet (3 m) further than the north end of the east front. This awkwardness was overcome by building a slightly curved facade to distract the eye. This front was altered in the nineteenth century when the long north wing was attached to the north-east corner of the house. The attic windows on this side are the only ones visible on the exterior of the house and are set into the main facade, rather than into a visible roof. Those in the curved section were originally oval, but are now rectangular like the ones in end sections.

The facades to the central courtyard were also rebuilt by the 1st Duke. The courtyard was larger then than it is now as there were no corridors on the western side and the northern and southern sides only had enclosed galleries on the first floor (second floor in American English) with open galleries below. In the 19th century new accommodation was built on these three sides on all three levels. The only surviving baroque facade is that on the eastern side, where five bays of the original seven remain and are largely as built. There are carved trophies by Samuel Watson, a Derbyshire craftsman who did much work at Chatsworth in stone, marble and wood, at first floor level, and very large pedimented windows at second floor level.

A richly-appointed Baroque suite of state rooms open one from another in an enfilade across the south front. Other surviving interiors from this period include the chapel and the painted hall.

The 6th Duke's Chatsworth

In 1811 the 6th Duke inherited the title and eight major houses: Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, Devonshire House, Chiswick House, Lismore Castle and Bolton Abbey, which he retained; Burlington House which was a superfluous second London mansion and was sold to a cousin within a few years; and Londesborough Hall in Yorkshire, which he eventually sold to reduce his debts. These houses came with 200,000 acres (809 km²) of land in England and Ireland. The Duke was a keen traveller, builder and collector who transformed Chatsworth. He never married and is known as the Bachelor Duke. He was reputedly in love with a princess of the British royal family, but he was ineligible to marry her as he wasn't of royal blood. He also had several mistresses. There is a Latin transcription over the fireplace in the painted hall which reads in translation, "William Spencer, Duke of Devonshire, inherited this most beautiful house from his father in the year 1811, which had been begun in the year of English liberty 1688, and completed it in the year of his bereavement 1840". 1688 was the year of the Glorious Revolution, which was supported by the Whig dynasties including the Cavendishes. The Duke's favourite niece Blanche, who was married to his heir the future 7th Duke, had died in 1840. In 1844 he published a Handbook to Chatsworth and Hardwick.

The Bachelor Duke's architect was Jeffry Wyatville, and the work was carried out in an Italianate style which blends in smoothly with the more elaborate finish of the baroque house. The Duke had a passion for marble and the new interiors were embellished with a great deal of it. Like his ancestor the 1st Duke, he didn't know what he was getting into at first, and had many changes of mind over the years. The main purpose of the alterations to the main block was to meet early 19th-century standards of comfort and the more informal lifestyle of the time, compared to that of the 1st Duke's day. This meant adding many more corridors around the sides of the courtyard so that rooms could be reached from indoors without going through one to get to another, and increasing the number of shared living rooms at the expense of the old system of putting up each guest in a separate apartment. The Oak Stairs were built at the northern end of the Painted Hall to improve internal communications. The principal existing interiors were largely respected. The Duke wrote that he was tempted to demolish the state apartment, which was then seen as gloomy and dull, to make way for new best bedrooms but he did not do so (at around the same time Queen Victoria decided that Hampton Court, with its state apartments in the same style was uninhabitable). Changes to the main baroque interiors were restricted to such things as putting stamped leather hangings on the walls of the State Music Room and State Bedroom, and replacing the 1st Duke's steep curved double staircase in the painted hall with a wider, shallower, but less elegant one, which was later replaced itself. The Duke was a great book collector, so he had the long gallery converted into a library with an elegant white decor embellished with green malachite columns. He soon found that he needed more shelf space, so he had the room stripped bare and installed a new interior with bookcases covering nearly all of the walls and a wooden gallery for access to the higher shelves.

In the 1st Duke's house the most important service rooms were in the main block, including the kitchen, which was where the north entrance hall (which is the one on the public route) is now, extending into the floor above. There was also a straggle of service buildings to the north of the house, which was replaced with an unassuming neo-classical service wing in the second half of the 18th century. The Bachelor Duke and Wyatville built a new North Wing which doubled the size of the house. Most of this wing has two storeys compared to the main block's three. It is attached to the north east corner of the house near the library and is around 400 feet (120 m) long. The whole of the ground floor was occupied by service rooms: kitchen; servants hall; laundry; butler and housekeeper's rooms; and many others. On the first floor, facing west, were two sets of bachelor bedrooms called California and The Birds.

The main rooms in the new wing faced east. The link to the main house was a small library called the dome room. Beyond this was a new dining room. There was a music gallery in the serving lobby where the Duke's musicians played. Beyond that were the sculpture gallery, which is the largest room in the house, and the orangery. The finale of the north wing is the North or Belvedere Tower. The Duke's plunge bath was here and it also contained Chatsworth's private theatre. Above the theatre is the belvedere itself, which is a viewing platform which has a roof but is open at the sides. The Duke built a gatehouse at this end of the house with three gates. The central and largest gate led to the north entrance, which was then the main entrance to the house and is now the public entrance. The north gate led to the service courtyard, and the matching south gate led to the original front door in the west front, which was relegated to secondary status in the Bachelor Duke's time, but is now the family's private entrance once again.

In October 1832, Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, visited Chatsworth. The 6th Duke had another opportunity to welcome Victoria in 1843 when the Queen and Prince Albert returned to be entertained by a large array of illuminated fountains.

Early 20th century Chatsworth

In the early 20th century social change and taxes began to effect the Devonshire's lifestyle. When the 8th Duke died in 1908 over half a million pounds of death duties became due. This was a small charge compared to what was to follow forty-two years later, but the estate was already burdened with debt accumulated from the 6th Duke's extravagances and the failure of the 7th Duke's business ventures at Barrow-in-Furness, and British agriculture had been depressed since the 1870s. In 1912 the family sold twenty five books printed by William Caxton and a collection of 1,347 volumes of plays which had been acquired by the 6th Duke, including four Shakespeare folios and thirty-nine Shakespeare quartos, to the Huntington Library in California. Tens of thousands of acres of land in Somerset, Sussex and Derbyshire were sold during and immediately after World War I. In 1920 the family's London mansion Devonshire House, which occupied a three acre (12,000 m²) site on Piccadilly, was sold to developers and demolished, and a much smaller house at 2 Carlton Gardens near The Mall was acquired as a replacement. Many of the contents of Devonshire House were moved to Chatsworth. The Great Conservatory in the garden at Chatsworth (see below) was demolished as it needed ten men to run it and huge quantities of coal to heat it. All the plants had died during the war when no coal had been available for non-essential purposes. There was also talk of pulling down the 6th Duke's north wing, then regarded as having no aesthetic or historical value, to reduce running costs, but nothing came of it. Chiswick House, the celebrated Palladian villa in the suburbs of West London which the Devonshires had inherited when the 4th Duke had married Lord Burlington's daughter was sold to Brentford Council in 1929.

Nonetheless life at Chatsworth continued much as before. The household was run by the comptroller. Domestic staff were still available, probably more so in the country than in the cities. The staff at Chatsworth at this time consisted of a butler, under butler, groom of the chambers, valet and three footmen; the housekeeper, Duchess's maid, eleven housemaids and two sewing women; cook, two kitchen maids, vegetable maid, two or three scullery maids, two stillroom maids and a dairy maid; six laundry maids; and the Duchess's secretary. All of the these thirty-eight or thirty-nine people lived in the house. Daily staff included the odd man, upholsterer, sculleryman, two scrubbing women, laundry porter, steam boiler man, coal man, two porter's lodge attendants, two night fireman, night porter, two window cleaners, and a team of joiners, plumbers and electricians. The clerk of works supervised the maintenance of the house and other properties on the estate. There were also grooms, chauffeurs and gamekeepers. The garden staff was somewhere between the eighty of the 6th Duke's time and the twenty or so of the early 21st century. There was also a librarian, Francis Thompson, who wrote the first book length account of Chatsworth since the 6th Duke's handbook.

Most of the UK's country houses were put to institutional use during World War II. Some of those which were 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 Penhros College, a now defunct girls' public school from Colwyn Bay in Wales. The contents of the house were packed away in eleven days and 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. The breath of the sleeping girls caused fungus to grow behind some of the pictures. The house wasn't 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.

In 1944 Kathleen Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy, married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, the elder son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire. However, he was killed in action in Belgium later in 1944, and she died in a plane crash in 1948.

His younger brother Andrew who was married to Deborah Mitford, one of the "Mitford girls" and sister to Diana Mitford, Nancy Mitford and Unity Mitford, became the 11th Duke in 1950.

Modern Chatsworth

The modern history of Chatsworth begins in 1950. The family had not yet moved back in after the war, but if it has not been hit by death duties it might eventually have done so without selling assets or being under compulsion to commercialise the estate. The 10th Duke had transferred his assets to his son during his lifetime in the hope of avoiding death duties, but 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. 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, but the Duke decided to retain his family's home if he possibly could. He sold tens of thousand 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 family's Sussex house Compton Place was let to a school. The effect of the death duties was mitigated to some extent by the historically low value of art during the post-war years and the increase in land values subsequent to 1950 during the post-war agricultural revival, and on the face of it the losses were considerably less than 80% in terms of physical assets. In Derbyshire 35,000 acres (142 km²) were retained out of eighty three thousand. The Bolton Abbey estate in Yorkshire and the Lismore Castle estate in Ireland remained in the family. Nonetheless it took seventeen years to complete negotiations with the Inland Revenue, interest being due in the meantime. The Chatsworth Estate is now managed by the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement, which was established in 1946.

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 by two Hungarian women who had been Kathleen Kennedy's cook and housemaid in London and a team of their compatriots. In the mid 1950s, perhaps encouraged by the election and re-election of a Conservative government, which suggested that country houses might not be doomed after all, the new Duke and Duchess began to think about moving back in. The pre-war house had relied entirely on a large staff for its comforts, and lacked modern facilities. The house was rewired, the plumbing and heating was 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 handful which had existed before. 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 on the house, its essential contents, the garden, park and some woods, a total of 1,822 acres (7.4 km²), at an annual rent of £1. The family sold some works of art, mainly old master drawings which could not be put on regular display, to raise a multi-million 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 [5] (

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (Deborah Mitford) is very active in promoting the estate and increasing its visitor income. She has been responsible for many additions to the gardens, including the maze, the kitchen and cottage gardens, and several commissions of modern sculpture. She has authored six books about different aspects of Chatsworth and its estate. The Duke died in 2004 and was succeeded by his son Peregrine, the 12th and current Duke.

The Interiors

Chatsworth is not the sort of house which perfectly illustrates the architecture and interior decoration of one particular period. Its layout is unique and full of irregularities because the 1st and 6th Duke's both inherited an old house and tried to adapt in to the lifestyle of their time without changing the fundamentals of its layout. At no time might an architect have sat at his drawing board and designed a house like Chatsworth from scratch. After the same fashion the interiors are a hodgepodge of different styles. Many of the rooms are recognisably of one main period, but in nearly every case they have been altered more often than might be supposed at first glance.

The 1st Duke's rooms

To follow shortly.

18th alterations

In the 1760s the 4th Duke had the old kitchen in the centre of the north front made into an entrance hall. The upper part was made into bedrooms, which are rather oddly shaped due to the curve in the facade. Improbably the main entrance to one of the grandest houses in England in this age of elegance was through a converted kitchen, back outside to the open colonnade in the courtyard, and through a passage past the cook's bedroom and the back stairs before finally reaching the painted hall. The Duke's grandson later improved matters by enclosing the colonnade to make a corridor and laying a multi-coloured marble floor in it. The cook's bedroom and the back stairs made way for the present Oak Staircase. The 5th Duke had some of the family's private rooms redecorated and a few partition walls were moved, but there are few traces of the mid and late 18th century in the public rooms.

The 6th Duke's rooms

To follow shortly

The private rooms

Chatsworth has 175 rooms, and nearly 150 of them are not seen by visitors. The house is well adapted to allow the family to live privately in their apartments while the house is open, and the Dowager Duchess describes the family rooms in detail in her book Chatsworth: The House. She still lives at Chatsworth, and the present Duke and Duchess have remained at their home in Yorkshire. The family occupies rooms on the ground and first floors of the south front, all three floors of the west front, and the upper two floors of the north front. Staircases in the north-east corner of the main block and in a turret in the east front enable them to move about without crossing the public route.

The main family living rooms are on the first floor of the south front. The family dining room is in the south east corner and has the same dimensions as the State Dining Room directly above. This has been the usual location of the family dining room; the Bachelor Duke's dining room in the north wing took over that role for an interlude of little more than a hundred years. Both Bess of Hardwick's house and the 1st Duke's house had a hierarchy of three dining rooms in this corner, each taller and more lavishly decorated than the one below. On the ground floor was the common parlour (now the breakfast room) which was used by the gentlemen of the household while there still were such people, and later for informal family meals. Above it was the main family dining room, and at the top the State Dining Room (originally the Great Chamber), which was reserved for royalty, though the Bachelor Duke wrote that it had never been dined in, that he knew of.

The family's best drawing room, called the yellow drawing room, is next to the dining room and directly underneath the State Drawing Room. The Dowager Duchess has written that the house is so solidly built that the crowds passing above are imperceptible. The trio of reception rooms here is completed by the blue drawing room, which is below the State Music Room. This was created in the 18th century by knocking together the 1st Duke's bedroom and dressing room, and has a door to his private gallery at the upper level of the chapel. It has also served as a billiard room and as school room. Charity events are sometimes held in this part of the house. Both drawing rooms have access to the garden via the South Front's external staircase.

Three corridors called the Tapestry Gallery, the Burlington Corridor and the Book Passage are wrapped around the south, west and north passages at this level, and give access to family bedrooms. The Dowager Duchess also has a sitting room in the north west corner, one of the few rooms in the house with view in two directions. There are more family bedrooms on the second floor facing west and north. The Scots and Leicester bedrooms in the east wing are still used when there is a large house party, which is the reason why sometimes they are available as a separately charged optional extra in the tour of the house and sometimes they are not. Visitors bypass the first floor on their way down the West Stairs from the state rooms to the Chapel.

The private north stairs lead down to more private rooms on the ground floor of the West Front. In the centre is the West Entrance Hall, which is once again the family entrance. To the right on entering is a passage room known as the mineral room, which leads through to the Dowager Duchess's study. To the left there is a room called the Leather Room, with walls of that material and a great many books: it is one of at least six libraries in the house. The next room is the Duke's Study, which has two windows, many more books and cheerful floral decoration painted for the Bachelor Duke by, in his own words, "three bearded artists in blouses imported from Paris." The corner room on the ground floor is the former little dining room, which is now a muniment room where old documents and pictures of the house are kept. This room is used scholars who visit to inspect items from the collections. These rooms are all very high as the ground level in the west wing is lower than that of the Painted Hall and the ground floor corridors around the courtyard. The West Entrance Hall has a set of steps which leads up to the west corridor.

The other family living rooms are in the eastern half of the ground floor of the South Front and can be reached via the Chapel Corridor on the public route or the turret staircase from the dining room. The room in the south east corner was once the ducal bathroom, until the Bachelor Duke built his new plunge bath in the North Wing, and is now the pantry where the family china is kept. It connects to the modern kitchen, which is under the library and was made out of the steward's room and the linen room. Next to the pantry in the south front is the breakfast room and beyond that is the billiard room.

Chatsworth's garden

Chatsworth's garden is one of the most famous in the United Kingdom, and attracts around a third of a million visitors a year. It is a complex and diverse blend of informal and formal features from six different centuries which covers 105 acres (0.4 km²) and is surrounded by a wall 1.75 miles (2.8 km) long. It sits on the eastern side of the valley of the River Derwent and blends seamlessly into the landscape of the surrounding park, which covers 1,000 acres (4 km²). The woods on the moors to the east of the valley form a backdrop to the garden. There is a staff of approximately 20 full time gardeners. The average rainfall is around 33.7 inches (855 mm) a year, and average sunshine hours are 1,160 a year. Almost all of the principal features of the garden were created in five main phases of development.

The Elizabethan garden

The house and garden were begun by Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick in 1555. The Elizabethan garden was much smaller than the modern garden. There were terraces to the east of the house where the main lawn is now, ponds and fountains to the south, and fishponds to the west by the river. The main visual remnant of this time is a squat stone tower known as Queen Mary's Bower on account of a legend that Mary, Queen of Scots was allowed to take the air there while she was a prisoner at Chatsworth. The bower is now outside the garden wall in the park. Some of the retaining walls of the West Garden also date to this era, but they were reconstructed and extended later.

The 1st Duke's garden (1684–1707)

At the same time as he was rebuilding the house, the 1st Duke created one of the grandest baroque formal gardens in England. It featured numerous parterres cut into the slopes above the house, and many fountains, garden buildings and classical sculptures. The principal surviving features from this time are:

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This engraving by Kip and Knyff shows Chatsworth part way through the 1st Duke's alterations. The south front has been rebuilt but the original east front survives. The baroque garden has been laid out, but only the first, smaller version of the Cascade has been built, and the Canal Pond hasn't been dug. The 1st Duke's stables are to the left of the house.
  • The Cascade and Cascade House: The Cascade is a set of stone steps over which water flows from a set of fountains at the top. It was built in 1696 and rebuilt on a grander scale in 1701. In 1703 a grand baroque Temple or Cascade House designed by Thomas Archer was added at the top. A major restoration of both the Cascade and the Cascade House was carried out in 1994–1996; it took 10,000 man hours of work. In 2004 the Cascade was voted the best water feature in the England by a panel of 45 garden experts organised by Country Life [6] (
  • The Canal Pond: this is a 314-yard-long rectangular lake to the south of the house which was dug in 1702.
  • The Sea-horse Fountain: a sculptural fountain in a circular pond on the lawn between the house and the Canal Pond. Originally the centrepiece of the main parterre.
  • The Willow Tree Fountain: This is an imitation tree which squirts water on the unsuspecting from its branches. The writer Celia Fiennes wrote about it in her diary in 1696, "There... in the middle of ye grove stands a fine willow tree, the leaves, barke and all looks very naturall, ye roote is full of rubbish or great stones to appearance and all on a sudden by ye turning of a sluice it rains from each leafe and from the branches like a shower, it being made of brass and and pipes to each leafe, but in appearance is exactly like any willow." The tree has been replaced twice and was restored in 1983.
  • The First Duke's greenhouse: A long, low building with ten arched windows and a temple-like centrepiece. It has been moved from its original site overlooking the 1st Duke's bowling green to the northern edge of the main lawn and is now fronted by a rose garden.
  • Flora's Temple: a classical temple which was built in 1695 and moved to its present site at the northern end of the broad walk in 1760. It contains a statue of the goddess Flora by Caius Gabriel Cibber.
  • The West Garden: now the family's private garden, with modern planting within a three-section, formal structure, the West Garden is mainly a creation of the 1st Duke's time, but the layout is not original.

The 4th Duke's garden (1755–1764)

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An oil painting showing the west front of Chatsworth in the 18th century, painted by William Marlow (1740–1813). The stable block is at the top left and the cascade at the top right. The north wing had not been built

The 4th Duke commissioned Capability Brown to transform the garden in the fashionable naturalistic landscape style of the day. Most of the ponds and parterres were converted to lawns, but as detailed above several important features were spared. A large amount of tree planting was carried out, including a variety of American species specially imported from Philadelphia in 1759. The main aim and merit of this work was the improved integration of the garden and the park. Brown's sloping 5.5 acre (22,000 m²) Salisbury Lawns still form the setting of the Cascade.

The 6th Duke's garden (1826–1858)

In 1826 a twenty-three-year-old named Joseph Paxton, who had been trained at Kew Gardens, was appointed as head gardener at Chatsworth. The 6th Duke has inherited Chatsworth fifteen years earlier and had previously shown little interest in improving Chatsworth's neglected garden, but he soon formed a productive and extravagantly funded partnership with Paxton, who proved to be the most innovative garden designer of his era, and remains the greatest single influence on Chatsworth's garden. Features which survive from this time include:

  • The Rockeries and The Strid: In 1842 Paxton began work on a rockery of a gargantuan scale, piling rocks weighing several tons one on top of another. One of them was described thus by Lord Desart in the 1860s: "In one place a sort of miniature Matterhorn apparently blocked the path but with the touch of the finger it revolved on a metal axis and made a way to pass." It is now locked in place to comply with health and safety regulations. Another rock is so balanced that it can be swayed with little pressure. Two rocks are named for the Queen and Prince Albert, and the grandest of all for the Duke of Wellington, all of whom visited Chatsworth in the 6th Duke's time. The Wellington Rock, really a construction of several rocks piled on top of each other, is 45 feet (14 m) high and a small waterfall drips over it into a pond. Sometimes in the winter the water freezes creating spectacular icicles. The water flows into a pond created by Paxton called The Strid, which is named for a stretch of the River Wharfe on the Devonshires' Bolton Abbey estate, where the river is compressed into a turbulent chasm just a yard wide. Chatworth's Strid is a placid stretch of water fringed with rocks and luxuriant vegetation and crossed by a rustic bridge.
  • The Arboretum and Pinetum: This was the great age of plant hunting expeditions, when major new species were readily discovered by intrepid botanists, and the Duke was one of the most generous sponsors of the plant-hunting exhibitions of the day. In 1829 he took an additional eight acres (32,000 m²) of the park into the garden to create a pinetum, and in 1835 Paxton began work on an arboretum, which was planned as a systematic succession of trees in accordance with botanical classification. Chatsworth has some of the oldest specimens of species such as Douglas fir and Giant Sequoia in the UK. Also in this part of the garden is the Grotto Pond, which began its career as a fishpond, breeding fish for Chatsworth's table. The 6th Duke's mother had had the rustic grotto built at the end of the 18th century. The area around the pond is now planted for autumn colour.
  • The Avalea Dell and the Ravine: Rhododendrons and Azaleas grow well at Chatsworth as the soil suits them, and a section of the southern end of the garden is devoted to them. This is the most rugged part of the garden with steep serpentine paths and a steam running down a small valley known as The Ravine. In 1997 a waterfall was created out of old drinking troughs gathered from fields on the estate. There is also a bamboo walk here.
  • The Emperor Fountain: In 1843 Tsar Nicholas I of Russia informed the Duke, who was an acquaintance, that he was likely to visit Chatsworth the following year. In anticipation of this Imperial visit the Duke decided to construct the world's highest fountain, and set Paxton to work to build it. An eight acre (32,000 m²) lake was dug on the moors 350 feet (110 m) above the house to supply the natural water pressure. The work was finished in just six months, continuing at night by the light of flares, and the resulting water jet is on record as reaching a height of 296 feet (90 m), although it is not that high nowadays. The Tsar never arrived to see it his fountain. The water power found a practical use generating Chatsworth's electricity from 1893 to 1936. The house was then connected to the mains, but a new turbine was installed in 1988, and it produces about a third of the electricity the house needs.
  • The Conservative Wall: A set of greenhouses which run up the slope from Flora's Temple to the stables against the north wall of the garden. There is a tall central section flanked by ten smaller section. They are used to grow fruit, and camellias. Two camellia reticula 'Captain Rawes' planted in 1850 survive. Chatworth's camellias have won many prizes. The name of the building has no political connotations; the Dukes of Devonshire were Whigs and later Liberals; it was so called by Paxton because it conserves heat.
Missing image
The Great Conservatory at Chatsworth. Built from 1836 to 41 and demolished in 1920.

Paxton was also responsible, along with architect Decimus Burton, for Chatsworth's demolished Great Conservatory, begun in 1836 and completed in 1841, which was the largest glasshouse in the world at the time. It was 277 feet (84 m) long, 123 feet (37 m) wide and 61 feet (19 m) high, and cost £33,099 (more than a farm labourer could have earned in 1,000 years). A carriage drive ran the length of the building between lush tropical vegetation. Contemporaries were astonished by this unprecedented sight. One W. Adam called it, "A mountain of glass... an unexampled structure... like a sea of glass when the waves are settling and smoothing down after a storm." The King of Saxony compared it to, "A tropical scene with a glass sky." The Great Conservatory was demolished after World War I as all the plants had died as it had not been heated during the war, and the cost of running it were no longer considered acceptable. There was another large glasshouse at Barbrook on the edge of the park which was devoted to the cultivation of the giant Amazon water-lily, Victoria amazonica which flowered in captivity there for the first time. This Lily House has also been lost.

The modern garden (1950–date)

The 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Duke's made few changes to the garden. The garden suffered during World War II, but the 11th Duke and his wife the present Dowager Duchess were keen gardeners and oversaw a revival in its fortunes. Britain's best known gardening personality Alan Titchmarsh wrote in 2003, "Chatsworth's greatest strength is that its owners have refused to let the garden rest on its Victorian laurels. It continues to grow and develop, and that is what makes it one of the best and most vibrant gardens in Britain." Many of the historical features have been restored to an immaculate condition, and unusually for an English country house garden in modern times, numerous important new features have been added. These include:

  • The South Lawn limes: the double rows of pleached red twigged limes on either side of the South Lawn were planted in 1952.
  • Serpentine Hedge: The wavy hedged yew corridor leading from the Ring Pond to the bust of the 6th Duke was planted in 1953.
  • The Maze: this was planted with 1,209 yews in the centre of the site of the former Great Conservatory in 1962. Two flower gardens occupy the rest of the site.
  • The Display Greenhouse (1970): this is in a modern style, but is unobtrusively sited behind the First Duke's greenhouse. It has three climate zones, tropical, Mediterranean and temperate. Public access is limited but groups may book tours and there are first come-first served tours on a few days each season.
  • The Cottage Garden: This was inspired by an exhibit at the 1988 Chelsea Flower Show. A front garden of flower beds bordered by box leads to the "kitchen/dining" room with furniture covered with plants. There is a bedroom in the same style on the upper level.
  • The Kitchen Garden: a productive fruit and vegetable garden with decorative features which was created behind the stables in the early 1990s. Chatsworth original kitchen garden covered 11.5 acres (47,000 m²) and was by the river in the park.
  • Revelation: a sculptural fountain designed by the sculptor Angela Conner and installed in 1999. This was the only modern water feature to make the top ten of the Country Life poll mentioned above.
  • Modern sculpture: various pieces including War Horse and Walking Madonna by Dame Elizabeth Frink.
  • The Sensory Garden: This garden is fully accessible to the disabled and features many fragrant plants. It was opened in 2004 by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett, who is blind and comes from the city of Sheffield, which is not far from Chatsworth.

The stables

The stable block at Chatsworth, which is prominently situated on the rising ground to the north east of the house, is almost as grand as the house itself. Indeed its entrance gate, which is in the form of a triumphal arch, is arguably grander than any part of the house. It features four Doric columns with rusticated banding, a pediment containing a huge carving of the family coat of arms, including two approximately life size stags in high-relief embellished with real antlers, and a clock tower topped by a cupola. The building was designed by James Paine for the 4th Duke and was built in around 1760. It is approximately 190 feet (58 m) square and is of two storeys. There are low towers in the corners in addition to the one over the entrance gate. The stables originally had stalls for 80 horses, and all necessary equine facilities including a blacksmiths shop. The first floor was occupied by granaries and accommodation for the many stable staff. According to the Dowager Duchess in her book, Chatsworth: The House, one room still has "Third Postillion" painted on the door. The 6th Duke added a carriage house behind the stables in the 1830s.

The last horses left the stables in 1939 and the building was then used as a store and garage. The grooms' accommodation was converted into flats for Chatsworth employees and pensioners and there families. When the house reopened to the public after the war "catering" was limited to an outdoor tap which has since been relabelled "water for dogs". In 1975 a tea bar was established with an investment of £120. The first attempt at a café opened in 1979. It seated 90 in some old horse stalls in the stables and was not satisfactory; either to the customers or from a commercial point of view. In 1987 the Duke and Duchess's private chef, a Frenchman named Jean-Pierre Béraud who was also a leading light in the success of the Chatsworth Farm Shop and Chatsworth Foods, took charge of the catering. After a failed attempt to obtain planning permission for a new building incorporating the old ice house in the park, a 250-seat restaurant was created in the carriage house. The nineteen century coach used by the Dowager Duchess and the late duke at the Queen's Coronation is on display here. Other facilities include Jean-Pierre's Bar which also serves food, a shop which complements the main shop in the house, and three rooms which may be hired for private events. The stables caters for thirty thousand people a month during the visitor season. A partial plan of the building may be seen here (

The park, the woods and the farmyard

Chatsworth's park covers about 1,000 acres (4 km²) and is open to the public free of charge all year round, except for the south east section, known as the Old Park (though it isn't the oldest part), which is not open as it is used for breeding by the herds of red and fallow deer. Other farm stock also graze in the park, many of which belong to tenant farmers or smallholders, who use the park for summer grazing. Most of the features of the park can be seen on this aerial photo ( Bess of Harwick's park was entirely on the eastern side of the river and only extended as far south as the Emperor Fountain and as far north as the cricket ground. She is believed to have used the small turreted tower on the hill north east of the house which is now known as the Hunting Tower to view the hunting in the park. Seven fish ponds were dug to the north west of the house, where the large flat area used for events such as the annual Chatsworth Horse Trials, and Angling and Country Fairs is now. The bridge across the river was at the southern end of the park and it crossed to the old village of Edensor, which was by the river in full sight of the house.

Capability Brown did at least as much work in the park as he did in the garden. The open tree-flecked landscape which is admired today is not natural. Brown straightened the river and there is a network of drainage channels under the grass. The park is fertilised with manure from the in-hand farms and managed to keep in the check the weeds and scrub which would flourish if nature was allowed to take its course. Brown filled in most of Bess's fishponds and extended the park to the west of the river. At the same time James Paine designed the new bridge to the north of the house, which was set at an angle of 40 degrees to command the best view of the West Front of the house. Most of the houses in Edensor were demolished and the village was rebuilt out of sight of the house. The hedges between the fields on the west bank of the river were grubbed up to create open parkland, and woods were planted on the horizon. These were arranged in triangular clumps so that the screen of trees could be maintained when each planting had to be felled. Brown's plantings reached their peak in the mid-20th century and are gradually being replaced. The 5th Duke had an elegant red brick inn built at Edensor to accommodate the increasing numbers of well to do travellers who were coming to see Chatsworth. It is now the estate office.

In 1823 the Bachelor Duke acquired the Duke of Rutland's land around Baslow to the north of Chatworth in exchange for some land elsewhere. He extended the park around half a mile (800 m) north to its present boundary. He also had the remaining cottages from the old Edensor inside the park demolished apart from the home of one old man who didn't wish to move, which still stands in isolation in the park today. The houses in Edensor were rebuilt in picturesque pattern book styles. In the 1860s the 7th Duke had St Peter's Church in Edensor enlarged by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The church's spire embellishes the views from the house, garden and park, and inside there is a remarkable monument to Bess of Hardwick's sons Henry Cavendish and William, 1st Earl of Devonshire.

On the hills at the eastern side of the park there is a wood called Stand Wood, which is named for Stand Tower, the original name of the Hunting Tower. At the top of Stand Wood there is a plateau covering several square miles with lakes, woods and moorland. There are public paths through the area and Chatsworth offers guided tours with commentary is a 28-seater trailer pulled by a tractor. This area is the source of the water for all the gravity-fed waterworks in the garden. The Swiss Lake feeds the Cascade and the Emperor Lake feeds the Emperor Fountain. The Bachelor Duke had an aqueduct built which water tumbles over on its way to the cascade.

The Dowager Duchess is a keen advocate of rural life and in 1973 the Chatsworth Farmyard exhibit was opened in the old building yard above the stables. The aim is to explain to people who are unfamiliar with rural life how food is produced. There are milking demonstrations and displays of rare breeds. An adventure playground was added in 1983 and Alan Titchmarsh opened a venue for talks and exhibitions called Oak Barn in 2005. Chatsworth also runs two annual rural skills weeks during which demonstrations of agricultural and forestry are given to groups of schoolchildren on the estate farms and woods.

The estate

Chatsworth is the hub of a 35,000 acre (142 km²) agricultural estate. The Chatsworth estate, together with 30,000 acres (121 km²) around Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire (mostly moorland), some land in Eastbourne, belongs to The Trustees of Chatsworth Settlement, a family trust which was established in 1946. The Duke and other members of the family are entitled to the income. The family's 8,000 acre (32 km²) Lismore Castle estate in Ireland is held in a separate trust. The estate includes dozens of tenanted farms and over 450 houses and flats. There are five sub-estates scattered across Derbyshire:

  • The Main Estate: a compact block of 12,310 acres (50 km²) around the house including the park and many properties in the villages of Baslow, Pilsley, Edensor, Beeley and Calton Lees.
  • The West Estate: 6,498 acres (26 km²) of scattered high ground, mostly in the Peak District and partly in Staffordshire. Hartington, from which the family takes its secondary title is nearby. Mostly stock farms. The remnant of much larger holdings in this area.
  • The Shottle Estate: 3,519 acres (14.2 km²) in and around Shottle, which is around 15 miles (24 km) south of Chatsworth. This is low lying land and is home to most of the dairy farms on the estate, and also has some arable farms.
  • The Staveley Estate: 3,400 acres (13.8 km²) near Chesterfield, including a 355 acre (1.4 km²) industrial site called Staveley Works, which is let to various tenants, and some woodlands, as well as arable farms.
  • The Scarcliffe Estate: 9,320 acres (38 km²) east of Chesterfield. Mostly arable farms.

The Chatsworth Settlement has a wide range of sources of income in addition to agricultural rents. Several thousand acres of the estate, mostly around Chatsworth and on the Staveley estate are farmed in hand. A number of properties may be rented as holiday cottages, including the Bess of Hardwick's Hunting Tower in the park. There are several quarries which produce limestone and other minerals.

The late Duke and the Dowager Duchess didn't opt for the "theme park" approach to modernising a country estate, but they did throw off the traditional aristocratic reluctance to participate in commerce. The Chatsworth Farm Shop ( is probably the largest enterprise of its kind in the UK, employing over a hundred people. A 90-seat restaurant opened at the Farm Shop in 2005. From 1999 to 2003 there was also a shop in the exclusive London district of Belgravia, but it wasn't successful. The Settlement also runs the four shops and the catering operations at Chatsworth, paying a percentage of turnover to the charitable Chatsworth House Trust in lieu of rent. It also runs the Devonshire Arms Hotel ( and the Devonshire Fell Hotel & Bistro ( on the Bolton Abbey estate and owns the Cavendish Hotel ( at Baslow on the edge of Chatsworth Park, which is let to a tenant. The old kitchen garden at Barbrook on the edge of the park is let to the Caravan Club, and a paddock at the southern end of the park where bucks used to be fattened for Chatsworth's table is a tenanted garden centre. In both cases the Settlement receives a percentage of turnover as rent. There is also a line of Chatsworth branded foods, endorsed with the Dowager Duchess's signature, which is available by mail order. The Dowager Duchess has also established Chatsworth Design to exploit intellectual property rights to the Devonshire collections, and a furniture company called Chatsworth Carpenters, but the latter has now been licensed to an American company.

See also

Other properties owned by the Dukes of Devonshire, currently or in the past, include:


  • Chatsworth:A Short History (1951) by Francis Thomson (librarian and keeper of collections at Chatsworth). Country Life Limited.
  • Chatsworth: The House (2002 ed.) by the Duchess of Devonshire. Frances Lincoln Limited. ISBN 0711216754
  • English Country Houses: Baroque (1970) by James Lees-Milne. Country Life / Newnes Books. ISBN 1851490434
  • The Estate: A View from Chatsworth (1990) by the Duchess of Devonshire. MacMillan. ISBN 0333471709
  • The Garden at Chatsworth (1999) by the Duchess of Devonshire. Frances Lincoln Limited. ISBN 0711214301

External links


  • Chatsworth House: Official website (
  • A photo gallery ( - mainly exterior and garden shots
  • Another photo page ( - includes a plan of the gardens
  • Aerial photo from (
  • Another gallery (

Chatsworth is also the name of several places in the United States of America. See: Chatsworth (disambiguation).


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