Outside London in Derbyshire. For sixteen generations, to be a Cavendish – the right Cavendish – has meant being the Duke of Devonshire. With that title comes Chatsworth House, a stately home in the Derbyshire Dales which has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549.
The house, set in 90 square miles of property and backed by wooded, rocky hills rising to heather moorland, contains an important collection of paintings, furniture, Old Masters, neoclassical sculptures and artifacts of wealth accumulated over 500 years. It’s been open to the public since its beginning, and . Chatsworth has been selected as the UK’s favorite country house several times.
It’s easy to see why. The family, particularly the most recent previous Duchess who died in 2014, Deborah Mitford, realized the value of making Chatsworth a tourist destination, to help cover the enormous costs of maintaining such a property. It has recently undergone a £30 million renovation, and is merchandised to the hilt.
The house is gorgeous, and includes some very tasteful additions of modern art that reflect the current Duke and Duchess’s tastes, but meld nicely with the family heirlooms. The special art installation of the year is dedicated to dogs, and they are everywhere. Take a tour here and admire little touches like a painting by Rembrandt and a few other notables, lovely Delft china, and the country’s oldest pram.
Notice the damask table cloth on that vast formal dining table. It’s a single piece of fabric with no seams. It is ironed while on the table and had only one crease — right down the center. They have three of these; the one on display was made in 1893. The pattern was specially designed for the Duke at the time. The loom that it came from must have been gigantic.
In 1830 the then Duke converted rooms on the east side of the house into guest bedrooms. Guests spent their days hunting, riding, reading and playing billiards. In the evening formal dinners would take place followed by music, charades and smoking for the men. These guest bedrooms at Chatsworth are the most complete set of bedrooms from the period to survive with their original furnishings. People who have stayed at Chatsworth include Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens.
There’s not a shabby corner here – at least that the public can see. The stableblock has a huge gift shop and a restaurant, and the greenhouse once contained a banana tree which became the source of all the bananas we now eat in the Western world. And then, there are the grounds and the gardens.
So would I like to be a Cavendish? Maybe for a few days, so I could see the family’s parts of the house. But after that, I’d get back on a train to London and let someone else worry about leaky roofs and keeping up with all that house-cleaning. We’re too busy catching up with friends and enjoying living in our little corner of London for a few weeks.
Don’s Food Corner
As hoped, the restaurant served very high quality British food. Jo had a steak-and-ale pie with all the rich, thick gravy holding the pieces of tender steak and mushrooms with a flaky pie crust on top.
I headed to the “carvery” and had a nice thick slice of tender ham that was almost white. This came with those roasted potatoes that only the Brits can make, right along with a medley of vegetables. When asked if I wanted gravy, I said “of course” (of course) and ladles of gravy were poured all over everything. Yum. But where was the Yorkshire Pudding? I guess that doesn’t go with ham.
One of the options offered was an Indian dal platter. That’s not why we traveled to a British country estate. Jo passed by that one quickly.
Later we had a little tea and some shortbread to keep our strength up before the train ride back to London. All in all, a very British day.