If you saw the version of “Pride and Prejudice” featuring Matthew MacFadyen and Keira Knightly, then you saw Chatsworth House—the treasure box of Derbyshire. We paid a visit this afternoon on what had to be the warmest and sunniest day of our trip. We opted for the whole package—house, gardens, tea, and audio guide—and spent nearly five hours on the property.
The home of the Cavendish family, this is the house that Bess of Hardwick built. She outlived at least four husbands and completed her version of the house in the 1560s.
In the 17th century, Bess’ original Elizabethan structure was built onto and surrounded by the Palladian palace we see today by the 4th Earl of Devonshire (the earldom would later be elevated to a dukedom). He wanted more bedchambers, and then more staterooms, and one thing led to another, and he just couldn’t stop adding on!
Once you’ve covered the semi-circular drive surrounding a weeping ash, you’re into an entryway that at one time had been the kitchens of the house. The new arrangement makes for an impressive entry, though, and sets up the tour that allows you to see the ground floor as well as the rooms on the second and third floors (the first floor includes the apartments of the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, so they’re off-limits).
The 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Devonshire didn’t change the house, but rather added to the collections inside. Paintings, statues, drawings, prints, porcelains, and furnishings have filled up the space. A special exhibit, Five Hundred Years of Fashion, is also on display, although the mannequins sometimes get in the way of the important artwork (there’s a Rembrandt that’s practically ridden from view).
This massive estate has it all—besides the impressive house (it’s essentially a palace), there is an orangery that’s been converted into a fashionable shop, a rock garden, cascades, a hedgerow maze, a coal hole and tunnel, an emperor fountain, a restaurant where you can have a proper tea, stables that have been converted into shops, more gardens, a conservatory, and even a trout stream. With some of the exterior of the house undergoing conservation efforts, there was scaffolding hiding a good portion of one side and one end of the building (the renovation should be complete this fall).
Below are the grand staircase (it goes up two stories) and the barrel ceiling in the dining hall as well as some of the detail of wainscoting .
One of Bess’ husbands, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, was tasked with the custody of Mary, Queen of Scots, so the rooms in which she was housed are here.
The grounds we see today were designed by Lancelot Capability Brown and feature some new mixed in with the old. The cascades, for example, are rather modern, while the hedgerow maze and parterre gardens are tradional. The rock gardens feature large blocks—this isn’t your typical rock garden! There’s a huge pond on one side of the main house with an emporer fountain in the middle. Other landscaping close to the house has been removed during remodeling.
For us, the most impressive room in the house is the one that features the marbles you would have seen in the movie. Although the room is dimly lit, the marbles are stunning. It’s hard to believe these Neo-classical works of art fell out of favor for a time.
A few surprises included the bust of Darcy (you can purchase a miniature for £50) and an ornate embroidered gown.
The end of our visit was the afternoon tea, a rather pleasant end to a very satisfying tour!
We’ll be traveling to our next destination tomorrow—the Lake District—but we have some stops in Cheshire planned along the way. Ta-ta for now.