• Richard Prosser


This is Chatsworth House, in the Peak District of Derbyshire, about an hour and three-quarters from here. It's the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, and has been the home of the Cavendish family since 1549.

Chatsworth sits in 1,822 acres of manicured grounds, of the total 12,000 acres that comprise the estate. Nowadays it's leased to a registered charity, the Chatsworth House Trust. The Trust is essentially a tax dodge intended to avoid Death Duties, an archaic punitive financial cudgel invented by evil scheming Monarchs in days gone by, in order to hobble the aristocracy, by nicking most of their accumulated wealth with every changing generation. New Zealand got rid of them in 1993, but the Brits are sticklers for maintaining tradition (although these days they're known as 'Inheritance Tax' which is at least a more honest description).

The current Duke and Duchess pay the Trust a market rent to live in their own house, which is both very rude and very clever.

That said, the aforementioned current Duke (and Mrs Duke) are quite clearly completely genuine in their belief that they are but guardians of what is very much a national treasure, and they run the estate as both a working farm and a living museum. Deer and sheep range free across the estate (and the internal roads, so it pays to keep your eyeballs peeled).

We stayed at the Devonshire Arms, a lovely wee pub in the village of Pilsley, one of the four villages located within the Estate.

Edensor, one of the other villages, got in the way of the fourth Duke's view from the West Wing, so he uplifted the whole place, houses, peasants and all, and plonked it a mile down the road. You could do stuff like that, back then. Especially if you were a Duke (and had more money than the King).

The deal with the Devonshire Arms included the Secrets and Surprises tour, a winter-only chance to take a look inside and behind the scenes at Chatsworth, while it's generally closed to tourists and while maintenance and renovations are being carried out.

The rooms in the pub are named after local farms. After trekking up a hundred stairs and through a hundred doors (and round a hundred corners), we came to ours:

Me being me, I naturally took it as an instruction, and got a slap for my trouble ;-)

From the outside, Chatsworth is breathtakingly awesome and impressive.

The imposing roofed open air Keep provides an elevated, weatherproof vantage point for shooting proles and bailiffs.

The Derwent River flows through the grounds (and sometimes across them).

The mighty edifice above is the stables. Yep, the stables.

View inside the Stables Courtyard, looking back towards the front entrance and across the handy drinking trough.

I guess you can afford a pretty flash tack room for your nags, when you have more money than the King (and possibly more than God).

Nowadays it houses the cafe, restaurant, and an impressively well-stocked gift shop.

Horse stalls turned fashion emporium: The Lady Elaine approves.

They thought of everything.

Inside, it's also breathtakingly awesome and impressive.

Golden Gate, with real gold.

There's gold at Chatsworth. Real stuff, and lots of it. None of your paint, or leaf, or lookalike bling - it's all the real deal.

Grand entrance

Always good to have a few paintings around the place, eh.

Italian marble floors

The floor above was discovered under some pretty average carpet, during a prior restoration.

A wee bit of art on display

St Bartholomew

Apparently, St Bart was skinned alive for preaching some beliefs, that whoever was in charge at the time didn't agree with (probably all to do with being nice to people, rather than being beastly to them). The dangly stuff he's holding is his skin. Clearly, no-body likes a smart arse.

Wood carving

One of the previous Dukes stumbled across an old Monastery in Bavaria that was in the process of being closed down. He bought the interior as a job lot, and shipped it back to Chatsworth to be installed in a Gentlemen's Smoking Parlour that he had built especially, just to house it (as one does).

The Music Room

Wall detail in the Music Room

The wall coverings in the music room are made of leather (and gold, of course). Apparently it deadens the sound better than....well, better than anything that isn't gold-inlaid leather. And anyway, leather walls are just plain cool. Ask any bikie.

There's quite a bit going on in the pic above. One, there's no glass in that chandelier. Two, those aren't lumps of coal in the display cabinet. And three, the young lady in the painting on the right has quite a story about her, and so does the painting.

The woman in question is Georgiana Cavendish, born into the Spencer family (Princess Di's lot). At the age of seventeen she became the wife of the 5th Duke, William, and quickly gained a reputation as a flamboyant socialite.

Georgiana and the Duke engaged in a long-term three-way relationship with one of her girl mates, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who eventually replaced Georgiana as William's wife and Duchess. It was all very untidy, with stray children being conceived left right and centre, and more money than was sustainable (even for the Duke) being spent on parties and various other forms of debauchery. All good fun, one imagines.

The portrait was painted by Thomas Gainsborough around 1785. It used to include the whole of the dress she was wearing, but whilst in the possession of a schoolteacher known to the Duchess, it was cut down in order to allow it to fit above her fireplace.

In 1876, having been rediscovered (and its value recognised), the painting sold at auction for 10,000 guineas. Three weeks later, while on display at a London gallery, it got nicked, by the famous London art thief Adam Worth - who, in turn, was Sherlock Holmes' creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's real-life inspiration for the character Moriarty.

There's a bit going on in this one as well. It isn't bad taste modern art, but rather the binary representation of the DNA of the latest four generations of the Cavendish family. One entire wall of one of the upstairs gallery corridors is taken up by it. In the middle is a similar panel that includes six mirrored tiles, representing the 6% of any individual's DNA that makes them unique amongst all other humans.

Chess with the Emperor, anyone? (Yes, it's the real thing. Of course.)

The Reading Room in the upstairs library

One of the Dining Rooms. I was lost by this stage.

Deer are a big part of the theme and imagery of Chatsworth, both hunting, and more lately farming.

One of the pot thingies on the right in this pic is the actual Holy Grail. The other one is a decoy. They wouldn't tell us which was which. Cunning, eh?

The Sculpture Gallery

The Sculpture Gallery again

Even after absorbing so much bling that your eyes are going numb, some things are still amazing. This isn't your typical shed for storing spare garden ornaments.

This isn't just any old glasshouse; it's the glasshouse that saved the banana.

Chatsworth's Dukes have long collected and cultivated all manner of plants, including many exotics. In the 1950s, Panama Disease all but wiped out the world's commercial banana plantations - but they were resurrected from stocks grown in the safety of Chatsworth's greenhouses, where they have been cultivated since the early 1800s.

The Hunting Tower

Originally used for spotting game, the Hunting Tower now serves as accommodation (and cell phone coverage, I believe).

The Game Larder. Not just any old hanging shed - 4,000 pheasants could be hung on the hooks herein.

We'll definitely be going back to Chatsworth in the summer. There's a heap of good stuff going on there that I haven't even touched on yet - wildlife habitat restoration, water management with gravity irrigation and hydro power, preservation of rare breeds; the current Duke, who goes by the name Stoker, is a genuine down-to-earth guy (albeit a fabulously wealthy genuine down-to-earth guy, who happens to have an ancient hereditary title, and more money than God) who appears to actually give a toss. It's really nice and encouraging to see.

Happy thoughts

Richard Prosser


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