It is summer time and hot in the city so we have decamped to the country, to Chatsworth – ancestral seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
Set in the rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales, Chatsworth has been the home of the Cavendish family for over 400 years. One of the finest country houses in the land with interiors, art and gardens of the highest calibre. Chatsworth is much more than a museum piece.
The house and estate at Chatsworth are very much alive – surprisingly so in places. Under the direction of the current 12th Duke and Duchess, the estate has been transformed into a thriving cultural attraction with a worldwide reputation. In one of his other roles the 12th Duke was, until recently, Her Majesty’s Representative and a Trustee at Ascot. In both locations we find a venerable institution moving proudly into the future – leading not following. So, uninvited – and undercover – the On Tour team made its way to Derbyshire to see how the Devonshire’s are changing the face of the country house in Britain.
As it is August, and the lucky ones amongst you will be on the beach, or hiking in France, we have decided to keep this review short, relying on the pictures to tell the story. If it’s the history of Chatsworth you are after you could always take a look on Wikipedia. It is, as you might expect, a long and fascinating story. This review however takes a more in depth look at the secondary facilities at Chatsworth, those spending opportunities where the real money is made. And if its tea and scones and lavender Pot Pourri you’re expecting– you’re in for a big surprise.
First off – a whistle-stop tour of the house.
Staggeringly beautiful and in the very best possible taste. Priceless art, carvings, galleries, exquisite statuary and an all pervading darkness that adds gravitas to this magnificent collection.
You think you’ve ‘done’ country houses – and then you discover Chatsworth which totally redefines the genre. But a clue to the constant reinvention at Chatsworth and the sense of patronage of the arts is clear as you move through the gilded rooms. A Lucien Freud here, an electronic portrait of the young Lady Burlington there in the portrait gallery. This collection is alive – and all the more stunning for it.
To the gardens.
Over 400 years a beautiful garden has been created under the guidance of successive Dukes. Capability Brown had a hand here, as did Joseph Paxton, architect of the 1851 Crystal Palace, and Decimius Burton, engineer of the great glass houses at Kew.
This star cast appear, over-time, to have competed to create a garden of wonders with wonderful vistas and surprises around every corner; the 300 year old cascade and the outsized maze are just two examples from this horticultural theme park.
Creativity and innovation again have helped Chatsworth gain its reputation as one of the finest gardens in the land with over 300,000 visitors each year.
So, how else to entertain these visitors from across the globe?
If there’s one thing that Chatsworth does well that racecourses can learn, from it is their shopping and eating facilities. With endless eateries and more than seven shops around the estate there are plenty of opportunities for grazing and impulse shopping.
The images below illustrate the quality of the shopping experience at Chatsworth.
And in the collection of shops around the old stable courtyard.
One of the greatest lessons from the team at Chatsworth is that products do not have to have a connection with the house and its gardens. Instead, building on Chatsworth’s reputation for excellence and patronage in the arts, a world of merchandise opportunities are opened up.
The current Duke’s favourite novel, a book on graphic art, a panama hat – all carefully selected and personally recommended. In these shops the current Cavendish family have been transformed into individual brands of their own. The Duke’s Choice, The Duchess’ Choice, The Dowager Duchess’ Choice, together with ranges selected from the younger generation, the current Lord and Lady Burlington. Each presents their own collection of merchandise, with products from around the world. In this way Chatsworth can present product ranges targeted at each age range, from the most fashionable to the most mature. Brilliant. And executed with panache.
After all of this shopping, let’s have a bite to eat.
Provenance, breeding and home production play a big part in the presentation of the food and drink at Chatsworth.
Own-brand products stand side by side with more familiar brands, and outshine them. Great graphics, delicious food merchandising, good lighting and a variety of different price points to choose from ensure that every customer can find refreshment. Refreshingly expensive, yes, but you could always bring your own Thermos and a Penguin if these things bother you.
£3.95 for a Cornish Pasty, £2.55 for a large cappuccino. For me, the stylish interiors and surprisingly good presentation set the tone for prices which are ‘full’, but not inappropriate. Good things in life should command a premium, and great environments inspire a mood in customers which encourages spending. This seems to be the overriding ethos at Chatsworth and it is familiar with the best parts of the experience at Ascot.
Perhaps our favourite illustration of this is Afternoon Tea. Traditional afternoon tea, with all the usual suspects, retails for £16.50 per person. Impressive. Add a glass of Chatsworth Own Label Champagne and the prices climbs to £22.25. I bet it sells like hot cakes.
Away from the shops.
Pre-visit information is handsomely provided at www.chatsworth.org which has a clear and logical structure without fuss. A full complement of seasonal and outdoor events are laid on, ranging from the Morris Minor Rally to Sculpture without Limits, an experimental exhibition of contemporary sculpture set in the landscape of the estate.
Entry prices to the house and garden are £13.20 for an adult and £7.15 for a child. £38.50 for a family ticket.
To conclude, Chatsworth is much more than a stuffy country house. The entire guest experience has been thought through with a refreshing eye for detail. The constant interplay of ancient and modern lifts the tone, inspires a mood of confidence and ensures guests go home satisfied, whether their interests lie in English history, gardening, or simply pottering about. Chatsworth is certainly a full day out and one, from our perspective, that lifts rather than deflates the soul.
The ‘On Tour’ blog is written on behalf of the RCA by David Fraser