Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Great Country Estates of Britain Series. Part Two: Chatsworth

Chatsworth is the country seat of the Duchy of Devonshire, and has been home to their family, the Cavendish family, since Bess of Hardwick settled at Chatsworth in 1549. One of Britain's best loved historic estates, it lies at the heart of the Peak District National Park. The house was re-built by the 1st Duke between 1687 and 1707, on the site of Bess of Hardwick's original Tudor mansion (Bess was the Countess of Shrewsbury). The chapel and dining room date from that time, and have been hardly altered since. The main alterations were made by the 6th duke (1790 - 1858). The nearby town of Edensor dates to the 13th century.

During the second world war, the house was turned into a girls' boarding school. It cared for 3000 pupils between 1939 and 1946. The house was then changed back to a private residence, although it was to remain open to the public for a fee, which was in aide of maintaining the estate.

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 is not the oldest part), which is not open as it is used for breeding by the herds of red and fallow deer.

Above: A recent aerial view of the estate

The 105 acre garden is a magical landscape, beautiful in all seasons, and it can be visited separately from the house. It has evolved over more than 450 years. There are five miles of walks with rare trees, shrubs, formal hedges, temples, sculptures old and new, streams and ponds.

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.

Lancelot '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.

Brown filled in most of Bess's fishponds and extended the park to the west of the river.

In 1823 the Bachelor Duke acquired the Duke of Rutland's land 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.

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 in 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 (below).

Above: A view of Chatsworth from the west, painted in 1770 by William Marlow.

Other famous waterworks apart from the 24 steps of the 300 year old cascade, include the Willowtree fountain (below), which has water shooting from its branches, a trough waterfall, 'Revelation' a water-powered sculpture, and the huge jet of water rising from the pond to the west of the house.

The Bridge

James Paine designed the new bridge to the north of the house, (above) which was set at an angle of 40 degrees to command the best view of the West Front of the house.The bridge crosses the river Derwent at the southern end of the park. It crossed to the old village of Edensor, which was by the river in full sight of the house. In 1837 almost the entire village was dismantled and re-assembled 100 yards down the road, where it was out of view from the house! Only one house was left in place (no one knows why).

The Great Hall

The upper part of the great 'painted' hall has not been changed since it was painted in 1692, with scenes from the life of Julius Caesar by Luois Laguerre.

The ground floor and stairs have been altered several times and the original stone floor has been replaced with a marble one.

In 1936 the painted ceiling started to sag and eventually pulled off the ceiling proper a sagged down to the floor 29 feet below. It took 2 years to re-attached the ceiling, and the painting was only restored in 1996.

The first floor landing up the stairs in the hall is decorated with
grisaille panels, painted to resemble sculptured relief panels. On the middle of the landing is a large bronze statue of Mercury, modeled on an otriginal sculpted in the 16th century by Giambologna.

On the first floor are located an array of state rooms - the state dining room, drawing room, music room, bedroom, and dressing room.

The Library

The Library was originally a long gallery, designed by the first Duke. The ceiling of guilded stucco by Edward Goudge is original, but the rest of the library dates from 1815, when the 6th Duke had it converted.

The library (and adjoining anteroom) hold over 17,000 volumes.

The Chapel

The Chapel was built between 1688 and 1693 and has not been altered at any time. Over the altar hangs a Verrio painting of Doubting Thomas, the rest of the walls and the ceiling are painted with scenes form the life of Christ. The surrounding alabaster reredos was carved by Cibber out of local alabaster. The 4 marble columns (of which you can see 2 below) were hewn from the same piece of stone found on a nearby moor.

All four walls have a high and ornately carved cedar wainscot, which exudes a smell of cedar, somewhat resembling the smell of incense (for which it is often mistaken).

The main medallion in the middle of the ceiling is of Christ in Glory, and was painted by Louis Laguerre (1663-1721).

The Dining Room

In 1811 the 6th Duke inherited the title and eight major estates: Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, Devonshire House, Chiswick House. Bolton Abbey, Lismore Castle, Burlington House; and Londesborough Hall in Yorkshire, which he eventually sold to reduce his debts. These estates covered 200,000 acres (810 km2) of land in England and Ireland. The lawns outside the front facade was designed upon the floor plans of Chiswick House, the London home of Lord Burlington (a great proponent of Palladian architecture).

The Stables

The stable block at Chatsworth, which is prominently situated on the hill to the north-east of the house, is a masterpiece in its own right. 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 the same architect as the bridge for the 4th Duke and was built in around 1760.

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. 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.

Above 2 photos of stables by Jade Ching

The house contains an amazingly varied art collection, representing 4000 years of European culture and craftsmanship, from ancient Greece to modern work by British artists (such as the ugly horse paining by Leucian Freud!)

Photos below from our 2005 visit to Chatsworth:

1 comment:

  1. Wow loves the work of art from the structure to its furniture. I was fascinated with the ceiling, stucco really is not just an exterior coating but it can really give a look or character in the structure.


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