In the process of transcribing entries from the 6th Duke’s diaries, Collections and Archives assistant Ian Gregory has recently completed recording the entries from 1832. This was a momentous year as it saw the Great Reform Act, which extended the vote to more people than ever before, become law. The Duke supported this Act, though many of his class did not.
William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, was in charge from 1811 until his death in 1858. He was the only son of Duchess Georgiana, who was the subject of numerous books and a film, and the 5th Duke of Devonshire. When the 6th Duke inherited the title he became, at the age of twenty-one, one of the richest people in the United Kingdom.
While the 5th Duke and Duchess Georgiana had spent much of their time in London, the 6th Duke preferred Chatsworth and made the most radical alterations that the house and garden had seen in many years. He built a large new North Wing to house sculptures and other treasures he brought back from his Grand Tour, a huge greenhouse called the Great Conservatory (now demolished – previously on the site where the maze now stands), a rock garden and the Emperor Fountain, which was then the highest on the planet. He never married and when he died the Dukedom passed to a cousin of his.
One notable entry from October 1832 features Princess Victoria, who would later become Queen Victoria, visiting Chatsworth. The Duke made a long list of all the rooms which the princess and her mother were shown. He writes that there was ‘grand cheering, music and reception’ when the royal party appeared on the North West Bastion. The waterworks in the grounds were illuminated for the princess and the Duke writes ‘nothing ever was so beautiful and between acts they were changed with different coloured Bengal lights and it was quite different from anything I ever saw.’
However, the princess’s visit wasn’t all beauty and spectacle. On Sunday October 21st, the Duke and some of his visitors rode out to the Stand and a white pony threw its groom, then ‘to our terror galloped kicking and plunging up the hill towards the pony carts but happily slackened as he got near’ and was brought under control by the Duke. The groom is not mentioned again, but the Duke recorded deaths and serious illness among his staff so perhaps we may infer that the poor groom was not seriously hurt.
The royal party were also shown the area around Chatsworth, including Matlock and Chesterfield and their visit was judged a success. Both Victoria and her mother entertained the party by singing.
Ian still has a long way to go in transcribing the 6th Duke’s diaries. He looks forward to learning more about an important period in the history of not only Chatsworth but of the United Kingdom, and we look forward to sharing more anecdotes from the diaries here.