With its gold leaf and pale yellow stonework glinting in the spring sunshine, Chatsworth will reopen to visitors on 24 March, completing the biggest restoration and conservation of the house, garden and park since the 1820s. The 10-year long programme, costing more than £32m, will see Chatsworth restored to its full glory, inside and out.
A special exhibition called ‘Chatsworth Renewed’ will reveal how the work has taken place. From rebuilding the Belvedere turrets to replacing vast tracts of lead on the roof; carving the tiniest details in stone to replacing huge blocks in the walls; careful restoration of priceless artworks to the renovation of famous water features in the garden; over the last decade Chatsworth has been fully restored and made ready for the next century. Hear from the skilled people involved in the project as they highlight hidden corners of the house and peel back layers to share their stories past and present.
In 2004, a comprehensive structural survey of the house and its many services was undertaken. This demonstrated that major work was necessary to renew the infrastructure of the building and ensure its preservation for the next 100 years, as it was deemed to be at significant risk from fire or flooding. Weather damage and industrial pollution over hundreds of years meant cleaning and replacing gritstone across the whole exterior of the 300-room house. All the new stone used for repairs came from the same, specially reopened, quarry that provided the stone for the building of the North Wing in the 1820s by the 6th Duke of Devonshire.
The Duke of Devonshire: "The level of forensic research, expertise and craftsmanship applied by so many people has been absolutely inspiring. It has always been a thrilling moment to see the house come into view as you drive across the park and now that view has been made even more magical. With the years of blackened grime now removed from the stone, it looks truly magnificent."
Traditional skills have been used throughout the restoration for both urgent repairs and to make Chatsworth ready for the future. The restoration of stonework, wood panelling, tapestries, flooring and other structures has revealed much about previous generations following the arrival of the Cavendish family in 1549, as well as how far the skills of masons, joiners, plumbers and weavers have changed, or remained, over centuries.
Among the most interesting finds have been messages left behind by workmen over the centuries, etched into the fabric of the building. On a plank found in one room, S Walker, a joiner from nearby Pilsley noted: “Chatsworth August 26th 1841. The weather is very unfavourable for the harvest. Flour is 3/6 per stone. Joiner’s wages are 24s to 27 per week. Labourer’s wages 12s. Parliament was dissolved this summer on account of the Whigs bringing forward a measure to appeal the present system of the corn laws. The election is over. The Tories the majority. Trade is very dull. Many out of employ and starving. This winter will be a severe one. So down with the Tory rascals.”
Chatsworth Renewed is all about those men and women whose work, often unseen, transforms raw materials into the jewel that is Chatsworth today, both inside and out. During the season there will be opportunities to get hands-on with the materials they used, including stone, wood, metals and wool; as well as to discover what runs silently and invisibly in the pipes and conduits behind the walls and underneath the floors. Visitors will even be able to have a go at weaving to appreciate how the 17th century tapestries were made, and what it takes to care for them today.
Restoration of Chatsworth’s artworks has, at times, occupied most of the leading British conservation studios over the past decade. The extremely rare Mortlake Tapestries from the 1630s, based on Renaissance painter Raphael's cartoons of Acts of the Apostles, represent the birth of the English tapestry industry. Although damaged by atmospheric pollution in the 19th and 20th centuries, they have now undergone significant restoration and will be hung together this year, covering 54 sq metres of the walls in the State Drawing Room.
Remodelling of the house has included the creation of new areas such as the Sketch galleries, made from older, little used rooms. In 2014 a ground-breaking fusion of art and architecture by Jacob van der Beugel saw portrayals of the DNA of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and their heirs become part of the fabric of the building. The entire North Sketch Gallery was lined with handmade ceramic panels. Each of the 659 ochre panels specifically corresponds to one particular slot on the wall, creating an artwork as individual as DNA itself.
Alongside this and other contemporary ceramic artworks, visitors will be able to see archaeological clay finds that have been unearthed during the process of digging new drains, including a rare fragment of the original Tudor house that Bess of Hardwick built.
Chatsworth has a long history of welcoming visitors. Having been closed during the Second World War, the house was gradually prepared for reopening after the war. The 10th Duke lived in Churchdale Hall near Ashford in the Water and in London, and Chatsworth was occupied by a skeleton staff. Shabby but clean it was re-opened to the public in 1949. In spite of petrol rationing 105,000 people visited that year. The charge for adults was half a crown and one shilling for the garden. For the first time the proceeds went towards the upkeep of Chatsworth.
In 1981, the charitable Chatsworth House Trust was set up by the 11th Duke to ensure the long-term survival of the house and collection. Since 1949 the entrance money paid by more than 25 million visitors has made a vital contribution to the maintenance of the house and garden.
The 11th Duke and Duchess successfully formed the foundations for the attraction that flourishes today, welcoming more than 600,000 visitors each year under the 12th Duke and Duchess.
The seven ages of Chatsworth
- Bess of Hardwick’s - the Tudor powerbroker built the original house and added the hunting lodge in 1580.
- 1st Duke’s house - various facades were rebuilt to form the core square (south and State Apartments 1686, then east and Painted Hall, then west then north) and the very French looking patterned formal parterre gardens – in 1702 he moved a hill to put in the Canal Pond.
- 4th Duke (1720 – 1764) - demolishes and rebuilds stables and moves Edensor village to create the park. In 1762 he alters the river Derwent and subsequent work by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown changes the landscape. He also built new stables in 1763 which are still used today.
- 6th Duke (1790 – 1858) - added the North Wing which includes the Sculpture Gallery, Belvedere and what was the Ballroom, now the Theatre. He enlisted Joseph Paxton as Head Gardener who created the Great Conservatory, Emperor Fountain, the lake to feed it and the Rockery.
- 9th Duke (1868 – 1938) - moved into the house in 1908. He installed a new drainage system, upgraded bedrooms and bathrooms, and held big Edwardian parties. After the First World War Chatsworth’s decline included blowing up the Great Conservatory.
- 11th Duke – and Duchess Deborah move to Chatsworth in 1959 and they introduce many changes to make Chatsworth a visitor attraction. Changes include alterations to the visitor route through the house and the creation of the farming and forestry exhibition, now the farmyard and adventure playground, and kitchen garden from what had been maintenance areas.
- 12th Duke – undertakes a major estate survey and launches the biggest restoration of the house, garden and parkland since the 1820s.