Unfortunately time is now up on The Cavendish Story family papers cataloguing project, but what a difference the past 18 months has made to the archive collection here at Chatsworth.

The cataloguing project has opened up access to material

The estimated 200 boxes of uncatalogued material that I was faced with at the beginning of the project are now 220 boxes of catalogued and repackaged papers, readily available and easily accessible. Researchers can now explore the people behind the titles to discover that Evelyn Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire was spotted washing a tapestry in the cascade at Chatsworth; to appreciate the 6th Duke’s sense of humour through his jokebook; and to immerse themselves in the life of the 7th Duke, experiencing the highs and lows of his life through detailed diary entries. Researchers can also get the family’s perspective on national and international events, including letters charting events of the Boer Wars and World War I and diary entries providing political and social gossip.

Extract of a letter in which the sender recalls seeing Duchess Evelyn washing a tapestry in the cascade at Chatsworth!

As well as learning about the individual members of the family we can also use the catalogued papers to learn more about the Devonshire collection. We can read about the process of sitting for a portrait, confirm or discover the provenance of items in the collection and find out how previous generations cared for Chatsworth and the collections.

Duchess Evelyn’s handy hints for mending the wallpaper at Chatsworth

The project would not have been possible without the dedication of our volunteers who together have listed over 3000 letters across the family papers collection. Their work has revealed exciting letters about the family’s role in politics, life at Chatsworth and other Devonshire houses, and given us a vivid insight into life in high society throughout the 19th and 20th century. As well as the cataloguing of new material, volunteers have also been making excellent progress in transcribing our older manuscript catalogues, a process that will enable the archive team to share finding aids with researchers and more easily perform searches to answer enquiries.

One of our volunteers, Andrea, and me

It has been a great privilege and pleasure to have worked on such an interesting and varied collection. The best part of the work is knowing that this amazing family archive is now accessible to a wider community of researchers who are interested in delving further into the lives of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire and the Cavendish family.

Louise Clarke
Cataloguing Archivist

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