Elaborate fountains and ponds have been key features at Chatsworth since Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick established the first garden in 1555.
Extensive improvements and additions by the 1st Duke, in the late 17th century, and the 6th Duke, in the mid-19th century, needed to be fed by a reliable water supply. Man-made lakes were constructed on the hill behind the house from which an elaborate system of ponds, watercourses and pipes utilised gravity to direct the water where it was required.
Today, the remaining lakes continue to serve this function. They also provide a supply for watering the garden, flushing toilets and the fire-hydrant system, in addition to directing water to the Turbine House where it is used to generate electricity.
The 6th Duke tasked Paxton with engineering a new record-breaking gravity-fed fountain in anticipation of a visit by Tsar Nicholas 1 in 1844. The 8-acre Emperor lake was fed by streams that collected rain falling on the high ground. The pipe from the Emperor lake drops 122 metres down to the fountain. In places, trenches up to 4.5 metres deep were cut through rock to maintain the gradient, and all before mechanical diggers were invented.
The resulting water pressure was enough to enable the fountain to reach heights of 90 metres and for 160 years, the Emperor Fountain was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world.
When full, the remaining three lakes can hold over 80 million litres of water and can be seen from the Stand Wood walks.
Water from the Ring Pond flows over the Sowter Stone and down to the Aqueduct, which was constructed by Paxton in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s as part of his improvements to Stand Wood. The water continues down through Stand Wood and enters the garden above the Cascade Pond.
Once the water has flowed through the various water features in the garden it proceeds to a turbine, installed in 1893 and replaced in 1988, that supplies electricity to the house. After which, it joins the River Derwent.