Autumn at Chatsworth

A group from our society spent a day at Chatsworth House on October 18th to see House Style: 500 Years of Fashion and the outdoor sculpture exhibition, Beyond Limits. We were met by guides, who shared their huge knowledge of the house, its history and its owners.

The first house was built in the fifteenth century, but Sir William Cavendish, husband of Bess of Hardwick, started rebuilding soon after buying it in 1549. The first Duke of Devonshire, a supporter of William I, purchased his title, the only one available at the time of his ennoblement, and remodelled the house to very much its present day appearance, starting in the late seventeenth century.

The exhibition was spread through many rooms; with some modern-day fashion inspired by the art-works on the walls, such as a Vivienne Westwood dress with enormous panier skirts, or by the setting, such as the silk organza dress designed to look like the open pages of the books in the library. The dining room, where the then Princess Victoria had her first formal dinner, held a dozen or more figures of both men and women, wearing fabulous outfits worn by, for example, Stella Tennant and the Dowager Duchess. Think of a famous couturier, and there was a dress to go with the name. The exhibition continued in the Chapel, with christening gowns, wedding dresses, and mourning-wear.

Outside, the many classical and contemporary statues were augmented by newer post-war American works from the exhibition, distributed throughout Chatsworth’s amazing gardens, which were designed by, amongst others, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Joseph Paxton.

The Emperor Fountain, designed to impress Tsar Nicholas I, who unfortunately died before his planned visit, shoots into the air, aiming to be the highest fountain in the world at that time.

The impressive Cascade, though a decorative feature, provided power for the house at one time. Other features, such as the Sensory and Cottage Gardens, were on a more domestic scale. We were lucky with the weather, which stayed dry and mild, perfect for wandering in the grounds.