With Buildings as with Faces There are Moments when the Forceful Mystery of the Inner Being Appears
It’s one of the majestic sights of Derbyshire. The unmissable Bolsover Castle is perched on a ridge high above the Vale of Scarsdale commanding attention for kilometres. Built on the site of a medieval fortress, the castle is a rare example of a 17th century aristocratic residence that was never Georgianised or Victorianised. Its centrepiece, The Little Castle, rising sheer from the cliff and overlooking the lawn in the bawn from dusk to dawn, was designed to resemble a Norman keep and does a pretty good job of that, certainly from a distance. The Cavendish family added parapets and installed rich panelling and colourful wall paintings in the main rooms. Historian Anne Daye calls their work “bijou fortification”.
The reason for it surviving unmodernised is not uncommon – neglect. In 1984 English Heritage took over the castle and began restoring it. Some of the lower building ranges are windowless and roofless but are otherwise intact ruins. The Little Castle has been so restored it’s as if the Cavendishes have just popped out in their sedan chairs. Respectfully set back from the stone walled compound, a contemporary café in a slick single storey pavilion mightn’t cook banquets but does serve up rather good sandwiches and cake.
Jane Austen visited Derbyshire prior to the publication of Pride and Prejudice, and likely stayed at The Rutland Arms in Bakewell. She is said to have revised the final chapters of her novel with fresh material from her holiday including a visit to nearby Chatsworth. A tall commanding presence dominating the landscaped roundabout at the heart of Bakewell, The Rutland Arms was built at the turn of four centuries ago. The author, if correctly reported, would have been staying in a new hotel. It’s a serious looking building of warehouse-like proportions: three tall storeys tower up to high pitched parapet-free hipped roofs. The maximalist interior decoration – school of Martin Brudnizki – is very jolly with a picture hang in the dining room to rival any art gallery. More is more; less is a chore.
Another sandstone hostelry in the pretty town is Castle Inn. On a more modest two storey scale, it is close to the picturesque bridge arching over the River Wye. The adjoining wing of outbuildings has been converted to additional guest accommodation. Overlooking the town on a hill – this is after all the Peak District – is All Saints Parish Church. Dating from the 12th century, the Norman style building was restored between 1879 and 1882 by George Gilbert Scott Junior. Cute cottages line the laneways between these landmarks. Bank House, Bank Mews, Coulsden Cottage, The Cottage, Haven Cottage, The Old Forge, Spire Cottage, Splash Cottage, 1820 Cottage.
On the same hill as All Saints Parish Church is The Gospel Hall. The local history is recorded as, “The Gospel Hall was originally The Oddfellows Hall. It was built in 1872 by the friendly society The Loyal Devonshire Lodge of Oddfellows as a meeting room for its members. The Primitive Methodists rented the building for worship from 1879 until about 1892 when they built a new church in Water Street. Around 1800 some Christians in Bakewell also began meeting on New Testament lines in the home of a Mr Sellars in The Avenue, Bakewell. By 1895 they were holding their Sunday Services in The Oddfellows Hall. In 1949 the Christians bought the building and renamed it The Gospel Hall. Between 1982 and 1987 the Hall was progressively altered and extended by converting the two basement garages, formerly stables, into an additional meeting room.”
The moist morning mist lifts to reveal an unclouded blue sky.
Everything about Chatsworth, one of England’s most famous grand houses, is on an industrial scale. Roundly: 14,000 hectares; 62 farms; three villages; 130 rooms; 17 staircases; 1,250 works of art; 12,000 books in the Library and Ante Library; and 700 staff. And one very large farmshop (think King’s Road Partridges takes flight to the Peak District). Little wonder the current Duke and Duchess, well past retirement age, have decided to step back from overseeing the whole venture. Like his mother the late Debo (the last of the legendary Mitford sisters), Peregrine “Stoker” Cavendish along with his wife Amanda are moving from The Very Big House to The Old Vicarage in one of the estate villages, the picturesque Edensor. Debo lived in one half of the subdivided dwelling. Inskip Gee Architects are reuniting the two parts of The Old Vicarage. “It is a house with service buildings that survives from the old town and predates the alteration of Edensor by the 6th Duke and Paxton,” the architects explain. “The transformation of the house as an Italianate villa in 1838 is representative of the recasting of Edensor in various picturesque styles as a model village within Chatsworth Park, carried out in 1837 to 1840.”
The 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire haven’t been averse to some dramatic interventions during their tenure. In 2010 they held a three day ‘Attic Sale’ of 1,422 lots including 34 belonging to Debo. For example, Lot 223: “A gilt-bronze mounted Meissen porcelain timepiece Louis XVI, provenance Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (acquired in the 1960s), estimate £4,000 to £6,000.” There aren’t any actual attics at Chatsworth (it is flat and low mono-pitch roofed) but there are plenty of far flung wings and outbuildings which stored surplus trinkets and larger items. In fact enough architectural salvage to fit out the interior of a decent sized country house. “There simply wasn’t enough room,” the Duke notes. “We were never going to be moving to a bigger house!” More random was Lot 1412: “Six magnums of 1982 Dom Pérignon, estimate £1,250 to £1,800.” Lots 1419 to 1422 were vintage vehicles and parts.
He continues, “These houses have all been centres of the family’s activities as builders and collectors over nearly 500 years, but at Chatsworth we now see its fullest flowering, incorporating elements of all these other family collections. Replacing Hardwick in the late 17th century, Chatsworth has been the principal family seat for the last 300 years and in the last 100 has been the repository of works of art emanating from their other houses. This has meant that over the years every nook and cranny of this ‘Palace of the Peaks’ has been filled.”
And finishes, “The past year has been spent carefully sifting through these items, retaining some of those objects which illuminate family history and selecting what has become the content of this sale. In assessing the objects, comparing them to similar items remaining in the collection, and through reference to the large number of inventories that have been kept on the various properties, it has been possible at times to identify who commissioned them and for which of the family houses, as well as finding out when they moved to Chatsworth.”
The £65 million proceeds of the sale funded cleaning the stone walls to reveal their original warm buff and regilding the glazing bars of the windows on the two principal floors of the south front (architect William Talman) and west front (architect probably Thomas Archer aided by the 1st Duke) in 25 carat gold leaf. “The house was built to show off,” affirms the Duke. The glass panes are bevelled and the internal windowsills are made of marble. There is one single pane window on the east front contrasting with the multipaned sash windows everywhere else. About one third of the house is open to the public. The private rooms are on the south and west fronts. The gardens closest to these rooms are closed to the public. This has the dual benefit of providing privacy for the Cavendish family and keeping the elevations clutter free of tourists.
One of the highlights of the tour is the Chapel. “This space is practically unchanged since the 1st Duke in 1700,” states Stoker. Except for one addition. St Bartholomew Exquisite Pain, 2008, is a life size sculpture cast in gold plated silver in an edition of three by Damien Hirst. The artist says, “I like the confusion you get between science and religion… that’s where belief lies and art as well.” St Bartholomew was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus and was meant to have been flayed alive and martyred. In this sculpture he stands shinily resplendent, holding his detached skin draped over his right arm and blades as a symbol of his sainthood in his left hand. Historical depictions of St Bartholomew showed anatomical detail combining art and science and this artwork remains true to that tradition. It is the standout piece in the current display of contemporary art at Chatsworth and is aptly placed.
There are a few subtractions to the Chapel. The 19th century furniture and fittings went in the Attic Sale. Lot 920: “The Victorian furniture for the Chapel at Chatsworth circa 1870. Comprising an oak altar rail in three sections in the form of a three bar gate with uprights surmounted by trefoil motifs, together with a larger pair of pine Prie Dieu, a further smaller confirming pair of Prie Dieu, an oak rail and an ok and upholstered kneeling stool.” Lot 921: “A Victorian patinated bronze surmount in the form of a processional cross. Late 19th century. £300 to £500.”
The Duke and Duchess are avid art collectors, favouring 21st century pieces. Amanda explains, “We recently collaborated with Michael Craig-Martin on a new dinner service. We love music, and Michael was also inspired by the violin door in the State Music Room. The dinner service was made together with Royal Crown Derby. Around the table are chairs made by Joseph Walsh. He makes furniture full of curves – they are sculptures as well as seats.”
“The Duke and I commissioned Joseph Walsh to also make the Enignum Bed in 2014,” continues the Duchess. “It is usually in one of our guest bedrooms, but we have moved the bed into the Sabine Room so that everyone can see it. The bed is made of thin layers of ash wood, which are twisted into shape using steam. The spiralling forms are six metres tall and soar upwards in this space that was painted by James Thornhill in 1701.” There are also rather a lot of artworks in the interiors by Edward de Waal.
Mark Girouard included Chatsworth in his 1979 book Historic Houses of Britain. Like all his published work, it is beautifully written combining art, architectural, political and social history with insightful anecdotes. On Chatsworth, “By the time of the 1st Duke, the towers and huge windows that his ancestress Bess had built at Hardwick had gone completely out of fashion. Pediments, pillars and rich carving derived from the palaces of Italy and France had replaced them as the sign of greatness. Symmetry was still the rule of the day and had been carried to its furthest limits. It was now expected that inside a great house all the doors would be aligned, and outside the grandeur of the house itself was extended by avenues and sheets of water stretching into the far distance.”
Long before Milton Keynes, there was Eastbourne. “Planned new towns” may possess more than a lingering whiff of the late 20th century but over 100 years before that, four hamlets – Bourne, South Bourne, Meads and Sea Houses – were engulfed by the major landowner 7th Duke of Devonshire’s masterplan. Drawn up by His Grace’s architect Henry Currey in 1859, this blueprint for a seaside resort would develop over half a century. Earlier Italianate stuccoed terraces contrast with later red brick Edwardian buildings. A new railway branch line from London to the south coast acted as a catalyst for the development. Promenades and esplanades and parades and a pier portray coastal town planning at its finest. While the Duke of Devonshire was the main promoter of the resort in the 19th century, a second landowner Carew Davies Gilbert built an eponymous housing estate inland to the north of the railway station. The 1880s Queen’s Hotel on Marine Parade, still splendid despite losing its original verandahs wrapping around each floor, is Henry Currey’s largest building in the town. The hotel furniture was supplied by Maples of Tottenham Court Road, London: walnut on the first and second floors; pine on the third; and oak on the top two floors. A hot food dining room and a cold food dining room were in the basement. The double entry Grade II* Listing of the earlier Burlington Hotel and Claremont Hotel on Grand Parade affirms, “This is the best series of buildings in Eastbourne.” Dating from the mid 19th century, the seafront stuccoed terrace now hotels, with its giant Ionic columns framing the first and second floors of the central nine bays, is a very late flowering of the Regency style.