She simply was Chatsworth – that was the overriding sentiment among saddened visitors and staff at the Derbyshire estate yesterday in the wake of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s death.
Known as Debo to her friends, Deborah the Dowager Duchess passed away peacefully on Wednesday morning, aged 94.
The first clue to the outside world, before the news was officially announced, was the flag flying at half mast atop the grand Chatsworth House.
And floods of heartfelt tributes poured in yesterday, with many people keen to pay their respects to a woman described as the saviour of Chatsworth.
Politicians, Royalty and tourism chiefs led the initial tributes – and now three books of condolence have been placed in locations across the Chatsworth estate for local residents and visitors to record their thoughts.
One book sits beside a single lit candle in St Peter’s Church in the village of Edensor, where the dowager duchess lived in her later years following the death in 2004 of her husband the 11th Duke Andrew Cavendish.
The church will be the location for the funeral service next Thursday morning.
One message read simply: “A beautiful lady who enhanced the world and lived life well.”
Another said: “Chatsworth today is a legacy of the loving dedication of the dowager duchess.
“The beautiful house and estate cast a spell over those that visit.”
The duchess – the youngest of the six famous Mitford sisters who scandalised and delighted society in their day – and her husband inherited the vast Chatsworth estate when his father died in 1950.
And in the face of huge death duties, and thanks in large part to Debo’s own entrepreneurial spirit, it was decided then that the only way to maintain the property and pay the bills would be to open the house to the public.
The duchess quickly became a driving force behind the enterprise, modernising the family home for all to enjoy.
A second book of condolence has been placed upon her own writing table in the estate’s Stables restaurant, along with scented pelargoniums, which are said to have been among her favourite flowers.
Kent couple Harriet and Will Wright were visiting Chatworth yesterday and stopped to sign the book.
They had bought tickets to visit the estate a month ago, and had even hoped to catch a glimpse of the duchess during their trip.
Harriet, aged 38, said: “She lived to a great age but it’s sad that our visit came the day after her death.
“I’ve read some of her books, which is what made me want to visit.
“She did so much to make this place lovely and she was a really inspiring person.”
Jacqueline Bestwick, from Derby, who was visiting the estate on an art trip, also waited in line to pay her respects.
She said: “She was Chatsworth – without Debo it would not have been the same, and its success owes a lot to her.
“She was a businesswoman, but had a human side too.
“She was often seen around the estate and would always acknowledge you, which made you feel comfortable.”
Bouquets of flowers were yesterday being placed by visitors along the north entrance to Chatsworth House.
Lucy Bramley, aged 24, from Derbyshire, laid her floral tribute along with her mum Diane, 59, and dad Philip, 56.
She said: “We would often visit Chatsworth when I was a little girl and I loved the freedom of the place.
“The duchess made it that way, and I just wanted to thank her for those happy memories.”
Diane also felt compelled to thank the duchess for giving Derbyshire ‘a place to be proud of’.
“She respected the estate and so everyone else did,” said Diane. “She wanted everyone to share it and feel a part of it, from allowing people to bring their dogs in to the gardens to encouraging children to play in the waterfall.
“The sight of Chatsworth House feels like home and it is a place to be proud of. She never made a fuss about being well-off, instead we thought she was just like any other Derbyshire person.”
A final book of condolence sits among the produce in the estate’s popular farm shop – another enterprise which was masterminded by the duchess as a way to bring local farm foods direct to the shelf.
Marion Baldwin, aged 67, who grew up in Sheffield, was visiting the area from her new home in Cumbria.
She said: “She had such energy and vision and did an enormous amount to make the place accessible.
“Instead of people feeling envious, they saw her as a protector of the area’s heritage. Chatsworth is such a special place – everyone who visits says so – and it’s largely thanks to her.”