The funeral of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire will take place this Thursday and Retro is taking the opportunity to look back at just how much she transformed Chatsworth with her late husband, the 11th Duke.
The sheer number of activities that have taken place at the house and gardens is amazing, from concerts starring the likes of Elton John, Tom Jones and Donny Osmond to the country fair, horse trials, angling fair, art exhibitions, obstacle races, seasonal events and special exhibitions…
Not to mention the introduction of the farm shop, the adventure park and the farmyard that all helped to pull in more than 644,000 visitors to Chatsworth last year. That had a huge knock-on effect on Peak District tourism.
There’s no doubt that the family and their vast staff have worked hard to create a brand that makes an opulent house feel somewhere people identify with and like to visit.
The Devonshires have transformed Chatsworth from a playground just for the rich to one for anyone who can afford the entrance fee.
The Dowager Duchess’s husband insisted that visitors were the most important people at Chatsworth. Thousands turned up to his funeral 10 years ago and the same will no doubt happen again this week.
The couple needed to develop their entrepreneurial streak because death duties and business debts from the Duke’s predecessors meant that major items from the collection plus Devonshire House in London had already been sold off to raise money.
Matters became worse when the 10th Duke died unexpectedly in 1950 and his heirs faced 80 per cent death duties. Important works of art and rare books, plus Hardwick Hall and its estate, were given to the Treasury as payment.
Vast tracts of land and other assets were also sold off at the same time.
The couple and their three children waited until 1959 to move into the main house after modernisation work finally took place.
It had been planned when the 10th Duke succeeded to the title in 1938 but was delayed when Penrhos College girls’ boarding school was moved from Colwyn Bay into the house during the war.
In 1981 the running of Chatsworth was taken over by the Chatsworth House Trust charitable foundation to preserve the estate for the benefit of the public.
Now the 12th Duke and Duchess are busily carrying on the work that his parents began.