Christine is house proud at Chatsworth

Head housekeeper of Chatsworth House Christine Robinson
Head housekeeper of Chatsworth House Christine Robinson
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WHEN CHRISTINE Robinson gets her marigolds out, she means business.

For more than 30 years Christine has been head housekeeper at one of the nation’s grandest stately homes - Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

Every day, she ensures Chatworth’s 3,246 feet of passageways are vacuumed, its 18 staircases are swept, its 297 rooms are clean and its 56 lavatories are germ-free.

Oh, and she also keeps tabs on the light bulbs - all 2,084 of them.

But perhaps the most daunting task of all is cleaning the 2,763 lead crystal pendants that make up Chatsworth’s glittering chandelier.

It’s not an easy job. But it’s one she would never swap.

“It’s a fun job and our visitors take great care. You get the odd bit of litter which has been dropped by accident but that’s about it. The visitors take great pride in the house and have great local pride too,” said Christine.

And no two days are the same at Chatsworth.

“Every day is different and the family is very actively involved. It’s also quirky, only this afternoon we had a meeting in the office with the committee and the Duchess and someone popped their head around the door and said: ‘I’ve come to collect the wolf.’

“They were referring to the polystyrene wolf we used in last year’s Christmas display. Only at Chatsworth is a meeting interrupted by someone asking to collect a wolf.”

Christine’s sense of humour masks the enormous responsibility of her job - she is, after all, in charge of looking after some of the nation’s most treasured antiques and artefacts.

Only a few months ago, Chatsworth’s ‘Attic Sale’ netted £3 million - and that was on the first afternoon of the three-day event, such is the provenance of the Chatsworth estate.

Christine, however, refuses to think about the value of the objects and decor she takes care of.

She said: “The key is to get on with it and not think about how valuable an item is. “

But that’s not to say she doesn’t take tremendous care over her work, using all manner of cleaning tools for the most delicate of tasks.

“We use shaving brushes a lot because sometimes a dust cloth is too harsh and when we’re dusting fabric we use a net so that the dust isn’t just swept to one side.”

And as if the chandeliers, the Regency furniture and the overall up-keep of the house wasn’t enough, Christine also briefs the tour guides and manages visitor services.

Thankfully - she’s not the only one doing the dusting.

Christine supervises an army of cleaners who make the house spic and span before the first visitors start to arrive at 11am.

Christine is the perfect person for the job.

Originally from Chesterfield, she would work at the house doing odd jobs during holiday breaks from Newcastle University, where she studied history.

She returned to work at the house after graduating and has been there ever since.

But she’s not the first in her family to domesticate the 16th-century pile.

Her great-great-great-grandmother was a kitchen maid at Chatsworth who, as well as carrying out kitchen chores, helped cart stones from the family quarry to build Chatsworth’s 1840 extension.

Today, Christine’s staff at Chatsworth are doing what she calls the ‘deep clean’ - which includes dismantling the chandelier - a job that requires serious scaffolding - and washing every one of the chandeliers’ pendants in soapy water.

It’s a glamorous job, too.

Christine has met the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales and the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

But celebrities aside, Christine’s personal highlight is being surrounded by history.

“Sometimes when you touch the walls you think to yourself ‘who else has touched this before me?’ It’s fascinating to think about what has gone on here - if only the walls could speak.”

“The sixth Duke held some fabulous parties here - I’ve read some of the articles about them and it was here at Chatsworth where Princess Victoria first dined with adults in the 1830s.”

And while she can’t take any of Chatsworth’s beautiful artefacts home with her, it doesn’t stop Christine admiring them.

“There is some fabulous jewellery which you would never wear but I love looking at it. There’s also a bronze owl that’s about nine inches high and underneath the owl is a carved mouse. I think it’s Victorian Regency.”

The question that has to be asked is whether Christine’s home is as immaculate as Chatsworth?

“I live in a cottage on the estate and I do like to appreciate nice things. I do find myself wanting to put pictures straight at other people’s houses. But that said, my house isn’t nearly as clean as Chatsworth.”