“Chatsworth is celebrated as one of England’s stateliest homes; and it is as a home that it is portrayed in this attractive and entertaining book. The house is a joy to live in, remarkably beautiful inside and out, but its very size presents certain problems; for instance, as the Duchess of Devonshire remarks, ‘It is a terrible place to house-train a puppy.’
She writes with long & practical knowledge and a deep affection for the house, and with uninhibited Mitford wit. The portrait begins with an informal account of its history, with some sidelights on the characters of the successive Devonshires who built, adorned and enlarged it; then we have a description of the vast hierarchy of staff, from the comptroller down to the ‘odd man’ who used to be needed to keep the place going in the twenties and thirties. The duties of the armies of housemaids, laundrymaids, and the like are exactly defined and their wages and ‘beer money’ specified.
During the Second World War, 300 evacuated school girls slept in the passages and state rooms, their warm breath in the cold air causing fungus to grow on the backs of the old masters paintings. Chatsworth’s return to its former glory was slow. The tenth Duke died in 1950 at the age of 55, and 7 years passed before the present Duke and Duchess decided to move into the almost uninhabited house. It took more than three years of hard work to make the place fit for them to do so. The task was like ‘doing up’ any house, but Chatsworth is 360 times the size of an ordinary house, and the problems and the opportunities are multiplied accordingly. And it has a skilled staff who seem able to tackle anything and who wisely never throw anything away just because it is out of fashion.
Chatsworth is now a going concern, the centre of a busy estate, a home and a worthy setting not only for its old masters, old books and manuscripts, but also for the present Duke’s ever-growing collection of modern art and literature.
In the second part of the book we are taken on a highly personal tour of the house and grounds by two people who have loved Chatworth and left their mark on it. Extracts from the delightfully unpretentious Handbook of the Sixth (`Bachelor’) Duke who with the skilled help of Paxton and Wyatville ennobled the house more than anyone else, are interspersed with the author’s fuller but no less intimate view of Chatsworth as it is today.”
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