The modern era has, in many ways, not been kind to our country houses. Faced with massive social changes in the early part of the 20th-century staff became harder to find leading to reduced maintainence. Often this started a spiral of decline which led to the demolition of hundreds of our largest and finest country houses. Even today, faced with the costs of conservation standard repairs, it can be a struggle for owners to keep their houses looking at their best. This is why the recently completed £14m restoration of possibly England’s finest country house, Chatsworth, is such an achievement.
Chatsworth House exemplifies the best in the fine tradition of the development of our country houses. Passed down through generations of the Dukes of Devonshire, the south and east fronts of the house we see today were built for the 1st Duke by the architect William Talman in 1696 in a grand Baroque style around the origianal Elizabethan courtyard. The west and west fronts are thought to be the work of another great architect Thomas Archer, with further work in the 19th-century by Jeffry Wyattville to modernise the house for the 6th Duke. Within the fine exterior the Devonshires also had acquired one of the finest art collections in the world. Unfortunately many have been sold off in the 20-th century to meet the rapacious demands of death duties but the house still holds works by some of the finest artists of the day.
With its spectacular interiors, grand exteriors and palatial grounds, the responsibilities are immense for the 12th Duke. Happily for this wonderful example of the glory of the English country house, the wealth of the Devonshires allows them to maintain the house in a way many other owners can only dream of, and is allied with his own determination to ensure that the house and estate is maintained in the best possible condition. Considering the ravages that economics and circumstance have visited on so many of our houses, it’s a remarkable testament to the care of the Devonshires that this house looks as fine as it does, as the covers come off and the house opens again to the curious public this weekend for another season.
More details: ‘Chatsworth reopens to public with exhibition amid £14m restoration‘ [The Times]