When you drive across the surrounding park and see Chatsworth House for the first time, a sumptuous pile of yellow stone surrounded by gardens, fronted by the River Derwent and backed by a tree-covered hillside, it really takes your breath away. It is not hard to see why this is the premier tourist attraction of the area.
The original house here was the work of Sir William Cavendish and his third wife Bess of Hardwick in the mid 16th Century. Sir William was a Crown Commissioner responsible for dissolving monasteries and his reward was a gift of land here. Sir William died in 1557 with the house partly constructed and Bess completed a house with a central courtyard and four corner towers, facing east towards the hillside. No trace of this can now be seen, but the modern house retains many of the Elizabethan interior walls and the Huntingtower on the hill above the house dates from the 1580s.
The first Duke rebuilt Chatsworth in Classical style between 1686 and 1707, using an obscure Dutch architect called William Talman. He later fired Talman and the house was completed by Thomas Archer.
The Library and North Wing were added by the 6th Duke between 1790 and 1858, the work of Wyatville, and the stables and bridges over the River Derwent were added in the 18th century by Paine. The park was landscaped by the 4th Duke (1720-1764), who engaged ‘Capability’ Brown to reshape the formal garden into the more natural one you see today.
Many famous people come to Chatsworth, some to stay and others to live. Amongst the most famous are Mary Queen of Scots, who was here as a guest and prisoner of Bess of Hardwick and her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, between 1573 and 1582. Another was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who lived here in a famous ‘menage a trois’ with the 5th Duke and Lady Elizabeth Foster in the late 18th century.
The house itself is magnificent, if a little overwhelming, while the gardens are a treat, and the surrounding park is a superb area of open space with fine scenery, woods and views of the house and surrounding area – an excellent place for relatively gentle walks.
It is also possible to visit the farmyard behind the house, where typical farm animals can be seen in context; with milking demonstrations and other insights into life on a farm for both the people and the animals. Next to the farmyard there is a small adventure playground.
You can also visit the Tea Rooms for a bite to eat from the menu of homemade delights.
Don’t forget to visit the farm shop before you leave, for a range of gifts, homemade preserves and of course meat and cheese.