- September 28, 2010
She’s resolute, charming and forward-thinking — and has been known to feed her chickens while wearing a ball gown. (Our kind of girl.) Meet The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, overseer for 50-plus years of the grandest estate in all of England, Chatsworth — which is just about to play host to the yard sale of all yard sales. Here’s all you need to know, plain and fancy, about the gal who inspired the myriad feathered features in this issue.
Images: A Drawing of "Debo," up for auction; The Duchess and her friends, 1995, by Bruce Weber
• She is Deborah “Debo” Vivien Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. She turned 90 years old on March 31.
• The youngest of the seven children of the second Lord Redesdale, her siblings include the famous writers and social swells Nancy Mitford, Jessica Mitford and Diana Mosely. She is the last surviving Mitford sister.
• She’s the widow of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Lord Andrew Cavendish. His family settled Chatsworth in 1549.
Images: Chatsworth house and grounds; Hunting Tower, built circa 1582
• The Duchess puts it best: “Of course, the House and garden are what people come to see. But Chatsworth is responsible for 450 other human habitations across the 35,000 acres of the Derbyshire estate … plus an untold number of shelters for cows, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, dogs, chickens, pheasants, plants, cars, tractors, mowing machines, harvested crops and cricket teams. So there are also pigsties, privies, pubs, a pound and a pavilion. Look again and you will see an aqueduct, arches, barns, bridges, bungalows, barrows, byres and a bower; cottages, chapels and churches; drains and a deer barn; gate posts, glasshouses and a game larder; milestones, millstones, mills and a mortuary. There are shearing sheds, sheep dips, steps, stables, stiles, sculptures that are horse trial fences, and a Swiss cottage; troughs, tunnels, weirs, wells, and windows of curious sizes,” she writes, in Round About Chatsworth.
• The features of the 461-year-old estate boast enchanting names, among them Blue Doors Lodge (an 1835 Tudor), Teapot Row (four 1912 houses, named for the “endless cups of tea drunk by the workmen,” writes the duchess), and Pig Lane, “the old road
• Chatsworth is a vital, thriving country town unto itself, complete with working farms and two hotels. “Nothing has remained static,” writes our girl. “Every two or three generations of Cavendishes have undone or added to what they found … There has always been something new to see, something going on. It has never stood still … .”
Images: Attic goodies, all for auction
• Even a duchess can over-collect — so on three whirlwind days this month, Sotheby’s will slam its gavels at “Chatsworth: The Attic Sale,” about 20,000 treasures, “discovered,” they say, “beneath layers of dust.” The lots range from doors, shutters and fireplaces to luggage, chairs, even a Russian sleigh. The trove traces back to Chatsworth House and to the Cavendish’s other homes: Chiswick House, Hardwick Hall, Lismore Castle, Compton Place, Bolton Abbey and the grandest of them all, the now-demolished Devonshire House, the family’s lavish London residence, “for centuries,” says Sotheby’s, “the centre of London’s social, political and cultural elite.”
• If you have to ask: Teacups are estimated to fetch 20 pounds. A carved, white-marble chimneypiece from the ballroom of Devonshire House should bring 200,000 to 300,000 pounds. Curious? Book your flight now, or click sothebys.com. The sale is October 5, 6 and 7 at Chatsworth House itself.
• What we’re after: Debo’s own walnut-veneered record player, the 1912 Humber touring car, and as many steamer trunks and valises — some slapped with “Chatsworth” stickers — that we can fit in the overhead.
Images: Chatsworth's famous chickens; Chatsworth's State Dining Room
, all by our girl The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. Of her many books, don’t miss: Counting My Chickens…: And Other Home Thoughts
• Chatsworth: The House
• The Duchess of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Cookery Book
• Round About Chatsworth.
• Home to Roost: And Other Peckings
. And yes, the
estate has its own site, chatsworth.org
, even a blog: chatsworthblog.org
“Here I keep hens, up to 250 of them, the free-est range known to poultry.” — the Duchess of Devonshire, on the game larder on her 35,000-acre estate