22 March 2017
Ben Pentreath

M I D W E E K   E X C U R S I O N

Charlie and I have been at Chatsworth today. Neither of us had been, and believe me, nothing can prepare you for the sight of that fabled house as you approach, down the drive passing through a sweeping landscape: completely breathtaking.

We were there to see the exhibition that opens on Saturday – House Style: five centuries of Devonshire fashion.  The brainchild of Laura Burlington, she has worked for six years with Hamish Bowles and Patrick Kinmonth to create an extraordinary immersion into the family and story of this house, told through a remarkable collection of clothes – coronation gowns, christening gowns, funeral clothes, wedding dresses, Elizabethan costume, Victorian fancy dress – and of course the remarkable contemporary collection of the Duke of Devonshire’s niece, Stella Tennant.

Of all the exhibits I was most drawn, in a strange way, to the photographs and artefacts; everything catalogued in Patrick Kinmonth’s flowing handwriting (as if we were looking at an old country house museum – not at a show that would be happily at home at the Met or the V&A. A brilliant touch).

All around us, the architecture blended in to the extraordinary display. 

Elizabethan silver, of Bess of Hardwick, who began the dynasty:

Georgian ephemera:

Including a huge and beautiful stack of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s bills (many of which, we were told, remained unpaid at her death).

The 6th Duke’s scrapbook:

Jack Kennedy’s sister, Kit, who was married to Billy Cavendish. He was killed in action in France on 9th September 1944; a few months later, she died in a plane crash.

The last duke’s converse all star – kept whitened by his valet. On a gold charger.

Debo by Norman Parkinson:

and her shirts. Heaven:

And shoes….

A sailor suit:



The procession for the last duke’s funeral:

And for the 9th Duke:

Jasper Conran we see you:

Incredible displays, reminiscent of the McQueen show:

Absolutely perfect country house loo. Gloss paint rules.

Upstairs, a ghostly palimpsest evokes the 1897 Devonshire House Ball,

Victorian fancy dress in the next room:

Astounding displays inspired by Elizabethan costume in the next room:

Everyone’s favourite fashion item was the last Duke’s collection of motto sweaters. Sell these in the gift shop! 18th century elegance:

Inigo Jones theatricals, imagined by Patrick:

Galliano, worn by Stella for Vogue:

Display cabinets of minerals are more Charlie’s and my usual fare:

Of course we loved the tweed drawing room:

A few people suggested I (well, at least Charlie) needed this sweater:

A hat by Jasper:

A beautiful, calm portrait of the current Duchess. Complete poise and stillness.

Oh, just a few family pictures:

Chic chic:

In the dining room:

And at last we leave this extraordinary house and exhibition, and walk out into the chilly Derbyshire rain, Paxton’s Conservative Wall like a cool refreshing ice drink after a full meal. We had a hilarious lunch in the stables, and turned around to London later in the afternoon, and took the merry train back from Chesterfield to St. Pancras (a mere two hours, which flew by) and this evening, everything feels a little like a dream.  But I thought you might enjoy this taster.

This exhibition, a fantastic firework, opens on Saturday and runs until October.  I would suggest not visiting this year if you want to see empty, architectural rooms of a great Baroque pile, but that we can save for another time.

23 comments on this post


Try Wentworth Woodhouse next. Makes Chatsworth look small.

Charlotte Ksays:

What a dump!

Just kidding. What about that wall of Lucian Freud paintings!?!?!?!

Isla Simpsonsays:

We are all drooling over this post Ben. I love the scrapbooks best, so many ideas in there. And I do hope you start stocking those Never Marry a Mitford jumpers in your shop soon, we all want to wear one of those now. xx


If only New Zealand was closer! I am envious of your attendance at this exhibit. It must’ve felt like being swept into an intense cinematic experience, Baz Luhrmann style; all those rich colours, and the layering of the gilded and painted backdrops. I agree about the exhibit cards. They add a wonderful note of ‘authenticity,’ as if one of the residents might have written them on their own stack of cards. Thank you for taking us alongside you.


I can only echo the words of praise that have been heaped upon your post, Ben. What a wonderful treat on a Monday morning!

I have my own little Devonshire story: my passion is not for Elvis, but the great Lord Nelson and on the 250th anniversary of his birth, just for fun, I put together, and had printed, a collection of poems written to mark his death at Trafalgar. I discovered during my researches a mention that the then Duke & Duchess of Devonshire had each written poems in memory of the great man. I approached Chatsworth with some trepidation, but the archivist couldn’t have been more helpful. He found the poems and the Duke kindly gave me permission to print them.


What a treat to see the preview, any future invitations you can’t make I am happy to substitute on your behalf x

O M G now this is the kind of post I want to do…… I cannot WAIT to come to England!!!!!!!! So wrapt I found my passport, and as soon as I can. I am OFF! When I get to England will have sssooo much more to blog about. Australia is dull LOL! This is the type I want to do in the future…. just LOVE it ❤️




All passion spent on this one, Ben.
Thank you.

Alicia Whitakersays:

This is another world that is unimaginable for an American. I love your photos and the things you chose to highlight – beyond special and very tender as well as grand. Thanks for the window imto a special world Ben. Alicia


Thank you for such a lovely post – looks like a fantastic exhibition- I’m drooling over all that gorgeous stationery let along the dresses.


I have so enjoyed this post. It looks a stunning exhibition, but lovely to enjoy a little of it at home with your wonderful pictures and words. Thanks Ben.

Diane Keanesays:

Ben, thanks so much for this post! It was a blessing we had Debo Devonshire with us for so long, I have all her books and enjoy them no end. The exhibition is a knock-out! I love the presentation, the packed rooms, dramatic lighting, and imaginative displays. Truly an extraordinary ambience. I expect there will be a catalog published? They should get you to photograph it!

Hugs from Diane


Words fail. Too exquisite. The late dowager duchess led such an extraordinary life yet was refreshingly down to earth,no pretences. I’m sure she was quite amused by the “Never marry a Mitford” jumper ….


Thank you for the preview of an exhibition I wouldn’t have got to see. Want the David Hockney sweater badly, but in wool. Can you arrange?! Best, Nicola


GASP. I feel as if I’ve been blindfolded and dragged into a dark car, to be whisked away on rainy streets to a Brigadoon of light and sheen and the scents of Bay Rum and Time. It’s hard to come back from such lost revels and titles and style.

Did you not blink sleepily and feel your way about familiar rooms when you arrived home? Simply breathtaking, and I’m floating on the sharing of it—thank you.



WOW! Chatsworth was my first “treasure house of Britain”. This looks like an outstanding exhibit, worthy of the house and its marvels. Thx for the preview!

David Sanderssays:

I had heard Debo had a bit of thing for Elvis, but didn’t quite realise that it extended to having his face plastered on her slippers – heavens!


Your blog reminds me of my visit to Chatsworth on the day Princess Diana of Wales was killed.As we entered the grounds in pouring rain there was a country show on at 12 noon the Duke of Devonshire a dressed the crowd with a personal tribute to Princess Diana on hearing the very sad news we then stood for a 3 minute silence it was surreal thousands of people stood silent and still under hundreds of umbrellas has the heavens opened l think they were tears for Diana. As we entered the house a solitary piper played the bagpipes a very sad and poignant moment one l shall never forget. Thank you Ben for sharing your visit l am lost in my memories of my own visit almost 20 years ago on 31st August 1997.


I’ve been a couple of times, once with the chatelaine of Haddon. When we arrived she parked her car outside the front gate, and was immediately asked to move it. She simply replied, “I’m the Duchess of Rutland”, et voila, the car remained where she’d left it, as we wondered in freely.

The previous duke & duchess (Andrew & Deborah) accumulated a fine collection of Lucian Freuds, some of which you show. The “complete poise and stillness” portrait is by Bryan Organ I think; he also painted a portrait each of the Prince of Wales and the then Lady Diana Spencer before their marriage, which are in the National Gallery.

Henry Gillespiesays:

Thank you Ben for an extraordinary insight into a remarkable family. They had tremendous style!


Oh, Ben -I am breathless ! Thank you, thank you. I saw a mention of this exhibition a few days ago, dry in its brevity, and so was quite unprepared for the dazzle ! It also revived memories of a wonderful Easter in Derbyshire years ago during which we visited Haddon, Hardwick, Chatsworth and Kedleston. An engulfing, fabulous history, architecture and design experience.


Wow! What an extraordinary post & place. Thank you. Having had the Duchess’ book for quite a while, I have always wanted to see the house—and now is the time.

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