Chatsworth hails staff who came to aid of the party

STUCK in the stifling heat of a busy kitchen, arms-deep in flour and with hundreds of guests to cater for, they were the hidden cogs that kept the grand machinery of a stately home whirring.

And now the cooks, housekeepers and footmen who looked after a century’s-worth of guests to Chatsworth have been recognised in a new exhibition, entitled 100 Years of House Parties.

The New Gallery at the country house near Bakewell, home of the 12th Duke of Devonshire, has now reopened with an exhibition celebrating three generations of entertaining at Chatsworth.

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The display, which features objects, mementoes and photographs of notable house guests – including the late Diana, Princess of Wales, – examines life both above and below stairs, from the golden age of the Edwardian era right up to the 21st century.

Curator Hannah Obee explained: “It starts in 1904 and runs up until 2004 when the Dowager Duchess, Deborah, moved out.

“It was a really interesting 100 years.

“There are a lot of historic photographs in the collection, as well as other interesting pieces such as a Sargent painting of Duchess Evelyn, wife of the ninth Duke.

“One of the things on display is a letter sent by John F Kennedy, and the exhibition ranges from that down to the moulds that the cooks were using to make jellies for the house parties.

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“When we describe the parties, we’ve also looked at how the servants made them happen.”

The earliest pieces featured in 100 Years of House Parties date back to the Edwardian era and the time of the eighth Duke, who married Louisa, Duchess of Manchester, in 1892.

She is described as a “lavish hostess” and a “notorious cheat at cards” who, for several years, hosted Twelfth Night parties with her husband that were attended by none other than King Edward VII.

As well as grand dining, guests that those parties would have been treated to semi-professional theatricals, shooting, golf and “plenty of pranks, often initiated by the fun-loving royals”, a Chatsworth spokesman said.

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The next section of the exhibition focuses on Victor Cavendish, the ninth Duke of Devonshire, and his life at Chatsworth with his wife Evelyn and their seven children.

Guests during that time included King George V and Queen Mary, who came to stay in 1913.

Their visit led to Chatsworth’s state apartment being used by royalty for the first time since it was built.

More recent artefacts on show include a poem written by regular guest John Betjeman for the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, which chooses the nearby town of Matlock Bath as its subject matter.

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Art fans will also be intrigued by the story of a box of paints left at the estate by Lucian Freud, who started painting the bathroom of the guest suite he was staying in 1959.

He left his paints behind – perhaps in the hope that he would later finish the job.

Miss Obee said: “We found the paints about 10 years ago in a cupboard, with a note on them saying ‘Mr Freud’s paints, do not remove’.”

She added: “JK Rowling came here to stay too, and brought a broom with her, which she’s signed referring to it as a ‘firebolt’, like in the Harry Potter books.”

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Of equal prominence, however, is the story of those porters, secretaries and footmen behind the scenes, whose stories feature strongly.

Miss Obee said: “When you see the preparations that went into the parties you really appreciate what went on below stairs.

“It’s been really fascinating to hear the stories of those people who mainly go unrecorded, but without whom none of it could have happened.

“The exhibition really is an interesting piece of social history.”

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One Hundred Years of House Parties is now open every day until the estate shuts for the winter on Sunday December 23.

Admission is included in the cost of entry to the main house.

This summer’s visitors can also see the Diamond Jubilee exhibition in the Oak Room, which remains open until the end of August.

Exhibits in the Jubilee display include robes worn by Deborah, the Dowager Duchess and her son – the current 12th Duke – at the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

The Devonshire State Chariot, which was used by the 11th Duke to travel to the Coronation at Westminster Abbey with his wife and young son, is also currently on display in the house’s Painted Hall.

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