Instantly recognisable as one of the country’s most famous stately homes, Chatsworth House has long held a place in the nation’s favour.
Its rich history, once as a host to kings and queens and more recently to stars of movie screen, has been detailed in depth by centuries of storytellers.
Now, as it prepares to open its doors after a £32m restoration, its biggest in 200 years, it is the hidden stories of skill, craftsmanship and pride, that a new exhibition is set to tell.
For over the course of the last decade, says curator and creative producer, Dr Anna Farthing, it has been a labour of love for an army of tradesmen.
To rebuild the Belvedere turrets, restore priceless tapestries and artwork, and carve stone so fine only dentists’ tools could carry such precise details and artistry.
Now, to shine a light on that craftsmanship, the Chatsworth Renewed exhibition, opening tomorrow, is to focus on the skill and pride that has gone into its greatest renovation.
“Normally, restoration work is about matching, and making the craftsmanship disappear,” said Dr Farthing. “This is about renewal, and rejuvenation, for the next 500 years.”
Over the course of recent works, traces of previous craftsman have been uncovered, from signatures to notes detailing costs, politics and times of trouble.
“The next craftsmen will come along, in 100 years or 200 years, and they will see this work,” said Dr Farthing.
“There is a skill, and a pride, in that. We are to draw attention to it so that it doesn’t blend into the fabric of the building. There’s a sense of timelessness, of showmanship.
“They are part of another chapter of Chatsworth House.”
Home to the Cavendish family since 1549, Chatsworth House has grown as a destination since it opened its doors and now welcomes 600,000 visitors a year.
But it was set for extensive restoration following a survey in 2004, which deemed it at significant risk from fire or flooding. Since that time, gritstone across the whole exterior of the 300-room house has been cleaned and replaced, and is now a gentle golden yellow.
Priceless artworks have been restored, and ceramics unearthed alongside rare fragments of the original Tudor house built by Bess of Hardwick. Rare Mortlake Tapestries from the 1630s have undergone significant restoration, while a gallery has been made from little-used rooms.
The 12th Duke of Devonshire, who instigated the restoration and has overseen the work, said with blackened grime removed from the stone, it looks “truly magnificent”, adding that the expertise applied so many people has been inspiring.
“It has always been a thrilling moment to see the house come into view as you drive across the park and now that view has been made even more magical,” he said.
The £32.7m programme of restoration and conservation began in 2005 and is one of the largest projects undertaken at Chatsworth since 1828.
Over the course of the work, 192 tonnes of lead were used, mainly on the roof, while 21 carved stone urns were restored. In total, 397 external windows have been repaired to full working order, with 7,873 panes of glass cleaned, with 1,500 sheets of gold leaf used on each window frame on the West and South Terraces.