But now the last pieces of scaffolding at Chatsworth have been removed, in preparation for the 300-year-old house opening for the new season tomorrow.
This phase of the ongoing “masterplan” has seen the conservation and restoration of two most visible façades of the house restored to their original glory, following a year-long project to repair and clean the sandstone exterior.
Work took place to reverse the effects of hundreds of years of weather damage and included cleaning more than 2,200 square metres of stonework; restoring 21 two-metre-high urns on the top of the house; re-pointing the 20 metre high facades with tonnes of lime mortar; and the re-gilding of 42 windows.
All the new stone used to repair the house comes from the same quarry that provided the stone to build Chatsworth in the 1820s, when the house was remodelled by the sixth Duke of Devonshire.
Chatsworth’s head of special projects, Sean Doxey, said yesterday: “Although the building was in reasonably good condition, it would have started to deteriorate very quickly if we hadn’t stepped in now to repair the worst ravages caused by the weather.”
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire said they began the restoration project in a bid to try and safeguard Chatsworth’s heritage. The Duke said: “It’s absolutely wonderful to see the house as it must have looked to my ancestors.
“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.
“With the years of grime now removed from the stone, it looks truly magnificent and I’m delighted that it has been preserved for many future generations of visitors to enjoy.”
Scaffolding first started to come down on the house in October last year, and now the last of it has been removed in preparation for tomorrow’s grand opening.
Further work will be taking place over the next few years to clean the East Front, which is visible mainly from the garden.
A spokesman for Chatsworth added: “Seven consultancies have been involved in the masterplan, including project managers, principal contractors and archaeologists.
“A team of 12 stonemasons and one carver from north Yorkshire have carried out the stone cleaning and repair over a 56-week period.
“The work on the exterior throughout 2011 follows the transformation of the interior in 2010, the most extensive since the alterations of the sixth Duke in 1830s, which allows visitors to see more of the Derbyshire stately home than ever before.”
Changes included creating new gallery spaces, access to the once-private stone courtyard and new lift access to all three floors.
Meanwhile, a new exhibition of modern British art masterpieces, many unseen in public for decades, will open at Chatsworth next week. The exhibition, entitled Frank and Cherryl Cohen at Chatsworth, is drawn from their private collection, described by curator Robert Upstone as “one of the finest and most definitive private collections of modern British art”.
Running from Monday, March 19 until Sunday, June 10, the exhibition includes more than 40 works from artists and sculptors such as Stanley Spencer, LS Lowry and Eduardo Paolozzi.
The paintings were selected by the Cohens and Mr Upstone, who was previously curator of modern British art at Tate Britain.
Mr Cohen said: “Cherryl and I have spent some 40 years putting together our modern British collection so it’s very personal to us. We wanted a setting that would match the quality of the paintings and when the new gallery opened we could see that it would be a perfect fit.”
Matthew Hirst, head of art and collections at Chatsworth, added: “Frank and Cherryl Cohen at Chatsworth is the first in a new programme of loan exhibitions being brought into Chatsworth to give our visitors the chance to enjoy a wide-ranging artistic offer alongside our permanent collections. We hope to stage at least one such exhibition every year.”