2 Nov 2019 - 11:09 BY

AUTUMN STUDY DAY - An inspired insight into this historic building, its contents, gardens and famous occupants

Simon Seligman who worked at the House from 1991 to 2010 gave us an animated, very well structured and illustrated three tutorials entitled PASSIONS, PERSONALITIES & PATRONAGE.  His passion and personal insight gave a special meaning to this event.

The first part starts with Bess of Hardwick who acquired the land and built the first house in 1552.  Bess’s second son rebuilt the house and started the Devonshire line.  Simon structured this part around the important patrons  who added to the collections through the centuries. He showed how important families and personalities intertwined with today’s evolving building and its contents. In the 18th century, through marriage, the Burlington family wealth came to the 4th Duke who made great changes to the House and Gardens.    The 5th earl’s second marriage was to Georgina Spencer brought more wealth and power. Even the US Kennedys married into the family in 1944.  This history was amply illustrated by images of important figures, the works they carried out and artefacts they acquired.  The work continues under the watchful supervision current Duke and Duchess who have recently completed a comrehensive £30 million restoration and are adding their own touch to Chatsworth's long and illustrious history.

A separate session described the development of the garden from wilderness to substantial formality then back to countryside vistas, courtesy of Capability Brown. Then on to the mix of formality and stunning landscape that exists today.  The lake, cascade and iconic fountain were added in the 1840s.   Development work continues, and contemporary sculptures are still being added.

The final session dealt with the life and times of Debora Duchess of Devonshire (1920 - 2014) who did so much to rescue, develop and promote the House post WW2.  Here Simon came into his own.  As a young man he was taken on by “Debo”, ultimately being in charge of PR and marketing.  He was obviously close to the Duchess and we were privileged to have such an insight into this extraordinarily resourceful and talented lady. 

He explained that Debora Cavendish was the youngest of the (in)famous Mitford Sisters.  Quiet young “Debo” was to turn out to be the most grounded and important sister  When Debo and her husband inherited, war and death duties had taken their toll.  Nevertheless, the Devonshires found a way through, to gift the house to the nation and then work tirelessly in building the public heritage business it is today.   The Duchess reorganised the collections and put them on display and also made her own contemporary additions , especially in the garden which continued it's significant evolution under her guidance.

This was a very personal account full of fortitude and humour. Simon could personally recount the Duchess’s desire to embrace the public and ensure their enjoyment.  With no formal education she was a formidable self-taught planner, manger and business-woman who could engage and charm all around her.   Her Estate farm shop was a first and she was often seen to be serving the public in the souveneir shop were she sought honest opinions of the Chatsworth Experience.   Illustrated by many pictures, personal and rarely seen.  An emotional as well as most informative to end to a highly successful Study Day


PHOTO  Simon Seligman (centre), Our Chair Lizzie Johnston (right), Study Day organiser Ruth Rising (left)


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