Chatsworth Revisited In Sepia

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When it comes to horticultural bling, the gardens of England’s grand houses take a lot of beating. They were of course designed entirely for the purposes of showing off the fruits of questionable gains, whether acquired through creative accounting practices in the service of the monarch, strategic marriage alliances, political opportunism, slave owning or straight forward pillage.

And so it is that, along with the overbearing edifice large enough to house a small-town population, the surrounding designer parterres, avenues, arbours, grottos, fountains, cascades, Greek temples, and goodly cavalcade of deities and other mythological beings, could be seen to confer legitimacy, privilege and status on arriviste owners  and their subsequent offspring.

Here at Chatsworth, home of successive Dukes of Devonshire, the formal garden alone extended to one hundred acres. The earliest version was created in 1555 by Sir William Cavendish (he of creative accounting fame) and Bess of Hardwick. Over the next three centuries the layout became increasingly extravagant in a bid to complement the palatial makeovers effected on the house. In 1836 the 6th Duke appointed Joseph Paxton to re-design what were then termed the ‘Pleasure Grounds’, and it is Paxton’s influence that is most in evidence today.

In particular, he was charged with re-engineering the Emperor Fountain as seen in the photo above. For 160 years it was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world, the jet having reached a record height of 295 feet (90 metres). It replaced the earlier Great Fountain, itself a wonder of hydro-engineering, until the 6th Duke thought Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia was intending to visit, and so had it mind to outdo the Tsar’s Peterhof Palace fountain. To me this seems incredibly rude, hospitality-wise, and in any case the Tsar never turned up, although the fountain continued to be named for the visit that never was.

…the Emperor Fountain is the spirit of novelty, dashing its endless variety to the skies…

6th Duke of Devonshire

On the day we were there it was windy, which meant the fountain was turned down. Even so, it was doing much blowing about, and producing some very pleasing rainbow effects in the autumn sunshine, and in fact rather living up to the 6th Duke’s exuberant description of it. On the other hand, if you didn’t keep an eye on its movements as you wandered the lakeside lawns, it could also give you a surprise dousing.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Lawn Ornaments

42 thoughts on “Chatsworth Revisited In Sepia

  1. I look at those houses and think they would house everyone I’ve EVER known in my entire life. Almost all of Uxbridge could probably fit into it. I’m the gardens are splendid and it’s good they are open to the public. I think if we think of it as a botanical garden, we will all feel happier about it. It really is hard for me to imagine anyone having 100-acre garden to go with a house bigger than the federal building in Boston!

    1. You echo so many of my thoughts. And yes, good that we can visit such places, though in Chatsworth’s case it’s a family-run charitable trust and it costs £50 per person at senior citizen rates to see the house and garden. And this after you’ve also paid to park.

    1. Cheers, Becky. These days I find myself getting very cross when the origins of aristocratic wealth is not, or only barely touched on in the guided tours. I’m thinking that our on-going adoration of wealth and social status gives the wrong people power over us, and only fosters their sense of entitlement to exploit others. I will now go gardening to calm down 😉

      1. We really should talk about it more, maybe we should start a campaign! In the meantime hope the garden has restored your equanimity xx

  2. I think Chatsworth was the first stately home I ever visited. I used to stay with my aunt, uncle & cousins in Derby, during part of the summer holidays, & they always used to take us out somewhere nice. It made a real impression on me, & I remember buying a postcard booklet, full of beautiful, colour scenes from in & around the house. Lovely to be reminded of it, Tish & it looks wonderful in sepia too! I just can’t recall if the fountain was working at that time, or on a subsequent visit, years later. However, it was very interesting reading about it, and I’d have loved seeing the rainbow through the spray! Sounds like you enjoyed your visit. 😊

  3. Sepia was perfect. Chatsworth? Not a clue. Devonshire? Sort of… Ironic how little I know of England’s geography. Need to remedy that soon. How’s summer treating you? (Apart from the Tories’ soap opera?)

    1. Chatsworth is in Derbyshire in the High Peak – well worth a vist and just left of Sherwood Forest (Nottinghamshire). Also home (the High Peak that is) of my maternal yeoman farming ancestors, they who claimed Norman origins. As for summer, we had it on Sunday, but now it’s pouring with rain AGAIN. And as for the Tories – well there’s another blooming shower. If we end up with Boris as PM I will know we have truly reached rock bottom as a nation. He’s another who belongs to the class who believe themselves entitled to do what they like and damn the consequences.

      1. Tish dear, ever so sorry about the rain. 😦 (It is England after all, and the price to pay for this green land of yours.)
        I’ve seen some of your posts about your family. Were you able to go back to the Normands, or as in France there was no registry before the early 1500’s? François the first established it in France, and since he was best ennemies with Henry VIII… 🙂
        If Johnson (whom I call Boris Judas) becomes PM, all that remains to see is Marine Le Pen at the Elysée, and Europe will be done for.
        I think of all our ancestors (yours and mine) who have fought gallantly in WWI and WWII for a certain idea of freedom and civilisation, and my heart sinks.

      2. My Fox family lot had no proof at all that they arrived with the Norman conquest. I often think they were more likely to have been of direct Viking origin (and I know Normans were originally Vikings too), and were perhaps collaborators with the invaders. Earliest records of small landing owning Foxes in association with new Norman lords of manor go back to around1200. Slippery stuff though, family history 🙂

      3. It is. Slippery. My parents went back to 1605 with the Onraët name. back in Flanders. Before that church registers are illegible. (Gutenberg’s invention of the print actually standardized writing!) If they were land owners they may have married Normand daughters. Problem is Fox is probably not an exclusive name. At any rate, even with some doubt, it is… magical to know your people have been there for quite a while. 🙂

      4. Your parents did well to get back to 1605. My fellow Fox hunters have found family links we can be absolutely sure of only as far back as the late 1600s. Your point about the Fox name is a good one. It’s odd being generic, rather than a ‘son of’ sort of name – so possibly from a Germanic language root meaning either fox or red-haired. The surname heartland is Yorkshire spreading into Derbyshire, so definitely Viking territory at one time. I’m also thinking it’s a name that others – e.g. the Saxon locals – used to refer to them. Lots of conjecture all round. But yes, it is magical knowing one’s ancestors were long rooted in a particular terrain.

      5. It is magical. A sense of belonging. 🙂 Now indeed it should be Thomson, Richardson, etc. Or Fox is the deformation of another Nordic name. 🙂
        Keep walking the land of your forefathers (and mothers)

  4. The sepia tones definitely work Tish. You know I share your views about places like this (and so much else), and you always express these so eloquently. I’m nodding vigorously in agreement.

  5. I know about the ill-gotten gains, Tish, but we’d be so much poorer without sights like this- as your photos testify. Makes me nostalgic for England. But I only have to think of Boris and I’m outta there! 🙂 🙂 Scum!

    1. I’m not sure we’d really be the poorer without our stately home vistas, though one might miss the cakes. Boris ‘scum’ is, after all, the sort of thing we end up with from the privileged sector if we continue to give this sort house room. It’s easy to forget how the ‘lords of the manor’ still rule roosts in local and national politics. Also in the past, and until quite recently, as magistrates, they were responsible for populating many farflung quarters of the globe with poor rabbit poachers and other unwanted tenants. I recently met a New Zealander whose family was still suffering the resonances of this kind of abuse, and four generations on. Putting soap box away now 🙂

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