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East Midlands Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and one of the great treasure houses of England.

Chatsworth House was built to impress. Set in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales it is surrounded by a Capability Brown Landscape and has been in the same family since it was built.

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A house was built here by Bess of Hardwick and her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, who was Treasurer of the Kings Chamber and one of Henry VIII’s commissioners for the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Bess was a wealthy woman in her own right and a force to be reckoned with. Bess lived here with her fourth husband, George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was responsible for Mary Queen of Scots when she was held prisoner by Queen Elizabeth. Mary was kept a prisoner at Chatsworth at various times. Their son succeeded to the title and lived here after the death of Bess.

The house continued to be passed down through the Cavendishes and few changes were made until the William the fourth Earl was made 1st Duke of Devonshire for his part in setting William of Orange and Mary on the throne. He began rebuilding the house, although he kept the Tudor plan with the central courtyard. Originally he just planned on rebuilding the south wing and State Apartments but, once started, he didn’t stop. The east front with the Painted Hall and Long Gallery soon followed. He then started on the west front followed by the north front, which was only just completed when he died.

He also designed formal gardens around the house. The canal pond was dug and the cascade built.

The second and third Dukes made no changes to the house or gardens but were great collectors, buying paintings, statues and furniture for the house.

The fourth Duke was responsible for much of what we see today. He decided the house should be approached from the west. The existing stable block and the village of Edensor were pulled down as they interfered with the view from the house. New stables were built further up the hill and the village was moved.


Capability Brown was engaged to design the grounds into the then fashionable ‘natural’ parkland.

The fifth Duke was married to the socialite Georgiana Spencer and they filled the house with family, friends, writers and politicians. John Carr was commissioned to redesign the decoration and furnishings of the private drawing rooms.

Their son became the sixth Duke. He never married but loved entertaining and the English Country House Party was at its zenith. Anybody who was anybody came to stay, including Queen Victoria. The rooms on the east side of the house were converted into bedrooms with hand painted Chinese wallpapers, all the rage at the time. He spent a lot of his fortune in collecting objects to furnish the family homes and rebuilt the north wing with a sculpture gallery to house his collection.

He employed Joseph Paxton as head gardener and the garden was redesigned with the Conservative Wall and the monumental rock garden. He was also responsible for the Emperor fountain in the canal pond. This involved draining moorland on the scarp behind the house to make a reservoir to feed it. He also built a massive conservatory, on what is now the maze. This was a fore runner of the Crystal Place but became too costly to run and was demolished soon after the First World War.

Such expenditure taxed even the sixth Duke’s resources and he was forced to sell property in Yorkshire. The Seventh Duke instituted strict economies after the excesses of the sixth Duke. The eighth Duke also entertained on a lavish scale, usually in the autumn and winter months.

The ninth Duke was the first to have to pay death duties of over half a million pounds. Many rare books in the library were sold, as well as their London home.

The tenth Duke had only just succeeded to the title when the Second World War started and rather than letting the military use the house, he arranged that it be occupied by a girls boarding school. He died in 1950 when death duties were set at the maximum rate of 80% on the whole estate. Hardwick Hall and estate, rare books and important works of art were surrendered to the Treasury in lieu of cash. To protect Chatsworth and other remaining assets, ownership of all the Derbyshire estates was then passed into a trust run by the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement.

The eleventh Duke who married to Deborah Mitford, lived in Edensor House before the decision was made to move back to Chatsworth House. The house needed modernising with new wiring, central heating system, bathrooms, kitchens and flats for staff. The Duchess was responsible for many changes in the gardens including the maze, serpentine hedge and a new display greenhouse. Between them, they were responsible for rescuing Chatsworth and protecting it for future generations to enjoy. They were insistent that Chatsworth be self funding with money from the trust and visitor income covering the costs of the house and grounds.

Their work is being continued by the twelfth Duke who carried out a multi-million pound plan programme of essential repairs, maintenance and restoration. More rooms have been opened for visitors and access improved with a new lift. Lead roofs were replaced, the exterior cleaned and severely damaged stonework replaced. The gold leaf on doors and window frames was replaced.

Ever since it was built, Chatsworth has been open for visitors and the housekeeper had instructions to show visitors around for free. Charges didn’t start until 1908 when the income was given to local hospitals. Since the Second World War, the entry fees have gone towards the upkeep of the house and grounds.

The best views of the house are from the entrance road. As well as the house and gardens, there is a farmyard and adventure playground, geared towards the younger visitors. The house itself does get very busy with visitors. Plan a visit for lunchtime when it is quieter. Allow at least an hour for the house, longer if you are wanting to take photographs. Visitors are asked not to carry bags on their backs as they can damage the wallpaper. They must either be carried in the hand, or they can be left in the left luggage lockers near the garden entrance. There are no toilet facilities in the house or gardens. Those near the house or garden entrance do get very busy, especially if there is a coach party.

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Visiting the house - the Painted Hall

The house is approached under the arch of the porter’s lodge between an avenue of tulip trees. The long wing on the left was added by the sixth Duke and contains the domestic rooms as well as the sculpture gallery and orangery shop. In front is the entrance to the NORTH ENTRANCE HALL.

This was the kitchen until the fourth Duke decided to alter the entrance to the house. It is an impressive entrance with pillars, urns and statues as well as a painted ceiling.

A flight of stairs guarded by two large bronze dogs leads up to the NORTH CORRIDOR with its lovely geometric patterned marble floor and paintings on the walls. This was originally lit by wall candles which have now been replaced by electric light and overlooks the central courtyard.


This leads to the PAINTED HALL. This was the work of the fourth Duke, who replaced the original great hall by this stunning room. He commissioned Louis Laguerre who also worked at Blenheim Palace, to paint the ceiling and the upper part of the walls between 1692-4, with scenes of the life of Julius Caesar. Below are panels with flower paintings. The floor is covered with black and white marble tiles, the work of the sixth duke. He was also responsible for the French windows overlooking the courtyard. Above them is a narrow corridor with gilt iron work railings. At the corners are small balconies. The Latin inscription over the fireplace reads that the beautiful house begun in the year of liberty 1688 was inherited by William, sixth Duke of Devonshire in 1811, and completed in the year of his bereavement 1840. This refers to the death of his beloved niece Blanche, who was the wife of his heir. The date 1688 was when William of Orange and Mary were offered the throne of England. The fourth Earl became the First Duke of Devonshire for his role in this and began a major rebuild of the house.






At the far end, the ceremonial staircase leads to the State Apartments on the first floor.




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The Grotto and West or Chapel Corridor

The tour continues down a narrow corridor on the left side of the great stairs to the GROTTO. There has been piped water into the house since it was built. This area was built by the first Duke to show off the source of water in the house. The water still flows into a dark basin underneath a lovely early C17th bas marble relief of Diana bathing. There is another bath tub on the wall opposite.

The plaster ceiling feels low after the Painted Hall and supports the great stairs which run above it. The bronze statue in the centre of the room is the Falling Warrior by Henry Moore.



Beyond the Grotto is the WEST OR CHAPEL CORRIDOR. On the walls are more pictures. There are geological specimens displayed on tables and at the far end, Roman antiquities, a giant foot from a Greek statue and the two ancient Egyptian statues are 18th dynasty from the Temple of Mut at Karnak.







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The Oak Room

The OAK ROOM is off the Chapel corridor and is the work of the sixth Duke. Four barley twist oak pillars with trailing leaves support the ceiling. The panelling with the carved heads came from a German monastery and were bought by the the sixth Duke at auction. The rather over the top pedestal supporting the clock in the corner of the room is the winged figure of Atlas.




The lovely paintings set in panels around the walls are scenes from around Cullercoats and Naples where the sixth Duke enjoyed holidaying. Below these are display cases with china.






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The Chapel

The tour continues into the CHAPEL which was built for the first Duke and has been little altered since. It is still used for special occasions such as christenings.. The wood is cedar and it still scents the air.

The family sat in the gallery supported by dark marble pillars, while the staff sat below.


The wall and ceiling paintings are the work of Louis Laguerre. On the wall, Christ is seen healing the sick. The ceiling shows his ascent into Heaven.



Below the paintings, the walls are panelled. The carvings were thought to be the work of Gringling Gibbons but is now thought to be the work of a local sculptor Samuel Watson.


The magnificent carved alabaster apse would originally have been the setting for the altar. It now houses the statue of St Bartholomew cast in gold plated silver by Damien Hirst. Above is a painting of Doubting Thomas by Verrio.




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The State Apartments

From the chapel, the tour returns down the Chapel Corridor and up the Great Stairs to the State Apartments on the first floor.

The GREAT STAIR with its lovely gilt balustrade continues up. Several attempts at decoration were made for the first Duke. The ceiling was painted as well as paintings round the tops of the walls. There are statues set in alcoves and busts set on pedestals. The first Duke wasn’t happy with the result and had large grisaille panels painted on the walls as well.





A series of STATE APARTMENTS leads off the first floor landing. These are on the south side of the house and look out over the canal lake and fountains.


The State Apartments were originally built in anticipation of a visit by William and Mary, which never happened. They were designed for display rather than living in. Progress through the rooms depended on how important you were. The doors of each room are directly in line with each other, with a mirror on the end wall of the Great Chamber set in a mock doorway doubling the apparent length.




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The State Apartments - The Great Chamber

The first room is the GREAT CHAMBER. This was originally intended as an antechamber for those seeking an audience with the monarch. It is now a large empty room with a buffet at one end with a display of silver gilt and ceramics, intended to display the family wealth. The wax fruit and artificial flowers would originally have been fresh varieties grown in the Duke’s greenhouses.


The ceiling was painted at the end of the C17th by Verrio and depicts the Return of the Golden Age, celebrating the new reign of Protestant William and Mary. It show the Virtues conquering the Vices of ancient mythology.


Walls are panelled and the carvings of game birds, fruit, flowers and foliage were carved by Samuel Watson who was responsible for the carvings in the chapel. The blue and white Delft vases in the fireplace were used to display single flowers from the greenhouses.



Off the Great Chamber is the Green Satin Room. This is a small room with no windows and green and grey striped wallpaper. It is used to display paintings.




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The State Apartments - The State Drawing Room

Only more important visitors would have been allowed to progress as far as the STATE DRAWING ROOM during the visit of the monarch, who would have sat on the thrones at the end of the room.


The painted ceiling of the Assembly of the Gods is by Louis Laguerre. Round the walls are Mortlake tapestries dating from the mid C17th and hung here by the sixth Duke in the 1830s. They show scenes from the life of Christ.



Above the fireplace is wood panelling with more carved decoration.


The decorative cabinets are made of Chinese Coromandel lacquer. This was originally used to line the walls of the State Dressing Room. It was replaced by oak panelling and some of the lacquer was used to make these pieces of furniture.






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The State Apartments - The State Music Room

The next room is the STATE MUSIC ROOM, which would have been a withdrawing room for the King and Queen’s most favoured courtiers. They had even more elaborate red upholstered thrones in here..


The room takes its name from the wonderful Trompe l’oeil violin painted on the panel behind the door on the wall facing the gardens.


The ceiling again is by Laguerre and shows Phaeton begging Apollo to allow him to drive his chariot.


The stamped and gilded leather wall covering was added by the sixth Duke after he saw something similar at the Chateau de Fontainbleau.



Much of the furniture is by Andre Charles Boule with his characteristic cut out designs in tortoiseshell, pewter and brass.





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The State Apartments - The State Bedroom and Dressing Room

The STATE BEDROOM along with the state dressing room, was the most important room of the State Apartments and would have been used by the King. Although the State Apartments were designed in anticipation of a visit by William and Mary, they were not used until a visit by George V and Queen Mary in 1913. The First Duke spent more on furnishing this room than any other room in the house. The original bed was the most expensive piece of furniture in the house. It was later taken to Hardwick House. The present bed belonged to George II and was claimed as perk by the fourth Duke in his role of Lord Chamberlain.


Again the room has a painted ceiling by Laguerre, with Dawn (Aurora) chasing away Night (Diana). C17th tapestries hang on the walls, covering gilded leather, as the Duchess decided that ‘one room of leather was quite enough’.

Displays of blue and white porcelain were made fashionable by Mary II.



There is an exquisite silver gilt toilet service on the dressing table made in Paris in the late C17th.


Beyond is what was the STATE DRESSING ROOM or CLOSET. The silver chandelier is thought to have been a gift to the first Duke from William and Mary.


The walls were originally covered with Chinese Coromandel lacquer but have been replaced by wood panelling. There is a small chest made from the lacquer. Plates are displayed on the walls and small pieces of china on shelves above the fireplace.




Beyond is the OLD MASTERS DRAWING CABINET, another small room without any windows, designed to display a selection of Old Master drawings collected by the first, second and third Dukes. . The drawings had been displayed in the Sketch Galleries until the C20th, when it was noticed many were being damaged by light. The drawings are displayed for a short time and then go back into storage and different paintings are displayed. One wall is covered with studies of birds, animals and plants painted by Italian artists from the early C15th to early C17th.




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The Sketch Galleries and the Oak Stairs

The south and west sketch galleries run along the inside walls overlooking the courtyard. They were added in the mid C19th making it easier to move around the house.

The SOUTH SKETCH GALLERY has green striped wall paper and green curtains with lots of tassels. There are family portraits on the walls. The large display cabinets contain geological specimens collected by the sixth Duke.



The WEST SKETCH GALLERY is similar and has doors leading into guest bedrooms. The red upholstered chairs were commissioned by the third Duke for his London house.


If the rooms are not being use, the doors of the private sitting room, the SABINE ROOM, are left open. This again has a painted ceiling and walls, including the rape of the Sabine women by the C17th artist James Thornhill.




The NORTH SKETCH GALLERY is very different. The walls along the window side have been covered with handmade ceramic panels with inset raised ceramic blocks. These are grouped to represent the personal DNA profile of the tenth Duke and Duchess, their son Lord Burlington and his wife. The fifth panel represents the DNA of ‘everyman’.



At the far end is the OAK STAIRS built in the early C19th to give access to the new wing. The walls are covered with family portraits and there is a lovely plaster cupola above.





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The Guest Bedrooms - Marquis and Marchioness of Normanby

The GUEST BEDROOMS occupy the east front of the house and are reached along a dark corridor with rooms off. They were created by the sixth Duke for guests invited to the lavish house parties at Chatsworth in the C19th. The rooms contain the original furnishings with canopied beds and hand painted Chinese wallpapers. There was no plumbing and just one guest bathroom. Hot water was brought by servants and there were chamber pots by the bed. Dressing rooms were provided as guests had to change several times during the day.

The first two rooms proclaim MARQUIS AND MARCHIONESS OF NORMANBY on the small label on the door. The main bedroom is quite dark with deep red wallpaper and the curtains are kept closed. It has a large four poster bed with a set of stairs to get into it. At the foot is a writing desk and there is a leopard skin rug on the floor. The small ensuite bathroom was added in 1938.





Of it is a smaller dressing room with a single bed. This would have been used by the husband if he was drunk or needed to be up early in the morning for a shooting party. On a table is a wash basin set.



The lovely green wallpaper is Chinese. This was first imported in the C17th and was still popular when the sixth Duke refurbished the guest bedrooms. The paper was supplied in sets of rolls and painted with birds and flowers. These could be cut out of scraps of paper and stuck on to the wallpaper to hide joins and fill gaps.




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The Guest Bedrooms - The Wellington and Leiccester Bedrooms

The WELLINGTON BEDROOM was used by the Duke of Wellington when he stayed at Chatsworth during the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The green and silk bed hangings were made from curtains in 1965. It also has Chinese wallpaper.



Again it has a smaller dressing room with a single bed off.


The LEICESTER BEDROOM is in the oldest part of the house. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester supposedly used this room when he visited Chatsworth. It has Chinese wallpaper and heavy wood furniture. The canopy and bed hangings were removed by Evelyn, wife of the ninth Duke who was concerned the old and dirty hangings caused sore throats. There are plans for new hangings and to restore the bed to its former grandeur.



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Library and Great Dining Room

The tour continues down the servants staircase to the ground floor.

The LIBRARY is in the original Long Gallery and the gilded stucco ceiling with paintings by Verrio is all that remains of this. The Library is the work of the sixth Duke who needed space to house his growing collection of books. The gallery running round the top of the room is accessed via a secret spiral staircase hidden behind a bookcase.

The carpet was commissioned by the sixth Duke from carpet entrepreneur Thomas Whitty, who was the first to produce Axminster carpets. The design mirrors the painted roundels in the ceiling. There is no access to the room, which is admired from the doorway.


The ANTE LIBRARY was originally a billiard room but was later fitted with bookcases to match those in the Library, needed to hold the increasing book collection. It has a grand piano and a huge mirror above the fireplace. The painted ceiling is one of the newest in the house being painted in 1823 and depicts Iris presenting the wounded Venus to Mars.



This leads into the GREAT DINING ROOM, again created by the sixth Duke and was just finished in time for the visit of Princess Victoria with her mother. He also commissioned the silverware on the table. It is a sumptuous room with scarlet wall hangings and a gilded stucco curved ceiling. There are gilded stags heads along the coving with the initials of the Sixth Duke. The two fireplaces have Bacchanalian figures carved on either side. Apparently the sixth Duke was disappointed by them as he wanted something a little more abandoned.




On a wall table is the Chatsworth Tazza which is one of the largest objects made from a piece of Derbyshire Blue John. On either side are Blue John vases which now act as lights which shows off the opalescence of the mineral.




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The Sculpture Gallery

Beyond are the new gallery and the Sculpture Galleries. The NEW GALLERY runs parallel with the Sculpture Gallery and has family photographs as well as photogrpahs of other famous people.


The SCULPTURE GALLERY was built by the sixth Duke to display his collection of contemporary sculpture. Apparently the room was inspired by a gallery in the Vatican. The original plan was for coloured stone walls and floor, but this was abandoned after advice from several artists who felt the local gritstone would be a more effective backdrop for the sculptures. His original intention was to collect ancient sculpture but there was little around to buy. Instead he bought or commissioned works of modern sculpture from the leading artists of the time.





The tour now exits through the Orangery shop, again the work of the sixth Duke and into the gardens.


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The Gardens and Grounds

The gardens provide a grand setting for what must be one of the finest houses in the country. There are over 100 acres of grounds and five miles of footpaths to explore. There is something for everyone to enjoy from the cascade on a hot summer day to the seclusion of the ravine with its winding paths and small ponds.The pictures were taken in July 2016.

The original Tudor House was surrounded by formal gardens. Little remain of these except the canal pond, and the cascade. This was a massive undertaking as it involved draining the moorland above the house to form reservoirs to provide enough water.

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The fourth Duke commissioned Capability Brown to redesign the grounds into the then fashionable parkland with mature trees. Much of this landscape still survives.

The sixth Duke employed Joseph Paxton as head gardener. He was responsible for greenhouses along Conservative Wall as well as a massive greenhouse on what is now the maze. This was demolished after the First World War as it was too costly to run.


The present gardens owe much to the Deborah, the late Dowager Duchess who redesigned the private west garden and was responsible for much of the planting in the rest of the gardens. The present Duke and Duchess are continuing her work with the Arcadia Project, which will remodel the rock garden, maze borders and ravine areas. The project is described as the biggest transformation for 200 years.

The gardens are entered either from the orangery shop after touring the house or from the car park via the Flora’s Temple. This imitation classical temple was built by the first Duke as a bowling green house but was moved to its present position by the fourth Duke as part of the Capability Brown Landscaping.

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The area around the orangery has been planted as a wild flower area.




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The Gardens and Grounds cont...

The Broad Walk runs from Flora’s Temple parallel to the east front of the house, to Blanche’s Urn set on the skyline a third of a mile away. On the left is the vast expanse of the Salisbury Lawns,
planted by Capability Brown replacing the formal terraces, parterres and fountains of the original gardens. This is now very popular with families and for picnics.

Beyond the house on the right is the Sea Horse fountain fed by water piped from the cascade. Beyond is the Canal Pond and the magnificent Emperor Fountain.



These were part of the original gardens although Paxton rebuilt the fountain for the sixth Duke in anticipation of a visit from the Tsar. A conduit was dug across the moorland above Chatsworth to drain into a newly constructed reservoir which had sufficient head of water to project a fountain nearly 300’ into the air. Unfortunately the Tsar never came. At the turn of the C20th, three turbines using the pressure of the water supply to the Emperor Fountain provided electricity to the house. They still generate about a third of the electricity needed.

On the opposite side of the Broad Walk to the Canal Pond is an area of mature woodland with groups of specimen trees planted by Capability Brown.

The Ring Pond is off the Broad Walk at the start of the woodland and is surrounded by a neatly trimmed hedge with bulbous topiary trees around it. It has the feel of a secret garden. Between them are twelve stone busts standing on tapered stone columns. There are views up an avenue to the rock garden.




The Serpentine Hedge runs from the Ring Pond to a bronze head of the sixth Duke at the far end. This was planted in 1953 and was deliberately planted to resemble a ‘crinkle crankle wall’.


Towards the end, a flight of stone steps leads up to the old Conservatory Garden and the Maze. These continue up the hillside above the maze as the Hundred Steps to the arboretum.


The old conservatory covered just over three quarters of an acre and caused a sensation when it was finished. It had cost over £33,000 to build and was the largest glass building in England until Paxton designed the Crystal Palace.

It was heated by eight underground boilers which fed seven miles of underground heating pipes. Over 300 tons of coal were needed in winter and was brought by an underground railway. The entrance to the tunnel can still be seen.

Unfortunately the conservatory was in a very poor condition after the First World War. Many of the plants had died, there was no coal to heat the eight underground boilers and it was too costly to repair. It was demolished in 1920. The bottom of the walls were left and form the surrounds for the maze which now occupies most of the area. At either end are small formal flower beds.






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The Gardens and Grounds cont...

At the far end of the garden reached along a bamboo lined path with hostas, is the ravine.


The ravine is a very informal area with a small stream running down a steep valley, and left to go wild with many wild flowers like foxgloves and rose bay willow herb as well as ferns. A small iron bridge crosses the top of the ravine.






Above the ravine is the Grotto pond. This was originally an ancient fish pond but is now an ornamental feature with a stone grotto standing a on a small rise above it.


It drains down the trough waterfall into the ravine.


Well made paths continue through the arboretum planted by Paxton with many new species to the country. There is a good view down the Hundred Steps to the Maze, before dropping down to the Rock Garden.




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The Gardens and Grounds cont...

The monumental rockery was built as a reminder of the sixth Duke’s visit to the Alps. The rocks were brought from nearby Dobb Edge and tower above the paths. A maze of paths wanders between the rocks.



From the top there are good views across the gardens to the Ring Pond and a deep artificial valley called the Strid, based on the deep chasm cut by the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire.


Beyond the Rock Garden on the way to the Cascade and set behind a refreshment kiosk, is the Willow Tree Fountain. This is a C19th copy of the original fountain made in 1695. It is made of brass and has water jets from the ends of the branches. Set in its small glade, it looks remarkably modern.


The cascade is one of the most popular parts of the garden, especially in hot weather. It was built for the first Duke in 1696 but was rebuilt on a grander scale a few years later. Each of the steps is different to the one above or below, so varying the sound of the water as it flows downwards. At the base the water flows underground to the sea horse fountain in front of the House and is then piped to a fountain in the private west garden before flowing into the river.


At the top is the Cascade House with statues and dolphins. This was originally designed so the water flowed out of the top of the roof, but the continuous flow uses up to much water and is just kept for special occasions.


It is worth climbing up to the cascade house just for the views!

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The Gardens and Grounds cont...

The Kitchen Garden behind the stable block replaces the original walled Kitchen Garden which was abandoned after the Second World War. It is a riot of flowers, vegetables and fruit which supplies the house and restaurants. The surplus is sold in the Farm Shop.






The Cottage Garden is actually designed to represent a cottage with a table and chairs on the ground floor and a yew stair case leading to the bedroom above with four poster bed. In front of it is a small parterre garden.



Below these is the 1970s greenhouse.



Next to it is the first Duke’s Greenhouse which was built to grow citrus fruits but now houses the camelia collection. In front of it is the Rose Garden.



The gardens are open Easter to the beginning of January. Allow plenty of time as they are huge!

For the children, there is the adventure playground and farmyard. For those wanting to park and walk, there are miles of walks across the estate.

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