The finest house in all of Derbyshire!

 

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If you are a beady – eyed, self-appointed master detective like my good self, you may have noticed via my myriad social media platforms that I was in the Peak District a few weeks ago. It was very nice indeed. I stayed in a big house with nine other merry souls and one nappy wearing individual. It may surprise you to learn that I did not drive a 340 mile roundtrip purely to eat Bakewell tarts (although dear reader, you can bet your bottom dollar that I certainly did). No, no, I took in some other local attractions of the area too. For example, at an international dance festival, which was inexplicably being held in Bakewell town square, I saw some Hungarian folk dancing. I also frequented a craft fair held in a Boy Scout hut which had the exorbitant entrance fee of 10 pence. Much like the Queen I never carry cold hard cash about my person so my kind-hearted and deep-pocketed brother-in-law had to see me clear past the ‘Gatekeeper of the repurposed Quality Street tin for petty cash’ on the door. Oh we had a merry time.

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Homemade jewellery and Bakewell tart soft scoops aside, I think it goes without saying (even though I am about to do just that) that the crowning glory of my stay in The Peaks was a long overdue visit to Chatsworth House.
I initially became aware of Chatsworth through reading my first and still preferred book about that oh so fascinating band of well-bred and imperviously nosed femmes, The Mitfords. I remember thinking that the youngest Mitford gel, the shy and rather sad looking Debo ended up with a pretty dull life in comparisons to many of her other sisters. I mean, Nancy kicked up her heels with the bright young things of the 20’s, smoked like a train, drank like a fish and wrote hilarious novels in between shopping trips to Chanel and entertaining in her tasteful Parisian apartment. Then there’s Decca – she went off to the Spanish Civil War for gawds sake! After that she hot-footed it to America, bounced around the counter culture movement, campaigned for civil rights and wrote a ground breaking expose of the funeral industry. After all of that, just being a lady in a big house in Derbyshire seemed a bit bland.

Over the years though, as my adolescent tartness has been mellowed by big creamy dollops of life experience and increased empathy (not to mention the London rental market) living in a big country house doesn’t seem quite so dull or tiresome anymore. Of course Debo did much more than just swan about adjusting porcelain figurines and changing for dinner. The late Dowager Duchess was instrumental in transforming the fortunes of the Chatsworth estate after the 10th Duke died a few weeks shy of the deadline for transferring the property to his son and heir so the family was landed with a whopping 7 million pound bill from the Inland Revenue for death duties. Debo and her husband the 11th Duke Andrew Cavendish, worked pretty darn hard to keep the place going and were constantly coming up with new ways to encourage visitors to the house. The now much lauded Chatsworth Farm shop was the brainchild and pet project of Debo and really paved the way for similar ventures that seem commonplace at many country houses today. Side note – I of course went to the farm shop within which I sampled and then purchased what I can only describe as the most delectable lemon wafers I have ever common across. In fact they are the only lemon wafers I have ever come across but they were delicious and soon dubbed ‘the lemon crack’ by the rest of the house. I’m sure the Duchess would be exceedingly proud.

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To add further credence to the efforts of the last Duke and Duchess, they weren’t even meant to have the place! Andrew was in fact second in line after his brother William. In a tragic but still interesting plot twist of social history, William met, fell in love with and after much handwringing married Kathleen (Kit) Kennedy, sister of John (later to be President) Kennedy. Joe Kennedy was none too pleased about the match because William wasn’t Catholic but the two sallied forth and were married to little fanfare in 1944. Considering what they had to go through to be together it seems even crueller that after all of this heartache they would fail to enjoy much of married life together because William went off to the front and was killed in action four months later. Kit remained close to the Cavendish family, being as she was pretty well adored by everyone, however she sadly also died too young when her plane went down while on her way to the Riviera in 1948.

Chatsworth is perhaps more famous to fans of the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice series as Pemberley, home of Mr Darcy. A very Meta move by the production team because Chatsworth was used by Austen as one of the houses Elizabeth Bennet visits during her country house tour holiday with the nice cousins, before she ends up at Darcy’s house and see him emerging from a lake in a now transparent shirt. Wait… maybe that bit isn’t in the book. Which is also a bit bloody Meta because that famous scene didn’t even happen at Chatsworth but at some other lake miles away. I was very disappointed to learn this only after I had spent most of the day pretending to be a Regency spinster visiting her unhappily married friend (my mate Charlotte) who was now in love with the gardener. I am eternally grateful to have friends who derive as much boundless pleasure from staring out of windows while sighing wistfully ‘oh my dear Miss Chloe, whatever am I to do about Caruthers?’ as I do. Anyway, we felt like a right pair of plonkers when we found out that Mr Darcy was in someone else’s lake the whole flippin time! Maybe he wouldn’t mind about the gardener after all…

(Edit – thank you to Anatasia for getting in touch to say that it was actually the 2005 adaption of P&P, not the 1995. Yet more heartache to overcome).

But beyond all of the japing and puns about under footmen, there was a really cracking exhibition on at the house too.

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The House Style exhibition weaves a route through the house and showcases key garments and artefacts from the stylish history of the former inhabitants. From the original mastermind of Chatsworth – Bess of Hardwick, to Georgina Duchess of Devonshire, the most fashionable woman in Georgian England (Kiera Knightly to you and me) and culminating with Stella Tennant, Vogue model and niece of the current Duke and Duchess, fashion has always been a strong current running through the house.

The exhibition is chocked full of clobber ranging from the state robes worn by the previous Duke and Duchess for the Queen’s Coronation to lots of frocks of Stella Tennants from her modelling days. Pride of place are also the late Duke’s famous slogan jumpers, a new one of which Debo would make for him each year and would feature the phrases he was fond of muttering, the best of all being ‘Never marry a Mitford’.

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American Vogue’s Hamish Bowels was in charge of the curation and it feels surprisingly elevated for an exhibition of family clothing in a country house. Reminiscent of the McQueen exhibition the V&A, the styling blends the opulence of the surroundings with the eerie darkness of the ghostly ancestry that permeates the rooms. Great cathedral-like spaces, dripping with wealth and family legends and death. Everything is blood red or dark aged wood. Bloodlines and trees. Roots and veins stretching down beneath the stone floors and imbedding the house within its ancient valley, surrounded by hillsides and heather moors.

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Within this melee of grandeur and mortality the garments themselves tell the story of the Cavendish family: wedding dresses, Christening gowns, mourning dress. The spokes of a lifecycle that has turned around itself for four hundred years.

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Peppered amongst these hallmarks of lifetimes are some more unique pieces, foremost, the famous Devonshire House Ball of 1897. The theme was historical or allegorical dress and today in The State Drawing Room, milky apparitions of the guests stand life-size, projected in to the gloom and looking for all the world like Pepper’s Ghosts from a Victorian charlatan’s séance.

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The Capability Brown designed gardens are quite lovely, if a little a windswept and chilly on the day we visited. Some notable features include the Cascade Fountain (often voted the loveliest water feature in England don’t you know?). The Emperor Fountain, designed to impress Tsar Nicholas I for a visit he never actually made due to the icy hand of death getting to him before the Derbyshire air was able too, is quite a sight even though it is kept mostly at half thrust due to the ridiculous quantities of water and energy required to reach its 240ft potential. There is also apparently a fake Willow Tree that will literally weep on unsuspecting passers-by, despite the Harry Potteresque allure of this I failed to reach it because it really was quite brisk and I was still reeling from the aforementioned ‘Darcy In A Different Lake’ shocker that had just been brought to my attention.

There wasn’t much more for it after that apart from an obligatory cup of tea in the café and a mooch around the gift shop (both excellent). Afterwards we bundled into the car and headed back to the ranch to watch the Grand Prix before heading to the pub. All in all it was the most marvelous of days. Maybe Debo had it sussed all along. Who needs Paris anyway?

 

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A few of my favourite things…

Happy Things

THE HIIIIIIIILS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUSI…..! Oh for flip’s sake, wrong song.

 

There is an awful lot of good stuff in my life currently, which frankly with the world the way it is at the moment is nothing short of miraculous and should I think be celebrated. Big or small, everyday happy stuff needs to be shouted about. How convenient….

1. This song by Lord Huron is everything. Like millions of other people I binge warched 13 Reasons Why in a fairly major way and fell in love with this signature song from the series. It makes me want to wear a floofy 50s prom dress to a blue-hued moonlit dance and get butterflies over a shy boy.

2. While mainlining the aforementioned track I stumbled upon this marvellously kitsch spaghetti Western-inspired video from the band for their other standout song Time To Run. A very enjoyable five minutes.

3. Mangoes. I just bloody love them.

4. You Must Remember This podcast. True to form I am about four years behind the curve, as is my want. However, what I lack in Johnny-on-the-spottedness I more than make up for in headlong obsessive dedication to something for an intense and always limited time. At the time of writing I have listened to nearly 100 episodes of this incredibly well-researched and eloquently delivered podcast since it was first introduced to me all of a a few weeks ago. YMRT explores the forgotten stories of Hollywood’s first century, touching on everything from the interwoven love lives of film royalty to the effects of the Blacklist. I. Am. Gripped. Gripped I tell ye!

5. Versailles Season 2! My favourite programme of last year is back on BBC 2 and oh how I have missed the self-centred, over-sexed lot of them. Beautiful little Philippe. Louis, equal parts paranoia, god complex and sociopath. That bloke in the leather boots who goes around beating people up in dungeons before apparently bristling with desire for the all too honourable undercover lady doctor who is only a thigh slap away from being full on Blackadder II Bob. How can you not love its egoism and opulence? You can’t, so don’t try, just get on board so we can chat about it.

6. I realise that this is a bit of a curveball but I hope it will prove a useful one nonetheless. OK here goes…this bloody vacuum cleaner is great. I bought one the other day and if you co-habit with a creature of the furry persuasion it will make you very happy.

7. Finally, the latest mega-offering from the V&A opens this weekend. Pink Floyd: The Mortal Remains is a retrospective of the the band’s music, art and influence and will assuredly seek to mimic the huge popularity of the Bowie exhibition of a few years ago. I’m looking forward to checking it out for myself in a few weeks time, although who this David Gilmour bloke is I have no idea…

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International Women’s Day 2017

International Women’s Day 2017 is here! First celebrated in 1909 the day has taken on several incarnations over the years, today advocating the need for greater gender equality and inclusivity. Every year has a theme, this year’s being #beboldforchange.

Here at The Vintage Notebook I like to use the day to spotlight an organisation or business which improves women’s lives in some way. A few examples of previous years can be found here and here. This year I was inspired by a photograph from the now famous series ‘Country Doctor’ by Eugene Smith, first published in Life magazine in 1948. It focused on the work of Dr Ceriani, a rural practitioner from Colorado, whose patients numbered 2000 and who single-handedly served an area of 400 square-miles.

Smith’s photographs are full of humanity. Dr. Ceriani’s hound dog expressions of concern are compelling in the extreme, as are the myriad emotional states of his patients. I would urge you to take a few moments out to look through the archive. Towards the end of the series are several photographs which failed to make the cut to publication. The picture below is one and remains my favourite.

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The caption merely reads ‘Dr Ceriani with a patient’. I know nothing of this woman beyond what is evident superficially; she appears to be in her seventies or even eighties. She is thin and her hands look like they have worked hard for many years. She seems to be telling the doctor her ailment, perhaps a back or chest pain judging by her gesture. Her face is full of character, with a beaky nose, drawn cheeks and slightly overhanging jaw, perhaps symptomatic of a few missing teeth. She has the physicality of a woman who has lived a hard and long life on the inclement, treeless flats of Kremmling Colorado. In addition to this however she is wearing a smart black dress with white lace colour. A jaunty and pristine little topper hat with bunches of berries on the front, sits atop white hair, neatly brushed and pinned up. I find the fact that this woman travelled many miles in her little fancy hat to see the doctor heartbreakingly sweet. She doesn’t strike me as the sort of woman to bother an incredibly overworked general practitioner unless there was something genuinely wrong with her and I hope that as she made her way home on her little sinewy legs, perhaps holding her hat against the wind, she had received some relief from Dr Ceriani.

I am always intrigued and drawn to the unknown realities of the women forgotten to history. This woman, who at a rough estimate would have been born in 1878, lived through a fascinating period of American history, not to mention two World Wars. Her thoughts, her experiences, heck, even her illness is unknown to us. She is merely known to the historical record as ‘a patient’.

This year, in part to celebrate the work of Dr Ceriani and the life of his unknown patient, and partly because this year it feels like they need our help more than ever, I’m donating to Planned Parenthood. I feel beyond fortunate to live in a county with a National Health Service, which has helped my sisters to have babies and me not to. These are our choices. They are valid. They should be supported, protected and defended. Because like Dr Ceriani, walking many miles a day to his patients, there should be ‘Care, no matter what’.

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