Chatsworth House, Derbyshire October 2012


We booked three nights at the Bull’s Head in Castleton to give us two full days in the Peak District. It’s not actually all that far away from home, but we just don’t seem to go in that direction, and so set about putting right that sad omission. The weather forecast wasn’t great – not much new there by the standards of this year – but for our first full day we calculated that if it (the forecast) was at least somewhat accurate, we could spend a morning getting to Chatsworth, drinking coffee and looking round the house, and then in the brighter afternoon take in the grounds. And that was pretty much what we did!

It’s a big outfit is Chatsworth – very slick and well organised, like a sort of upper class theme park which must employ as many people now as in its stately hey-day. The coffee was good, but we didn’t on the whole enjoy the house all that much. It was very crowded for a start (I guess everybody had seen the same forecast) and looking long and reflectively at anything wasn’t easy! He and she of Devonshire have, to their credit, incorporated a fair amount of contemporary art, which created some interesting incongruities. Most of the decor, both framed and painted direct on walls and ceilings, just seemed to my untutored eye to be a standard mixture of austerely posed ancestors spiced with mythical creatures, who were mostly naked (or very nearly).

In truth I find “stately homes” difficult anyway because of their place and role in the making and maintaining of a stratified and classified society. Plainly life for the very rich was good, and the evidence of that was all around. Even if one buys into the “Downton Abbey” picture of the benevolent rich (and I’m not sure that I altogether do!) the manifest inequity of distribution of wealth at every level, and the implications of status and “worth” that go with it are uncomfortable to say the least. Yes we’ve moved on as a society, but the echoes are still there, and indeed seem to be at the heart of much political debate and conduct – patricians versus plebs!

So the pictures were made in the garden. Now in a sense the possession of such a garden is all part of the same whole, but I guess it just felt better for being outside, and the natural artwork is so much more attractive anyway that the over-adorned walls of the building. In addition again he and she of Devonshire have brought in some interesting sculptural work that both fits with and creatively clashes with the older surroundings. I’ve included 15 (actually 16, but more of that in a moment) of my images. There’s much here of early autumn beauty; there’s also the hare that re-appears around the garden in slightly different poses and sizes; there’s water and fallen leaves (always a good bet), and there’s a “squirting willow tree” which is actually surprisingly old and suggests that even the upper classes had some sense of humour!

Incidentally – the duplication of CW2. Sadly (unlike the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for instance) the authorities (whoever they might be) have felt the need to surround the contemporary sculptures with post and chain fences. Fair enough in a sense, but it gets in the way of a good photograph. CW2 is as snapped; CW3 has had a measure of photoshop erasure of unwanted distractions. The problem though is that I couldn’t find a way of taking them all out and I’m, not sure that the compromise is better than the original – so I’ve put them both in while I think about it!

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