View of Chatsworth House from across the River Derwent

There are lots of wonderful gardens to visit in Derbyshire – each one unique – but one person’s name will pop up again and again, Bess of Hardwick. A powerful and educated woman, she was married four times, each husband richer than the last. In 1549, she persuaded her second husband, Sir William Cavendish to buy land to the east of the River Derwent near Bakewell for £600 – the Chatsworth Estate. There was already a house here but Bess wanted a much grander and larger affair to show off the couple’s importance.

View of the house

Chatsworth House is near Bakewell in Derbyshire. Exit the M1 at Junction 29 and stay on A617 to Chesterfield. Then take the A619 following the signs to Chatsworth.

Bronze dogs on the steps down from the terrace to the house

It is perhaps not surprising that when Sir William died in 1557, he was heavily in debt. But undeterred, Bess married again – to Sir William St. Loe, captain of Queen Elizabeth’s guard. On his death in 1565, Bess inherited his vast estates and became one of the richest women in England. Although she was now financially independent, she married George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury three years later. While work continued on the house, Bess also began to develop the gardens. Under the direction of Robin [The] Gardener, fish pools were dug, an orchard was planted and water gardens were built. Bess died in 1608 and left Chatsworth to her second son William who became the Earl of Devonshire in 1618.

THe Kitchen Garden with central path

It was not until 1683 that further changes were made to the Estate. The 4th Earl (later the 1st Duke) replaced the Elizabethan house with a more modern design. He first employed the ‘disagreeable…and singularly unattractive’ William Talman [Dyrham Park; Uppark] to design the south wing and the east façade but after a disagreement, he commissioned Thomas Archer [Kingston Maurward] to design the north. The house was finished by 1707. The Earl also updated the park and garden. In 1688 he paid £20.00 to ‘Mr George London upon his bargaine for making a new Garden at Chatsworth’ and in 1685 work began making the water gardens into a canal. James Paine was employed to build new stables and two bridges.

A Knyff and Kip’s engraving illustrates how elaborate the gardens were during this period – there were walled gardens, fountains, canals, parterres, ponds, bowling green, orchards, terraces, summerhouses, fountains, maze, mount, wilderness, cascade and a greenhouse [which is still in use today] – while Celia Fiennes provides a written account. An enthusiastic visitor, she mentions the willow fountain [recreated near the Rockery] and several grottoes, one with a marble bath large enough for two with hot and cold running water.

In 1724, Daniel Defoe described Chatsworth as ‘a most glorious and magnificent house…a palace for a prince’ although some years later, Horace Walpole was not impressed: ‘I never was more disappointed than at Chatsworth, which, ever since I was born, I have condemned.’ However three days later Walpole wrote to Lord Strafford how Chatsworth had surpassed his expectations: ‘there is such richness and variety of prospect.’ Following the fashion for a more ‘natural’ look, the formal gardens were grassed over in 1760s with the views opened up to the River Derwent. The work was carried out by Mr Millican who was probably one of ‘Capability’ Brown’s associates.

Another big change took place in 1820s, when Jeffry Wyatt remodelled parts of the house for the 6th Duke. The Duke was a keen gardener and on his visit to the Horticultural Society’s gardens at Chiswick, he met Joseph Paxton. Realising Paxton’s potential, the Duke employed him as Head Gardener. Paxton built the Great Conservatory [it was demolished in 1920 and replaced in 1962 by a sunken garden and maze], designed the Emperor Fountain in the Canal Pond and grew the ‘Victoria Regia’ water lily for the first time in Europe.

Visiting the garden today, the Broad Walk is the main route which runs from Flora’s Temple (probably designed by Talman) above the Emperor Fountain and Canal Pond and terminates at Blanche’s vase. To the east of Flora’s Temple is a heated wall with glass frames designed by Paxton while to the south is the Duke’s Greenhouse; it now houses part of the camelia collection and overlooks a rose garden. The Salisbury Lawns lie to the south while the cascade can be seen stretching up to the east. At the top is the Cascade House designed by Thomas Archer with carvings by Samuel Watson and Henri Nadauld. Hidden in the woods behind the Cascade (and difficult to find) is the Aqueduct also designed by Paxton.

To the south of the Salisbury Lawns is the Ring Pond while directly to the east is Paxton’s rock garden. Heading west, the path leads over the ravine to the maze; the hundred steps connect this area to Morton’s Pond. The Seahorse Fountain created by Caius Gabriel Cibber in 1691, has recently been restored and still stands in the centre of the South Lawn. The fountain is fed by a pipe which runs from the base of the Cascade.

The kitchen garden lies to the north of the cascade with the adventure playground and farm on the other side of the drive. From here a path leads up to Stand Wood – the Stand is now a private house.

If you have time, make sure you visit Bess’s childhood home, Hardwick Hall although the gardens are not nearly as impressive as those at Chatsworth.



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