With its gold leaf and pale yellow stonework glinting in the spring sunshine, Chatsworth House has reopened to visitors following its biggest restoration and conservation of the house, garden and park since the 1820s.
The 10-year long programme, costing more than £32m, has seen Chatsworth restored to its full glory, inside and out, with the help of Hartwell Interior Decorations Lt, architect Peter Inskip, interiors expert David Mlinaric and art historian Jonathan Bourne.
Weather damage and industrial pollution over hundreds of years meant cleaning and replacing gritstone across the whole exterior of the 300-room house. All of the new stone used for repairs came from the same, specially reopened, quarry that provided the stone for the building of the North Wing in the 1820s by the 6th Duke of Devonshire.
Traditional skills have been used throughout the restoration for both urgent repairs and to make Chatsworth ready for the future. The restoration of stonework, wood panelling, tapestries, flooring and other structures has revealed much about previous generations, as well as how far the skills of masons, joiners, plumbers and weavers changed or remained over centuries.
Restoration of Chatsworth’s artworks has, at times, occupied most of the leading British conservation studios over the past decade. The extremely rare Mortlake Tapestries from the 1630s, based on Renaissance painter Raphael’s cartoons of Arts of the Apostles, represent the birth of the English tapestry industry. Although damaged by atmospheric pollution in the 19th and 20th centuries, they have now undergone significant restoration and will be hung together, covering 54sqm of the walls in the State Drawing Room.
Remodelling of the house has also included the creation of new visitor routes and improved access. The North Sketch Gallery has been made from older, little used rooms. In 2014, in a ground-breaking fusion of art and architecture by Jacob van der Beugel, a representation of the DNA of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and their heirs became part of the fabric of the building. The entire North Sketch Gallery has been lined with handmade ceramic panels, creating an artwork as individual as DNA itself.
Alongside this and other contemporary ceramic artworks, visitors will be able to see archaeological clay finds that have been unearthed during the process of digging new drains, including a rare fragment of the original Tudor house that Bess of Hardwick built.
A special exhibition, running until October 2018 called ‘Chatsworth Renewed’ highlights the work of those involved in the restoration process. From rebuilding the Belvedere turrets to replacing vast tracts of lead on the roof; carving the tiniest details in stone using dentistry tools to replacing huge blocks in the walls; careful restoration of priceless artworks to the renovation of famous water features in the garden; over the last decade Chatsworth has been fully restored and made ready for the next century.
Visitors will be able to hear of the skilled people involved in the project, understand the challenges they met and appreciate the quality of their work. As they peek below floors and behind walls they will be able to shine a light on hidden corners of the house and peel back the layers of craftsmanship and history.