Duke of Devonshire says 'some changes to Chatsworth upset mother':
22nd November 2021

‘Changes to Chatsworth upset my mother greatly’: The Duke of Devonshire says Deborah Mitford considered ‘some’ alterations ‘pretty disloyal’ to her – as he shares secrets of his £32 million revamp

  • The Duke of Devonshire has spent last 10 years transforming Chatsworth House 
  • His mother Deborah Mitford moved out of the house in 2004 as she grew older 
  • Duke explained the transition between devoted custodians came with tensions 
  • Said: ‘I know some of the things we did were regarded as pretty disloyal to her’

The Duke of Devonshire has revealed some of the secrets of his £32 million revamp of Chatsworth House – including how some of his changes ‘upset’ his mother. 

Considered one of England’s grandest stately homes, Chatsworth House recently underwent a 10-year ‘Masterplan’ restoration – which involved it being encased in scaffolding, re-gilding the windows and removing three centuries worth of grime.

Stoker Cavendish, 74, succeeded his father after his death in 2004 and moved into Chatsworth with his wife, Amanda, and their children, while his own mother, Deborah Mitford, moved to a house on the estate. 

Speaking about making changes to the house, made famous as ‘Pemberley’ from the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the Duke confessed it hadn’t always been smooth sailing.

He told The Telegraph: ‘We started making changes quite quickly. Privately my mother wasn’t very comfortable with some of those, but publicly she was fine and that was all one could ask of her. I know that some of the things we did were regarded as pretty disloyal to her.’     

The Duke of Devonshire has revealed some of the secrets of his £32 million revamp of Chatsworth House – including how some of his changes ‘upset’ his mother

Stoker Cavendish, 74, succeeded his father after his death in 2004 and moved into Chatsworth with his wife, Amanda, and their children, while his own mother, Deborah Mitford, moved to a house on the estate (pictured) 

One such change was cutting down an avenue of lime trees which had been planted from the North Gate to the house to celebrate the millennium.

He explained: ‘It was clear to me that the green tunnel they created, though wonderful, missed the point of the park because you couldn’t see it [through them].’

However he ‘upset her greatly’ when he closed the estate’s dairy farm, which he said was ‘losing a lot of money.’

Deborah and her siblings moved in the same circles as Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy and Evelyn Waugh – and even Adolf Hitler – and epitomised a privileged and glamorous aristocratic life that no longer exists.   

 Speaking about making changes to the house, made famous as ‘Pemberley’ from the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the Duke confessed it hadn’t always been smooth sailing

Chatsworth House, which has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549, reopened its doors in 2018 following its biggest restoration project in 200 years. Pictured, some of the sculptures at the stately home

While bringing up their children, the Devonshires were deeply involved in the management and planning of the 17th century stately home and its grounds, which was first opened to the public.

Last of the Mitford sisters the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire who became a savvy businesswoman and was left ‘upset’ by changes her son made to Chatsworth 

Born Deborah Mitford in 1920, she was regarded as a soft-hearted child who was often teased by her siblings.

The Dowager, know as Debo to family and friends, probably led the most normal life out of the famous sisters – Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity and Jessica – who were the It girls of their day.    

None of the girls was sent to school as their father, ‘Farve’, David Freeman-Mitford, later second Baron Redesdale, didn’t think girls needed an education.

Instead they stayed at home in Oxfordshire, first at Asthall Manor and then at Swinbrook House, surrounded by their pets which included a sheep called Miranda, goats, rats, ponies, dogs and snakes, hunting, skating and making up family jokes.

Despite her eccentric upbringing, however, she went on to become highly regarded as a successful, practical and hardworking businesswoman.

In 1941, she married Lord Andrew Cavendish after meeting him at a dinner party in a restaurant off Curzon Street in Mayfair.

Andrew later became the Marquess of Hartington when his older brother was killed in the war in 1944, and later still the 11th Duke when his father died in 1950, and in 1959 they settled on the family’s estate at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

When the Duchess’ husband died in 2004, their son, Peregrine, inherited the Dukedom and she became the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, moving a mile away to the old vicarage at Edensor to give the new Duke and his wife, Amanda, some space. 

It was there that she died in 2014.  

The Duchess took on a major role in running the house and its 105-acre garden, while maintaining its extensive art collection.

She also set up and ran the successful Chatsworth Farm Shop on the estate where she sold local game, meat, eggs, cheese, fruit and vegetables.

Asked about her life on the estate, the Duchess once said: ‘Well, it’s not peaceful and it very often isn’t quiet, but it is my life, my home and my work – everything I want is here.’

The house and garden were built by Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick in 1555. There are 126 rooms. More than 600,000 people a year flock to the historic property in the Peak District.

Chatsworth opens each year from late March through to Christmas and closes in early January. Throughout the makeover period, it remained open to the public, with different sections shut off. 

In 2018, The Daily Mail reported that the renovation was partly carried out because the Duke of Devonshire had no wifi, which in turn triggered the costly refurbishment.

The Duke’s comments come as a new book is released celebrating the completion of the Derbyshire home’s 10-year refurbishment programme. 

Chatsworth, Arcadia, Now tells the story of the extraordinary place through seven scenes from its life, alongside a stunning photographic portrait of the house and its collections, captured at a ‘moment of high optimism in its long history’. 

In a foreword for the book, the owners, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, both 77, say: ‘We lived at Chatsworth throughout the Masterplan, using different rooms as the work progressed. 

‘For two years our bedroom was in the attics; there are eighty-two steps from the ground floor to the top, so it was better not to leave your spectacles upstairs in the morning.’

The facelift of Chatsworth – during which the home was encased in scaffolding, the ‘grime from three centuries’ exposure to the Derbyshire elements was removed from its stone façade’, and the window frames on the South and West Fronts were re-gilded – included the installation of a lift serving all floors. 

‘These building works – the majority of them hidden from sight – were necessary from a physical point of view, so that the fabric and services in most parts of the house are now in better condition than for a very long time,’ said the Duke and Duchess.

‘The work also marked the final part of a gradual alteration in the use and purpose of the house, a change that started after the Second World War, when my parents came to realise that Chatsworth’s future lay more as a tourist destination than as a private house occasionally open to visitors.’


Chatsworth, Arcadia, Now tells the story of the extraordinary place (pictured) – made famous as ‘Pemberley’ from the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – through seven scenes from its life, alongside a stunning photographic portrait of the house and its collections, captured at a ‘moment of high optimism in its long history’

The facelift of Chatsworth – during which the home (pictured is one of its dining rooms) was encased in scaffolding, the ‘grime from three centuries’ exposure to the Derbyshire elements was removed from its stone façade’, and the window frames on the South and West Fronts were re-gilded – included the installation of a lift serving all floors


‘These building works – the majority of them hidden from sight – were necessary from a physical point of view, so that the fabric and services in most parts of the house are now in better condition than for a very long time,’ said the Duke and Duchess. Pictured left, a seating area with a view to outside, and right, the splendid grounds

They added: ‘The overriding impression of Chatsworth is one of peace. The house is entirely benign, the views are wonderfully calm, and a sense of optimism prevails. We are constantly aware of the layers of time and history.’

The makeover results were truly dazzling, not least due to the amount of gold used to ‘bling’ it up; around 1,500 sheets of gold leaf were used for each window frame on the west and south terraces, as well as on roof ornaments, gates and other railings. 

Chatsworth House, which has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549, reopened its doors in 2018 following its biggest restoration project in 200 years.

The 10-year long programme saw ‘priceless’ paintings restored, brickwork scrubbed and turrets rebuilt. Dentistry tools were apparently used to scrape out mortar in between huge blocks in the Derbyshire stately home’s walls.


The 10-year long programme saw ‘priceless’ paintings restored, brickwork scrubbed and turrets rebuilt. Dentistry tools were apparently used to scrape out mortar in between huge blocks in the Derbyshire stately home’s walls. Pictured left, a modern snap of one of the corridors in the building, and right, the stunning outside scenes on the estate

The photographer captured the stunning estate throughout different seasons, with this image showcasing the spectacular grounds in the Peak District covered in fog

Chatsworth (pictured surrounded by its grounds) opens each year from late March through to Christmas and closes in early January. Throughout the makeover period, it remained open to the public, with different sections shut off

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