Chatsworth plays to crowds

Pictured are Chatsworth House staff Claire Fowler and James Swinburn in Victorian costume in a recently restored guest bedroom in the house. ''rossparry.co.uk / Glen Minikin
Pictured are Chatsworth House staff Claire Fowler and James Swinburn in Victorian costume in a recently restored guest bedroom in the house. ''rossparry.co.uk / Glen Minikin

HISTORIC Chatsworth is staging its own costume drama as the latest tourist season got under way this week.

Launching the 2011 programme, the Duke of Devonshire claimed that TV hit Downton Abbey had inspired fresh interest in the nation’s grandest stately home.

Now the estate is cashing in on the phenomenon. New this season are guides dressed as ladies’ maids, revealing the secrets behind preparations for a glittering house party.

And visitors can get in on the action too, by dressing up in the costumes of house guests – or even playing the grand piano in the ante library.

Younger guests can turn house detective, exploring a new interactive room packed with conservation clues and restoration riddles.

There are more hands-on activities in the farmyard, where new attractions include a range of musical instruments made from recycled materials, such as a souzaphone made from a cattle grid!

An exhibition about the 6th Duke is another highlight this year – the bicentenary of his succession. This remarkable man was responsible for dramatic changes: not only remodelling a large part of the house, but also bringing in acclaimed gardener Joseph Paxton, who created the Emperor Fountain and the Great Conservatory.

The current Duke and Duchess make their own mark on the new season with Our Favourite Things. This display, in the North Sketch Gallery, features personal treasures such as a New York Giants football given to the Duke, Henry VIII’s boxwood rosary and a silver telephone given by its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.

New artworks on display range from David Hockney’s Le Parc des Sources, Vichy, 1970, to contemporary silverware including some by Sheffield artists.

The house, garden, farmyard and adventure playground are open every day until 23 December. Information and discounts: www.chatsworth.org.