PEAKS CHIEF: Chatsworth Dowager made Derbyshire tourism among best in world

Jim Dixon chief executive of the Peak District National Park Authority

Jim Dixon chief executive of the Peak District National Park Authority

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It’s difficult to overstate the impact that Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire had on Derbyshire.

Chatsworth is the nation’s pre-eminent country house. It attracts visitors from Britain and the world, leaving them with a favourable impression of our county and our country. Hundreds of local people, young and old are employed in the house, restaurants and shops. In the local economy, plumbers, builders, bakers and other trades win valuable business from the estate.

It’s easy to imagine what might have happened if the young Andrew Cavendish, who was to inherit the estate on the death of his older brother, had not fallen in love with the youngest Mitford sister, Debo.

Undoubtedly, their lifelong partnership was a remarkable one which saw the rescue of Chatsworth from disrepair and huge death duties and its transformation to the great centre of art, literature, heritage, commerce and tourism that it is today.

At the age of 6, Debo’s mother, ‘Muv’, gave her chickens as a present and she learned how to sell the eggs to estate staff.

On family holidays in Scotland, she began a life’s interest in farming and she was smitten by her father’s love of country sports. Her ability to value practical tasks in the countryside and to listen to the stockmen, shepherds, stable boys and keepers was the key to her success at Chatsworth.

Debo’s vision was to open the house. In a wholly new departure for the aristocracy, she knew she had to sell to her guests to pay the bills.

This was done on her terms. There were to be no plastic forks and chips in her restaurants. The food sold in the shops and restaurants would, as much as possible, be the results of the labours of the estate farmers who she so admired. The Duchess set a tone and a standard which today sets the visitor experience at Chatsworth apart from other stately homes.

It places our tourism economy on a par with the best in the World.

Our thoughts are with the Duke and Duchess, their family and all associated with Chatsworth who today mourn a remarkable woman.