Yes, I know that I have been all about London since I moved here, London, London, London, London this and London that, but today, I spotted a news article that really struck me in a way that I would not have expected; today, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last Mitford sister, Deborah Cavendish, passed away.
This isn’t a grand obituary, or any such thing, it just felt right to whip up a quick post for someone who always seemed to feature somehow in my consciousness, be it a day trip to Chatsworth, a Nancy Mitford novel or a documentary on the Mitford clan. Not to mention, someone who I’ve always envied for their style. Go to Chatsworth, and you will find countless paintings and photographs of the glamorous Duchess, and, later, Dowager Duchess.
Having spent just under four years living in Derbyshire, and before that, eighteen years just one county away in Staffordshire, Chatsworth house – the Cavendish estate – has always struck me as being the most magnificent house in the whole world. I have visted Blenheim and Versailles, and I still prefer Chatsworth. I think that preference is in part down to having spent my childhood reading and re-reading Pride and Prejudice, only to then pick up the remote and watch the BBC series (and later, Joe Wright’s beautiful 2005 version), on repeat. After all, rumour has it that Pemberley was based on Chatsworth, which was visited by Austen. I also think that it’s partly down to a consistent fascination with the famous Mitford sisters.
Can you blame me for having sat up straight and taken notice of them? It’s not every day that you come across a family of sisters as varied as the Mitfords: a novelist, a duchess, a naxi, a fascist, a communist and… Pamela, the one with the quiet life. I have lost count as to how many Mitford books I have read (both those written by Nancy and the numerous biographies and autobiographies, and so it just seems obvious that I would love visiting Chatsworth even more, it being the home of one of the fascinating six sisters, a home which is also one of the most beautiful houses in the country.
Like most of us, I never met the Dowager Duchess, but I saw what she and her husband, and later, her son have done to the estate over the years; the farm shops, the twee little cafes and the produce that lines the shelves of independent shops across the county, all to stop Chatsworth from becoming another National Trust property – not to mention the constantly updated art collection that lines the old walls in a more modernly styled wing of the grand house.
And then of course, as I said before… she was just.. so glamorous!