Exploring the Chatsworth Estate villages of Beeley, Calton Lees, Edensor and Pilsley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:10 19 February 2019
The 12,000 acres of parkland surrounding Chatsworth House is dotted with cottages that are some of the most quirky and picturesque examples of ‘gingerbread architecture’ in the country. Visitors who come to experience this old-world charm now have the added bonus of finding up-to-the-minute facilities in the villages of the estate for eating, drinking, shopping and viewing fine art.
The pretty stone-built village of Beeley is located at the southern entrance to the Chatsworth Estate. Its popular inn, the Devonshire Arms, originated in 1741 as a combination of three adjoining cottages and developed into a busy coaching stop on the route between Bakewell and Matlock. There is evidence to show that Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor to the inn and it is said that Edward VII met his mistress, Alice Keppel, there on a number of occasions.
With worn flagstones, large open fires and original black beams, the bar areas are the epitome of old-word charm. By way of contrast, a restaurant, built as a modern extension to the original inn, is a brightly-lit space with up-to-the-minute décor and seating for 50 people. As Jill Clempner, one of the managers at the Devonshire Arms, said, ‘I always think that leaving the small rooms in the old part of the inn and moving into the restaurant is like emerging from a Tardis and stepping into another world.’
The Devonshire Arms has 18 hotel bedrooms, all individually styled by the Duchess of Devonshire in contemporary fashion and decorated with modern paintings. Four of the bedrooms are located in the inn but the others are found close by in converted cottages. Six of the rooms are in Dove Cottage, a very distinctive Y-shaped building that was formerly known as the Paxton Cottages, even though the architect was G H Stokes, who married one of Paxton’s daughters. However, Jill Clempner knows Dove Cottage by a third name. She says, ‘All the staff who work here call it the Gingerbread House.’
Another eating place with contemporary décor is a gallery, café and bistro housed in Beeley’s former smithy, where the pictures on the walls are colourful examples of ‘fused-glass’ art. Sarah and Stuart Yates took over the running of the café in 2016 and subsequently they also took on the management of the tearooms in the nearby village of Edensor. Stuart said. ‘All our food is homemade and our cafés are dog-friendly.’
In the 18th century, the fourth Duke of Devonshire decided to clear away all those buildings in the village of Edensor that interrupted his view over the parkland surrounding his palatial country seat, with the clearances being completed by the fifth Duke. When the sixth Duke removed some further dwellings that stood in the way of a new road he was constructing through the estate, he asked his head gardener, Joseph Paxton, and the Derby architect, John Robertson, to construct a brand-new village for all the displaced inhabitants. The story goes that Robertson arrived at Chatsworth with a pattern book containing samples of his house designs. Because the Duke was too busy on that particular day to look through all the options, he simply ordered one of each.
Although this story may be apocryphal, no two houses in Edensor are the same. The styles employed include Romanesque, Renaissance and Italianate. There is even one dwelling just inside the walled perimeter of the village that takes the form of a castellated tower house. The scale of Robertson’s grand villas was rather overbearing until George Gilbert Scott designed a new village church with a 166-ft spire which acts as a yardstick that makes the villas look charming rather than pretentious. The only building allowed to remain in the plot identified for the new settlement was an old farmhouse, which became the village post office and has now been converted into the Edensor Tea Cottage and Licensed Café. The tea cottage is open daily throughout the year and serves breakfast, morning coffee, lunch and traditional afternoon tea with home-made scones.
One building that survived the demolition of the original village is the former gardener’s cottage, which hides in a dip outside the walls of the new Edensor. Although it is usually thought that the building was spared because it could not be seen from Chatsworth House, Diane Naylor, who has written a detailed history of the estate villages, believes that it was saved because the Duke did not want to disturb the occupant, who was suffering from typhoid fever. The Gardener’s Cottage is now a holiday-let.
Another dwelling that stands just outside the walls of Edensor is a charming cottage designed in the style of a Tudor lodge by Jeffry Wyatville. Robertson was so impressed by the appearance of this house that he sent the plans and drawings of the lodge to the publishers of John Claudius Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture, who were about to produce a second edition. They duly added the lodge to the collection of chocolate-box cottages in the classic book.
The number of old-world cottages in the village of Pilsley is exceeded by newer dwellings built to accommodate people displaced when the Chatsworth estate office was moved from Chesterfield in the 1950s. Pilsley is a fully-functioning village, with a primary school designed by Paxton, a shop-cum-post office with an adjacent holiday-let and a popular 300-year-old inn. Like the hostelry in Beeley, the inn is known as the Devonshire Arms and offers accommodation in 13 stylish, well-appointed rooms and serves locally-sourced food and ales from local breweries. And there is one street in the village that still has an old-world look about it. This is Duck Row, a terrace of 18th-century dwellings set above a small green with a red telephone box.
The buildings located close to the southern entrance to the village were commissioned in 1910 by the ninth Duke of Devonshire to house his shire horses. They now accommodate the Chatsworth Estate Farm Shop, established in 1977 as one of the first farm shops in England. More than half the products on sale are either produced or prepared on the estate. The baked goods are made on site and the home-produced meat includes beef, lamb, venison and pheasant. Many of the fruit and vegetables come from Derbyshire growers and the fresh fish is from British waters.
The delicatessen has traditional pastries, cooked meats, pâté, a large vegetarian selection, an olive bar and 104 different cheeses. And the adjacent café has sweeping views stretching towards the tower of Edensor church, which protrudes from the fields like a rocket on its launch pad.
Former farm buildings on the other side of the village now accommodate offices and shops. The Alexandra Anne Bridal Boutique has a stunning collection of hand-picked couture wedding dresses. Alex Sheldon of Penrose Interiors sells luxury home furnishings, with quality sofas, chairs, lighting, pictures and mirrors being displayed alongside curtains, wallpapers and upholstery fabrics. Gallery-owner Richard Whittlestone, who was brought up on a farm where he gained his encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife and discovered he had a talent for depicting it on canvas, has made his living entirely from painting wildlife and landscapes for 31 years. The lane leading away from these three modern-day shopping attractions terminates at a junction overlooked by a thatched cottage – one final example of old-world charm.
The tiny hamlet of Calton Lees is hidden away in the south-west corner of the estate where the public road comes to an end and gives way to a private track leading to the Russian House. This quirky building, made available by the Chatsworth Estate as a holiday-let, is closely based on a model of a Russian farmhouse sent to the sixth Duke of Devonshire by the brother of Tsar Nicholas I.
Buildings located immediately before the entrance to Calton Lees house the Chatsworth Garden Centre and The Vines Restaurant. The centre has an impressive choice of plants, gifts and a wide range of products for the home and garden, and the restaurant has a lunchtime carvery, serves full English breakfasts and offers home-made cakes, snacks and refreshments.