Exploring the idyllic Chatsworth village of Edensor
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 June 2020
Mike Smith explores the unique and wonderfully idiosyncratic village of Edensor
Beginning life long ago as a scattering of simple cottages between the river Derwent and Chatsworth House, the village was relocated in 1839 and transformed into a wonderful collection of fanciful villas set in a walled enclosure in the beautiful parkland of the Chatsworth Estate.
The first significant alterations to the original village were made in 1762, when the 4th Duke of Devonshire demolished several buildings that were obstructing his view of the ‘natural’ parkland created for him by the famous landscape designer Capability Brown. Seventy years later, the construction of a new turnpike through the estate prompted the 6th Duke to complete the demolition of the rest of the village before rehousing its inhabitants in a new Edensor, which he had decided to build for them on a plot of land sited well away from Chatsworth House.
The story goes that the Duke was shown a portfolio of house plans drawn up by the architect John Robertson and asked to select his preferred design for the houses that would make up his new village. As he was too busy to make a carefully considered choice, the Duke glanced quickly through the various options presented to him and simply ordered one of each. Whether or not this account is true, it is certainly the case that no two houses in Edensor are the same. Some were designed by Robertson himself, whilst many others were the work of the Duke’s talented gardener Joseph Paxton, who came up with his own interpretations of Robertson’s house plans.
In her book Bygone Beeley, Edensor and Pilsley, Edensor resident Diane Naylor, who worked for many years as a photo-librarian at Chatsworth House, gives a fascinating account of the bewildering variety of dwellings in the village. Diane begins her survey with a description of the former Talbot Inn, which was remodelled by Paxton and transformed into a house known these days as the ‘Italian Villa’. With a chalet-style roof projecting above a ‘Juliette balcony’ (as in Romeo and Juliette), this building is the most prominent feature in a row of houses that stand to the left of the entrance to the village. It also masks the rear of an old farmhouse that was suitably ‘Paxtonised’ at its gable-end and now contains the village post office, as well as the very popular Edensor Tea Cottage, which has closed during the lockdown but remains opened for takeaways.
Originally, the post office was located in a gatehouse which stands on the right-hand side of the entrance to the village. This highly unusual building has a prominent battlemented tower attached to a wing with small turrets and a stepped gable. A large house standing immediately beyond the gatehouse also features a tower commonly known as the Norman House, presumably because it has a porch that features a Norman-style round arch. Several delightful villas with idiosyncratic architectural features stand on Edensor Lane, a street that rises gently up the hill beyond the Norman House on its journey from the village to the higher reaches of the Estate.
All these houses feature façades, windows and gables that differ from those on neighbouring properties. Their individuality even extends to the chimneys – as with the houses themselves, no two chimneys are alike. More distinctive dwellings are to be found on Jap Lane. This street runs along the western side of the churchyard and extends from the village green to the former vicarage where Deborah Devonshire, the late Dowager Duchess, lived after her son had taken up residence at Chatsworth House when he became the 12th Duke of Devonshire.
NO PIGS ALLOWED
Just a few years after the new Edensor was built, it was already being thought of as a ‘show village’. Its extravagant villas were celebrated in a book called Sketches from the Picturesque Village of Edensor, published in 1854, and rules were being enforced to preserve the appearance of the settlement as a ‘model village’. According to an account in Deborah Devonshire’s book Round About Chatsworth, high garden walls were constructed to hide the ‘less attractive domestic necessities’, vegetables had to be grown in a designated allotment area and a communal drying area was provided to ensure no washing lines would be seen elsewhere in the village. There was even a rule that ‘no pigs were allowed’.
It might be thought that people lucky enough to live in this lovely settlement will enjoy an idyllic existence, but there is one important catch. As Diane Naylor points out, ‘All the houses were built purely for their external appearance and consequently many of them have an abundance of poky little rooms.’
Most of the houses in Edensor are not only ostentatious in style but are considerably bigger than the type of modest dwellings you would expect to find in a small English village. The church, which has a 1,66ft-high spire, has also been criticised for being too grand for a settlement of this size. However, it could be argued this soaring structure acts as a yardstick that helps reduce the apparent scale of the houses, making them look charming rather than pretentious.
In fact the church, designed by George Gilbert Scott, was an afterthought, having been added a quarter of a century after Paxton and Robertson had built the new Edensor. This new place of worship was a replacement for the original squat-towered church that had occupied the site previously. Its great spire is topped by a golden cockerel weathervane, which can be seen from Chatsworth House on sunny days, when it glistens above the trees.
The church contains an elaborate memorial to Bess of Hardwick’s sons, Henry Cavendish and William Cavendish, the first Earl of Devonshire. It also has a memorial stone to Lord Frederick Cavendish. He was the Chief Secretary for Ireland and was murdered in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in 1882. A glass case contains everlasting flowers sent to Lord Frederick’s funeral by Queen Victoria.
Further significant memorials are situated in the graveyard. They include the grave of Kathleen (‘Kit’) Kennedy, sister of President John F Kennedy and wife of Billy, Marquis of Hartington, who was heir to the Devonshire dukedom. Kathleen died in an air crash in 1948, just four years after her husband was killed in action in the Second World War. Five months before his assassination in 1963, President Kennedy dropped into Chatsworth by helicopter to visit his sister’s grave. When asked for his reaction to the President’s visit, one local resident said, ‘The wind from that machine blew my chickens away and I haven’t seen them since’.
The graveyard also contains the graves of various members of the Devonshire family, but are much less grand than the large tomb dedicated to the family’s famous gardener, Sir Joseph Paxton. As well as designing many of Edensor’s houses, Paxton came up with the idea of confining the new village to an enclosure that is walled and gated.
OUTSIDE THE GATES
When the 6th Duke removed the remnants of the old settlement of Edensor and relocated its inhabitants to this new enclosed village, he spared one house because he did not want to disturb the tenant, Thomas Holmes, who was an old man at the time. His house, known as Park Cottage, still stands in splendid isolation in a walled garden situated in a hollow a few yards away from Edensor.
Another house that is located just outside the enclosed village is the Old English Lodge. Looking like a chocolate-box vision of a Tudor timber-framed cottage, it was actually built in 1837 and acts as a perfect introduction to a unique village where no two houses are alike.