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The Duke of Devonshire

PUBLISHED: 01:40 14 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:29 20 February 2013

The Duke of Devonshire

The Duke of Devonshire

The Duke of Devonshire looks back to his part in the Coronation as Jubilee celebrations form a centrepiece of this year's exciting events and exhibitions at Chatsworth. Pat Ashworth reports


Itisnt the grandeur of the Coronation or the prominence of the role he played that His Grace the Duke of Devonshire remembers. It was the fact that he got a full day off school and was allowed the rare luxury of a pocketful of sweets, something that still brings a smile of satisfaction to his face.


e was nine, and the youngest of the pages who followed the Queen and her six Maids of Honour up the long aisle of Westminster Abbey. Strictly speaking, he should have been 12 to be accorded the honour but his grandmother, Mary Devonshire, was Mistress of the Robes to the Queen and was able to persuade the Duke of Norfolk, who ran the whole thing, to bend the rules, he says cheerfully. An older boy had the most difficult task, he remembers: of standing completely by himself and holding the coronets of those, including the Duke of Edinburgh, who went forward in turn to pay obeisance to the new monarch.


he Dukes grandmother had gone forward to help with some part of the service, he remembers, and then had to get back to where she came from. She couldnt turn her back on the Queen, so she had to reverse very difficult with the train, so I had to get underneath it and hold it to get the right tension and walk back with her, he says, adding with a smile, Like playing a salmon she was sort of on the end of my line.


e doesnt recall being at all nervous on the day. There had been five or six rehearsals lovely, because each meant a day away from school, which I hated, he says with feeling. The day necessitated a very early start as the Duke and his parents set off for London, a carriage journey that was not without its hazards, he remembers. They were very good with the horses, but the coachman worked nearby in Matlock and had never been to London, and the postilions the same.


You can imagine, were in a closed coach and you cant talk to the driver all you can do is tap on the window. I dont know whether I remember this or was told it but we got lost behind the old Army and Navy stores in Victoria Street, which wasnt very far away from Westminster but it wouldnt have been great to have to walk, because it was raining. The coach was only designed for two people and when we got out, my sword got caught in the lining of my fathers robes. So all the lining was ripped, which if I had been my father, I would have been absolutely furious but I dont remember him being angry at all.


elp was on hand in the shape of people hovering with needles and thread: just one of the provisions made by the capable Duke of Norfolk, who with rain and robes in mind, had also had the foresight to borrow 300 umbrellas from the Lost Property office at Ascot racecourse. A day that required being in the Abbey by 7am was a long one for a little boy, with a lot of waiting around says the Duke, but the deliciously chocolatey Ovaltine sweets in his pocket eased the strain. Sweets were still rationed. We were allowed one wrapped sweet a week at school, which was very healthy but not nice for children, he says with feeling. The Queen was sitting like this he demonstrates and my grandmother was standing immediately behind her and I was just to the side, so I dont think theres any film of me eating but there is of me yawning, which is not surprising.


he robes worn by the Dukes mother, Deborah Devonshire, had been worn for two or three generations before. The Duke describes them as quite unusual because they are sort of strapless; not low but they showed some skin, which was quite unusual. My mother was young and must have looked quite wonderful. The historic robes will be on show in the Oak Room this summer, for the Jubilee, along with the Dukes pageboy uniform more or less, though weve lost the shoes, he says. I had to wear suspender belt and stockings, which I didnt like very much and thought very odd well, it is odd. I hoped that nobody in school would find out and I dont think they did because I would have been teased. I had to have my shoes made and that was nice because the shoemaker came to school and that meant I missed a lesson, which was wonderful. It was all I could think about, I hated school so much.


he day was fun, he concedes. As the Chatsworth coach approached the Abbey, he remembers seeing the crowds of people who had been sleeping on the pavement. It was raining a little bit and because theyd been waiting a long time, anything that happened was exciting, he says cheerfully. So they were sort of cheering not very wholehearted but sort of ironically, which I think was very nice.


he coach, which was once on permanent display in the Orangery, will be on view in the Painted Hall for the Jubilee. Visitors to Chatsworth on the day itself will be able to watch the events on the big screen, a nice thing for a family to do together if its a lovely day, the Duke suggests. And theres also to be a Fifties street party in the garden, in the shape of 120 metres of trestle table in the middle of the Broad Walk. The more the merrier, he says of the event, which will be in village fte surroundings that embrace traditional attractions like coconut shies and shooting tin cans with corks.


isitors this summer will also be amused and amazed by Lionheart, an enormous lion in crochet that is part of the Arts Council contribution to the cultural Olympiad. Its a great piece of work, says the Duke with enthusiasm of Lionheart, which will arrive at Chatsworth on an enormous trailer and which will go on to Twycross Zoo for the next stage of its UK tour. Pieces by the sculptor, Antony Caro, will also still be on display around the Canal Pond until 1st July, including early steel sculptures, work from the series, Flats, and the more recent Goodwood Steps.


People know our interest in sculpture because weve been doing it so long. It looks wonderful, the Duke says, pleased. From 1st July, therell be a changing selection of the best of Chatsworths Old Master drawings. Theres an Olympic theme in the North Sketch gallery, with some bronzes, old and new, and a showcase of silver and silver gilt; sporting mementos that include a silver medal won in the Sydney games and a gold medal won in the European Games by the Duchesss horse; and pictures of champion horses and gun dogs belonging to the family.


he beautifully refurbished guest rooms are now part of the visitor route, while up in the Green Satin Room, an area where new acquisitions are often on show, there is the unusual sight of some ceramics by the Chinese dissident, Ai Weiwei. Theyre rather interesting, the Duke says. Two pots older than Stonehenge, and hes covered one with whitewash and the other bright mauve and blue. By doing this, hes making a point about how the Chinese government treat Chinese culture, disregarding the old and making it look new, so its quite a strong political point hes making... It actually belongs to my son but he didnt have anywhere to put it. The Green Satin Room, he says, is becoming more and more a learning area We try not to be too bossy on the main route but off the route, we can show people and explain things.


he iconic south and west fronts of the House glow with warmth and shine with brilliant gold after the restoration that was a key element of the Master Plan for Chatsworth. Its wonderful, even on a dull day, the Duke says with pleasure. Scaffolding put the House in shadow throughout the winter months, when closed shutters made the days even shorter. As we move indoors at speed and head for the Library for a photograph, the strains of Moon River on the piano ripple down from the landing, where an appreciative crowd has gathered around the Steinway. The pianist is just a man who drops in every Tuesday for the pleasure of playing the instrument, something illustrative, perhaps, of the light touch that makes a visit to Chatsworth unique.


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