On Wednesday we learned the sad news that Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, had passed away. As the last of the Mitford sisters, who you all probably know I am a huge fan of, for me it seemed like a particular part of history had died out.
I don’t really want to say lots about it, partly as I don’t feel qualified to sing her praises enough and partly as I never knew or even met Deborah Devonshire in the flesh. Yet through her wonderful writing both to her sisters and in the diaries, memoirs and essays she kept, I did feel like I would have loved to sit and have a gossip and a chat with her, I think wicked laughter would have ensued as her wit, like all the Mitford sisters, was wondair. The hours spent reading those has been a joy so I am hugely thankful for that, and the reading I still have to come.
I also have her to thank for all the wonderful times I had playing in Chatsworth as a child, when I wouldn’t have know her from Adam if I has passed her in a field, which apparently Gran once did and had a lovely chat with her. Yet she turned what was a dilapidated and run down building into a place of wonder which benefitted tourists from miles around but just as importantly locals both in trade and in wonderful summers spent within its acres. Though this leads me to my favourite Deborah quote…
“Thousands of people come to walk in the park at Chatsworth all year round. There is no way of telling how many, because it is free. Most people enjoy it, or presumably they wouldn’t come, but every now and again a letter of criticism arrives.
Last week a woman wrote to say she was ‘disgusted by the animal faeces on the grass, every few feet’ and that she and her grandchildren couldn’t play ball games in case of stepping on them. Oh dear. I suppose she wants us to buy a giant Hoover to attach to the JCB and sweep 1,000 acres of well-stocked ground before breakfast in case she gets her new shoes dirty. Sorry, Madam, but you had better go and find some municipally mown grass where your unhappy grandchildren can play their clinically clean games without the fear of stepping on the unspeakable. What a frightful grandmother you must be.”
That gives you just a taste of what wonderful company she must have been and indeed what a wonderful woman she was. If you haven’t read her I would urge you to try Wait for Me or Counting My Chickens, I will be getting All in One Basket off the shelves once back from London. And you must, must read The Mitfords; Letters Between Six Sisters if you haven’t. It is like a history of the UK since the early 1900’s, told with wit and incredible insight both from the sisters perspectives and places in society. In fact go and get it now! It is wonderful that we have the words and works of Deborah and her five sisters; Pamela, Unity, Nancy, Diana and Jessica, do admit!