Tag Archives: Chatsworth

The End of an Era…

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!

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Deborah Devonshire – The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Day 12

Please accept my apologies this is a late post as will be the 13th of Decembers. I need a lovely shiny new laptop to fall out of my advent calendar, or just find one on a pavement whilst walking home, or maybe a Christmas angel could send me one magically…

So for today’s giveaway I wanted to give you a book that I haven’t read yet but will DEFINITELY be curling up with over Christmas and that is Deborah Devonshire’s latest collection of memoirs, essays, ‘occasional writings’ and the like ‘All In One Basket’ which is made up of two of her other works ‘Home To Roost’ and ‘Counting My Chickens’ (so actually I have read some of it but re-reading it will be a joy) and a few lovely extras.

I love Debo’s sense of humour, no matter how wry or how arch it gets – in fact the more the merrier, and as you will know I love all things Mitford sister, of which she is the last. So while I am curled up with it maybe you can be to?

All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me what the best story about a grand old house you have read is (this links in with the fact that Debo writes a lot about Chatsworth, though not in a fictional way) and two of you could be very lucky and have some utter comfort and joy ahead. You have until 11am on the 16th of December. Good luck.

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Wait For Me! – Deborah Devonshire

There are certain books you have high expectations of which fall short of what you hoped for, and then there are those books that utterly exceed what you could ever have wished. ‘Wait for Me!’ the memoirs of Deborah Devonshire nee Mitford, is one of those latter gems. Now before you pass this post thinking ‘well it’s a book about a Mitford Sister, so he’s bound to love it’ I would urge you to read on, especially if you love books about the war, the thirties or the change in the lives of women in the last century, because ‘Wait for Me!’ is an incredible read for so many more reasons than just a love of the Mitford sisters. I wonder how annoyed ‘Debo’ gets at constantly having the words ‘Mitford sister’ attached to her. Anyway, onto the book…

John Murray, memoir, hardback, 2010, 370 pages, a gift and from publisher (one went to my Gran)

A memoir is a very difficult kind of book to surmise and really give impartial thoughts on. Invariably, and in particular in the case of a one such as ‘Wait for Me!’ you are reading the book because it’s someone who you are fascinated by and their life. So I might have to throw impartiality out the window with my thoughts here. Deborah Devonshire is someone I have become particularly interested in over the last few years since reading ‘Letters Between Six Sisters’ and becoming a Mitfordoholic and also since finding out she was the Duchess of Devonshire who made Chatsworth, which was a huge part of my childhood growing up down the road in Matlock Bath, come alive again.

In her open and frank writing, you imagine there is predominantly a sparkle in her eye and a wry smile on her face as she writes (apart from obviously discussing the war, the deaths of some of her children not long after birth and the deaths of her husband and siblings who she has outlived), she takes us through her childhood in the Mitford house, her debutante days in the 1930’s, meetings with Hitler and the Queen (not at the same time), marrying a Duke’s second son, becoming a Duchess and inheriting Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall and huge death duties, to her life as a widow and Dowager Duchess now. This starts from her birth date, a blank date in her mother’s engagements book, on the 31st of March 1920 until very recently – a huge amount of history of which she was in many ways rather privy to. This of course makes fascinating reading to anyone wanting to know British history and I would say easily equals the lives of the Mitford family themselves.

“The 1950s were grim for this country. Rationing did not end until 1954, nine long years after the end of the war, and recovery was painfully slow. In our case it was not recovery but a downward slope we were facing. Many beautiful buildings all over England were being destroyed and supplanted by monsters. No one believed that a house like Chatsworth would ever be wanted again, let alone lived in by the descendants of the family who built it. It was a period of limbo. No major decisions were being taken at Chatsworth but never the less a five-hundred-year legacy was beginning to come undone.”

I could possibly read about the Mitford’s all day long, so that was a huge box ticked for me from the start. What I didn’t expect was to be so enthralled, the way war affected her, the legacies and old laws of great families of society, and how not many years ago young women of the day were brought up to be wives and little more. Well look at all this wife achieved for her family. The times between the World War’s and the time just post WWII are two particular times in history I find fascinating and we get these in abundance, the sense of uncertainty is there on the pages if often with a funny tale thrown in throughout.

There is also a huge emotional pull in this book. The relationships between siblings are wonderfully displayed in terms of both the highs and the lows. There is an honesty from Deborah of how she wished she had known her brother better before he died in the war, how she might have done more after Unity, renowned for being a friend of Hitler, survived after shooting herself in the head when war was declared, and the genuine shock when she learnt her sister Nancy had advised the government to keep her other sister Diana locked up in prison as a danger to the country for her political views. There is the completely bare heartbreak of having children prematurely and their deaths. There is also the hardship of living with and loving someone who is an alcoholic, as her husband Andrew became, how you deal with that and how in old age they spend their time feeling they don’t want to live anymore. It is honestly incredible.

I think what makes this ever more impressive and ‘readable’ is all down to Deborah Devonshire’s voice and narrative through the book – its like talking to a very wise friend who is imparting gems of history, advice and knowledge onto you. You could actually be sat with her, the voice rings so true. I am also amazed she never wrote fiction, the atmosphere and sense of place be you in a derelict Chatsworth, Hitler’s lounge, London during the Blitz, visiting Buckingham Palace or the countryside in the 1920’s just comes out the pages seemingly effortlessly and often with much humour.

“Swinbrook village and its inhabitants seemed eternal. Winnie Crook, whose initials gave us such pleasure, ran the post office. She served a tuppence-worth of acid drops in a twist of paper, weighed on the same brass scales as the letters. Our other delights were Fry’s peppermint cream, which broke off into conveniently sized bits, and good old Cadbury’s tuppenny bars. I do not know if she sold anything more expensive but these were what we could afford. There was the village idiot who chased Nancy and no one thought anything of it, Mrs Price, who lived up the bank and was nearly a hundred years old, and at the Mill Cottage, Mrs Phelps whom Farve mistook for a heifer calf when she was bent over weeding her garden.”

I could ramble on about how much I loved this book for hours and hours. I could happily in fact just quote the whole thing. Instead though I shall simply say read it (and you can win a copy here), read it as soon as you can. Be you a lover of history, of the Mitford’s it’s a book for you, and those of you who think ‘oh no, not my cup of tea’ I dare you to give it a go and not come back converted and a possible Mitfordoholic too. Easily one of my favourite reads of this year, and one I have had to read on and off to prolong the enjoyment, I was very sad when I turned the final page.

P.S My only criticism of this book is the covers of both the UK hardback and paperback. The American one is rightly glamorous and less like the memoirs of an older lady who might be a bit eccentric with her chickens or her dog! It doesn’t show really what the book is truly about. Small issue, but needed to mention it.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Deborah Devonshire, John Murray Publishers, Non Fiction, Review

A Trip To Gran’s… Do Come Along

I know a lot of you like all things Granny Savidge Reads and so I thought I would do a little report back from the trip that myself and The Converted One went on two weekends ago back to my homeland of the Derbyshire Dales. I have already shared a trip we took to Scarthin Books which deserved its own post and so I thought I would share some more pictures of both the peaks, my past, more books (Persephone ones, really old ones and damaged ones – the latter caused me real horror) and lost of other bits and bobs – including a charity that I would love you all to have a look into.

So on the Saturday morning we left the grey skies of London for what I assumed would be the even greyer skies of ‘oop north’. However it would appear I was very wrong as the further north we got the sunnier it became.

First up was an early lunch both preceeded and followed by tea and coffee. This provided the perfect picture for any of you who love Persephone books as Gran had hers placed rather delightfully on a tray with some rather wonderful china.

It was soon off to Matlock Bath for a wander down the promenade and over the wonderful old Victorian Jubilee Bridge (you know how I love my Victoriana)

This takes you across the River Derwent to a land of rather marvellous grottos, fountains and fantastic views from which you can see my old house (where I lived with my grandparents for half of every year growing up) in the distance below The Heights of Abraham.

 

Here’s a close up of that very house, the one I have sworn I will buy back one day.

We were in Matlock Bath both for a bit of nostalgia and to go to an event organised to ‘Save the Pavilion’ (or the Pav as we call it) and celebrate its 100th Birthday it is a rather historical old building on the main promenade. It’s a place that means a lot to me personally as my Mum and Dad actually met at a school disco in the dome on the roof. They had allsorts going on including a Punch and Judy show which had The Converted One in awe and I let Gran explain.

 

It was actually a ‘typically British fate’ with both a wonderful band…

And a Women’s Institute charity book store of delightful old (and rather saucy if you look at the picture in detail) books, I had a rather longing look and had to move away swiftly.

Soon it was time to dash back for more tea and cake with my aunty and cousins back over the hills and in Gran’s rather wonderful garden before dinner, it was a real treat to sit, drink and natter outside over that view.

Later on we went through the family albums and I found this rather wonderful picture of my Gran as a little girl in her nursery which I just love, I am going to have to get it blown up and framed for one of my walls.

Next day after visiting my Dad’s parents who I hadn’t seen for five years and who hadn’t yet met The Converted One we headed to the grandeur of Chatsworth and its wonderful park land.

After a nice cream tea we toured the village of Edensor where the Dowager Duchess and last surviving Mitford sister Deborah lives where I found a house that I desperately wanted, I have a thing about turrets and could be ‘Debo’s’ neighbour.

Then it was all too soon time to go home which was rather a fraught journey as we almost had a fight with a man who was sat in our booked seats. Then, if that wasn’t stressful enough, a woman sat with this opposite me…

I could almost hear the book and its pain. However my distressed spirits at both that poor book and the fact I wanted to stay up north longer were somewhat eased when I found two gifts on the bed from that book stall I mentioned above I had no idea I had been bought! (Village Tales by Miss Mitford and The Lamplighter by Miss Cummins – anyone read either of these?)

So hopefully that hasn’t bored you all silly and you have enjoyed that little tour of a small part of Derbyshire. Do these break in bookish posts appeal to you all now and again? Should I be sharing little bits of my non bookish life with you now and again? Let me know as I don’t know if I share too much, not enough or just about right! Have you had any nice trips lately?

You can find out more about the great cause of ‘Save The Pavilion’ and watch a marvellous video about Matlock Bath and the Pav here. Do pop by!

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Counting My Chickens – Deborah Devonshire

I thought as I am in the delightful Derbyshire for a long weekend and having Chatsworth House just down the road ‘Counting My Chickens’ by Deborah Devonshire would be the perfect post to have up on the blog and be a delightful read in the lead up to going and get me in the mood to be back in my homeland. Not that Chatsworth is my home, I wish, but the area surrounding it was a huge part of my childhood. Throw in the fact that Deborah Devonshire is one of the Mitford sisters, who I adore reading and reading about, what could make a more perfect Sunday recommendation?

I knew nothing of the Mitford sisters, especially not that one lived so nearby my family home, until I read ‘The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters’ a few years ago which swiftly became one of my all time favourite reads. Deborah Devonshire, or ‘Debo’, is the youngest and last surviving of the Mitford sisters and was also one of the people responsible for turning Chatsworth into the stately success that it has become. In an assorted collection of articles, diaries and reviews we gain a greater in sight into her life. From here childhood with her siblings, to taking on Chatsworth and all it entails and to how live has changed for her over the years (I wanted to say as she aged but I fear it would be improper with a Mitford sister and rather impolite).

“I have reached the stage in life when I wake up earlier and earlier in the mornings. The wait till breakfast time has forced me to put a kettle and a toaster in my room, so I can help myself to their merciful productions whenever I like. I advise all early wakers who have fallen for this plan to buy a clock with a minute and second hand of immediately recognisable lengths, or you may have my disappointing experience of last week. Waking at 6 a.m., I made and ate my breakfast, only to discover that the clocks similar looking hands had played a trick on me, and it was in fact only 12.30 a.m. Too early even for me, but too late to pretend I hadn’t had breakfast.”

There are three sections to the collection; ‘Diaries’ looks at her life over several years and has titbits on her sisters and other famous relatives, her thoughts on the TV version of ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ are interesting and thought provoking. ‘Chatsworth’ looks at how the estate has changed over the years, the responsibilities of it and how much she adores the place and the staff it has housed who have become friends. ‘Books and Company’ is a selection of reviews of books by those she knows or those in the ‘stately home’ genre plus more of a look back on her childhood.

I loved all the sections but it was ‘Chatsworth’ that sang out to me, probably because I was one of the youngsters that used to play in the parkland way back when. It really evokes the atmosphere and scenery of that beautiful part of the English countryside. In fact if you love books that are quintessentially English you need go no further than this or indeed any other Mitford memoir. Like her sister Nancy (I have yet to read anything by Jessica) Deborah Devonshire has a way of phrasing things which is sardonic and wry yet delightful and warming. I wonder if it was in their gene pool.

“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.”

I really loved this book, I will admit the bits on gardening passed me by a little, and the rest was just a pure pleasure from start to finish. It simply makes me think I must read more Mitford both fiction and non because time spent reading them is ‘wondair, do admit’!

A book that will: be a must read for Mitford lovers old and new, anyone who loves things that are typically British and who likes narration that’s wry and has an occasional raised eyebrow. 9/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley – I think it could be the best collection of letters ever. Told over a huge expanse of British history you are given an insight quite unlike any other, you’ll be hard pressed to put it down.
In The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford – which had me laughing out loud in bed one evening to the point that I was in tears.

Which other Mitford books can you recommend? Have you yet to try one? Have you been to Chatsworth? What other quintessentially English books can you think of?

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