Lofty treasures at the Chatsworth attic sale
When the present Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish, inherited Chatsworth five years ago, he found the attics silted up with the accumulation of years – crates of china, glass and silver, tourist souvenirs, sumptuous brocade curtains, lanterns, lacquered screens, rocking horses, train sets, globes, silver spurs, stuffed animals and birds, and much, much more.
‘It was scarcely possible to open doors, let alone to store anything else,’ he says. And so the idea for what Harry Dalmeny, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, calls ‘the greatest attic sale ever held’ was born.
With his help, over 20,000 objects divided into 1,400 lots, many of which are unique art-historical gems, will go under the hammer at Chatsworth this week (5th-7th October). But for the Duke and Duchess, the task of choosing what to sell was not as difficult as it might seem.
‘It wasn’t about what we personally liked or disliked. We chose things there were lots of, and are selling some and keeping some. Like the Victorian truncheons in the sale – we are selling 59 and keeping 18. I hope that will be enough for our future needs,’ says the Duke.
The upper storeys of Chatsworth weren’t the only part of the house overflowing with possessions. Outside, in part of the stable block called ‘the granary’ – a vaulted area, where once the straw and hay for the horses was kept – something even more extraordinary waited. Harry will not forget his first sight of this store.
‘Gleaming in the darkness you could pick out dado rails, vast mahogany doors and their carved frames, gilded panelling and chimney pieces.’
These had come from some of the string of other famous houses that once belonged to the Cavendishes: Bess of Hardwick’s Tudor palace Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire; the impossibly romantic Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire; Lismore Castle in Ireland and, most tantalisingly perhaps, London’s architectural jewels – Devonshire House, Chiswick House and Burlington House. The tastes of the personalities who lived in these houses shine in the objects they bought, adding to their fascination.
‘The Cavendishes always bought what was new and made by the best craftsmen of the time,’ says the Duke, ‘there was nothing pastiche.’