Just when you think that there is nothing left to mine in the Mitford archives, they find another 6,000 letters and another Mitford book comes along. They were awful people, fascists to stalinists, privileged and offensive, they all wrote effusively and were very funny. Deborah, the youngest of the Mitfords married the Earl of Devonshire in 1941. I visited Chatsworth in 1986 or so, shortly after it had been made a charitable trust (I find) endowed by the sale of a zillion old masters.
Memorable was a hothouse – a long, double brick wall with fireplaces in it, fed from the back (above, in the foreground). The front was, in profile, a glasshouse by Paxton with espaliered apricot trees pinned to the south facing brick wall. It was elegant, quite minimal and full of beautiful fruiting plants.
The visiting of these 17th and 18th century country houses is in a way a rite of passage for a certain kind of architect. Chatsworth the house was not as memorable as Blenheim which had a most wonderful library – a tall long room, one side wire-fronted book cabinets, the other side windows, in between a universe of big chairs, a piano covered with silver framed photos, apricot and blue persian carpets, slightly unkempt parterres outside the windows. It was a most perfect room for so many reasons. I have no photo of it, for in those days as a student we carried notebooks not cameras. And I think because of this, it remains so potent in my memory.
Google images being what it is, there are plenty of photos of Blenheim and Chatsworth on the web, none I can recognise. It is interesting though that both the library and the stove (a curious term that refers to this long, one-sided, heated hothouse) are similar in section: a thick back wall and a glass front. It is a profile familiar to any sort of energy-conserving house, but never as romantic as when it was done in the 18th century.