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Midnight Feasts, Boarding School and Chatsworth

I am quite interested in these big old houses – like Chatsworth – and what went on in them. If you are interested in this kinda stuff – and you don’t know this yet – there are some good documentaries on Netflix about them. Just in case you are and didn’t realise that.

Chatsworth has been home to the very well-to-do Cavendish family since 1549 and is currently being restored (pretty freaking amazingly) by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Actually it’s probably always being restored, but the exterior has been the focus of a particularly intensive project recently and it’s come up looking brilliant. And by brilliant I mean brilliant. It’s bling-y and sparkling and gives a much better glimpse at what it might have looked like back in the day. Before it got a bit dusty and bumped up (as we all do!)

Its popped up in films like The Duchess (I LOVE THAT FILM), The Crown, Death Comes to Pemberley and Pride and Prejudice – and was even MENTIONED in the book P&P as one of Mr Darcy’s homes.

Chatsworth painting

In September of 1939, as World World 2 broke out, country estates like Chatsworth were put to good use. They housed troops or evacuees, so the 10th Duke of Devonshire packed up the contents and arranged for schoolgirls to move in (rather than rowdy soldiers).

The girls were from Penrhos College and it seems they got pretty rowdy at times, too.

Not only did they ice skate on Chatsworth’s frozen pond, years after they’d cleared out, chocolate wrappers were found stuffed inside the lining of the priceless tapestries that lined Chatsworth’s opulent State Drawing Room.

During the girls’ time at Chatsworth the masterpiece-lined State Drawing Room served as a dormitory, with little iron beds in rows. (See those here!)

OBVIOUSLY with all those far-from-home kiddos, there were some midnight feasts going on, despite the fact that the girls were meant to have limited sweets because … squabbles. A kind but concerned school principal Miss Smith wrote to parents:

‘I do not at all mind girls having a small amount of sweets bought for them when Parents come over, but I would ask that they should not bring in more than can be kept in a fairly small tin box. I ask this partly again for the sake of equality and partly because if this is not done we get mice in the rooms’. (Read more here)

Via the Chatsworth blog

As many will know two of the tapestries from the State Drawing room are undergoing conservation. What we didn’t expect to find behind them were chocolate wrappers! It was a great surprise to the textile conservators who discovered the two remarkably well preserved Cadbury chocolate bar wrappers inside the linings. They were found low in the border, neatly folded and still brightly coloured. This was a great mystery as the tapestries had not been moved since the 1830’s and all the edges were sealed.

The archivist at the Cadbury museum has dated the wrapper designs to the mid/late 1930’s and my suspicions have turned to mischievous Penrhos College girls who were sleeping in the State Drawing room. The conservators have confirmed that there are some splits higher in the design and it seems most likely that the wrappers were slipped through these splits and over time have slipped and settled behind the border. I like to think that this is the result of a student having to hide the evidence, maybe after an illicit midnight feast? They certainly got away with it as it’s taken around 76 years for their secret to emerge.

Susie Stokoe
Textile Department Supervisor

Brilliant, no? The house is surrounded by amazing historic gardens that must have seen more than their fair share of dalliances and drama. The hidden chocolate wrappers of girls-gone-by is just one teeny charming goings-on.

x Pip


PS: One of the Dukes was married to Deborah Mitford!

PPS: John F Kennedy’s sister Kick married the son of the 10th Duke! Then the son died. And then Kick died too. It’s all very sad.

  • Jennifer
    April 26, 2018 at 12:23 PM

    Such an interesting and fun post, Pip! Thanks for keeping the blog-light shining <3

  • Cat
    April 7, 2018 at 9:51 PM

    Great post Pip, I love the story of the chocolate wrappers! Deborah Mitford was married to the younger brother of Kick Kennedy’s husband – Debo’s husband became the Duke when Kick’s husband died. Kick remarried, but then she AND her new husband were killed together (in a plane crash, I think, very tragic). Deborah and JFK remained very good friends after Kick died, and she attended his inauguration and funeral. (I’ve read pretty much everything by/about all six of the Mitford sisters, they were extradordinary!)

  • Kirsten Burrell
    April 5, 2018 at 5:51 AM

    My family on my father’s side were foresters and woodmen at both Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall going back to the 16th century. I grew up nearby and visited often. Very fond memories!

  • Julie
    April 4, 2018 at 7:04 PM

    My Grandpa was a gamekeeper on the Chatsworth estate and my Mum has happy memories of the childrens Christmas parties up at the big house. They lived in a cottage on the state. Quite the idyllic childhood.

  • Kate
    April 4, 2018 at 6:07 PM

    I dreamt last night about the wrappers in the tapestry. What an amazing story, how exciting to find things like that. It’s often those kind of stories that are the most interesting
    Cheers Kate

  • Emily
    April 4, 2018 at 5:21 PM

    We went to Chatsworth in 2016 and it was the absolute highlight of our English trip! There was also an exhibition on the Mitford sisters while we were there. So much to look at in one house! I’m still poring over the photos in the books I bought there.

  • Michelle
    April 4, 2018 at 8:45 AM

    This possibly has all my favourite things wrapped into one blog post. One blog post title even! I thought Deb Mitford was the Duchess of Devonshire, ( a title I’d quite fancy myself, but I’d add Tea to the end) so I”m quite pleased you mentioned it in your postscript!

    Anyway – thanks so much for telling me about this!! x

  • Tracey
    April 3, 2018 at 10:00 PM

    I loved this, Pip, and I wouldn’t have otherwise known about or stumbled across it. Thanks for as always opening a window to such loveliness.

  • Annamari
    April 3, 2018 at 6:29 PM

    I have visited Chatsworth once and it was so amazing! Beautiful, SO much history, details, stories, so much to see! Also had a wonderful, huge! playarea, or park really, for kids. I would love to go back.

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