Chatsworth House Style - Part 1 - Corsets, Christian Dior & the Cavendishes July 08 2018, 0 Comments

I visited Chatsworth 'House Style' exhibition back in October last year, with every intention then of gathering together some interesting (and quirky) facts, and photos of luscious lace and such like in order to share it with like-minded Ava customers on our blog.  Apologies that it's taken me until now to get to it, lingerie patterns, teaching and life got in the way! 

However, finally here it is for your amusement, hope you enjoy it...

As it turned out there was quite a lot to cover so I've decided to split the post into two more parts - Part 1 covers: lace, embroidery and detail from other selected fineries, along with the interesting and romantic history of some famous American women who made Chatsworth their home...

Chatsworth House is the seat of the aristocratic Cavendish family in Derbyshire.  Perhaps you have seen or are aware of Chatsworth from the 2008 movie 'The Duchess', which is all about the life of the Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, a renowned wit, beauty and fashion leader of her era.


Chatsworth House today [taken from the gardens behind the house]


Chatsworth House and it's estate are very close to where I grew up and so we locals have always tended to see it as part of our 'manor' fostering some sense of belonging to and fondness for the open parklands - an essential part of any Summer is swimming in the river in the park usually fully dressed!  As such I couldn't pass up the opportunity to combine a visit to their fashion focused exhibition and rediscover Chatsworth through the lens of style.


Chatsworth House's Parkland in Spring

Chatsworth House's Parkland in Spring


Fineries and fripperies...

The first treasure I spotted to share with you is the beautiful and rare (there aren't many extant examples from this era) example of 17th Century point de neige lace.  Rather romantically, 'neige' being the French word for snow, it is so named due to the work's resemblance to snowflakes. According to the label with it, Duchess Evelyn (the family have been based here for hundreds of years, so there have been quite a few Duchesses) used some of this to make an 'underdress' which was worn to the coronation of George 5th.


Point de Neige Needlelace

Venetian Point de Neige Needlelace - c.1650


Being pedantic [or to put it more kindly, you could say 'detail-orientated'] as I am, I had better mention that calling it lace is a somewhat misleading because it is in fact a form of needlelace embroidery and not bobbin lace - i.e embroidery intended to resemble lace.  Nonetheless, it was wondrous to behold at close quarters and amazing that they should possess such a large piece of it in such excellent condition after over 350+ years since it was created.  Having done a little needlelace in my time I can really appreciate the time and precision that has gone into this.  This type of lace was worn as lappets, collars, cuffs and such like as a statement of wealth (as you had to be wealthy to afford it) from the era of 1650-1710.

Next thing I spotted was an attractive bit of goldwork embroidery, in a dramatic unfurling fern motif.  Goldwork is a traditional form of embroidery often used on banners and military uniforms, it uses very fine strips of gold wrapped around a core to create the gold thread - so gold doesn't in this case just describe the colour it actually IS gold.  High status British military dress uniforms are still embroidered to this day using the same technique.


Goldwork embroidery
Detail from Footman’s livery


The goldwork embroidery adorned the livery of the footmen of Chatsworth House. This elaborate 17th Century style uniform, consisted of a frock coat, knee breeches, white silk stockings.  White powdered wigs were even worn for any house parties of more than 6 guests up until 1924. The rest of the livery remained in use until as late as 1938.  Apparently appearances were really important when hiring footmen, so it is reported that taller footmen earned higher wages!

After that my eye was next drawn to these delightful gloves, which apparently belonged to Lady Burlington.  Nowadays we have a tendency to ascribe everything ivory as being bridal (you will observe this should you ever be perusing antique lace being sold today), however I think it's likely these were in fact not bridal but evening gloves.  They are made from kid leather with satin rosette bows and silk tulle frills.


Silk tulle satin gloves
Lady Burlington's kid gloves, c.1830


Another evocative (you can't help but wonder what the evening engagements to which these two pieces were worn must have been like) piece, also from the Victorian era but some 60 years later, and which was curated right beside the gloves, was Duchess Louise's evening bag, which you will notice features an elaborate monogram of a intertwining letters L and D (D representing Devonshire and not Duchess of course).


Silk satin lace beaded sequins evening bag

Duchess Louise's evening bag, c.1890


This sumptuous bag is made from a silk satin ground, embellished with couched bullion, tiny sequins and paste stones, it has a gathered lace flounce at the top and glorious antique gold coloured ribbon ties at the sides of the opening.  I particularly love the paste teardrops used as small weights/detailing at the ends of the lace and the use of paste stones in the coronet motif above the monogram.

Dog in a hat - provenance uncertain!

I would like to to intercede here, somewhat randomly, with a picture of a dog in a sailor's hat! - sorry I neglected to take notes on what this photo was about (his name may or may not be Peregrine from the year 1952 - but I’m not 100% on you think he looks like a ‘Peregrine’??!...I digress…), but it is safe to assume it was a family dog, anyway the dog happily sporting his hat just made me chuckle, so I'm throwing that in here - let's face it who doesn't love a vintage dog in a Sailor’s hat…


Dog in a Sailor's hat

Vintage Cavendish family dog in Sailor's hat

Famous Americans who married into the Devonshire family.

At Ava we have a lot of loyal American customers, so partly with you guys in mind, I thought it would be noteworthy to mention these two ladies who both came from the USA and married into the Devonshire family.

Firstly on the left below, we have Adele Cavendish (1896-1981) - née Astaire - Adele was actually Fred Astaire’s older sister.  She had been Fred’s dance partner (before the days of his partnering with Ginger Rogers) and also a singer and actress in her own right.  She was regarded by contemporary critics as the more talented dancer of the pair and even Fred himself said that Adele was: ‘the real dancer in the family’, despite a long career sadly there’s no known extant footage of Adele dancing for us to enjoy.  I’m so curious to wonder what she must have looked like dancing, sounds like she must have been phenomenal and that’s quite something to have given up for love.


Adele Astaire, Kick Kennedy & Kick Kennedy's gravestone at Edensor


However that’s exactly what she did, in 1932 she gave up the stage in favour of love when she married Lord Charles Cavendish.  They lived together in a castle in Ireland. Who knows had she not married this English Lord then perhaps movie history would have been different, maybe we would have never had the chance to witness the outstanding dance partnership of Rogers and Astaire!


Fred and Adele Astaire Vintage Dancers

Fred and Adele Astaire, photographer unknown


In the centre above it is Kathleen Cavendish (1920-1948) - née Kennedy - here pictured on her wedding day, and yes she was from THAT Kennedy family.  She was known as ‘Kick’ rather Kathleen.  John F. Kennedy was her older brother and they were reportedly very close.  Although at one stage she dated David Rockefeller, time spent in England studying and socialising (due to her Father being US Ambassador in London) made her become very fond of the country.  When the Second World War broke out her father sent all the family back to the US, presumably for safety, with only himself remaining behind in London. Kick wasn’t happy about this and eventually found a way to return to England via her work with the Red Cross, where she eventually met, began dating and eventually married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington.  Although he was the heir apparent to the 10th Duke of Devonshire, he was never to fulfill his birthright in becoming Duke himself.


Kick Kennedy Vintage World War Two Uniform

Kick Kennedy during World War II 

[Photograph Getty Images, via]


Kick’s story is somewhat tragic as sadly, after having only had the opportunity to enjoy 5 weeks together prior to his being sent away to fight in France, and only 4 months after they had married, he was shot and killed during battle.  Subsequent to that she was rumoured to be ‘involved’ with the 8th Earl Lord Fitzwilliam, at the time they initially got together he was in the process of divorcing his wife and her mother Rose Kennedy did not approve of him, to the extent that she threatened Kick with being disowned from the family.  On th May 1948, the couple were flying on their way to a vacation on the French Riviera when their little plane encountered colossal turbulence (throwing the plane up and down 1000’s feet!), tragically when their plane came out of and the clouds it was in a dive from which it would be impossible to recover.  Both Kick and the Earl died. Her Mother, true to her word did not attend her funeral, in fact only her father attended from the Kennedy family. Although, Jack Kennedy did visit at a later date, this was not until 1963, he was US President at the time and the plaque at the bottom of the grave (see photo above right - I took this photo when visiting Edensor a couple of years ago - there is a nice cafe and pleasant walks you can go on around there) was laid to commemorate his visit - the inscription on the stone plaque poignantly reads: ‘Joy she gave. joy she has found.’  

To my understanding the Devonshire family were fond of Kick and did not disown her like her own Mother effectively had in the end, hence why her grave can be found in the graveyard at St. Peter’s Church in Edensor.  Edensor is a picturesque village set within grounds of Chatsworth House (the current Duke still owns the majority of Edensor). It was sad that the lively vivacious Kick only lived to be 28, however, she lived her life relatively independently for a woman (even for wealthy women this was not commonly the case and she was threatened with having the family money cut off when she dated the Earl) of the time, making her own choices about her career, romances and even what country she lived in.



If you enjoyed this post, then check out Part 2 *coming soon* gives you a guided tour though: the stunning chapel Bridal display, stays, corsets and women of influence.

All photographs taken by the author - Elyzzabeth A. Beswick, unless otherwise stated.