iCHSTM 2013 Programme • Version 5.3.6, 27 July 2013 • ONLINE (includes late changes)
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Chatsworth House excursion
Event code: X231
Thu 25 July, 09:30–17:30

Among the grand stately homes of England, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire has a claim to be the grandest. Home to a powerful social and political dynasty spanning five centuries, it retains spectacular architecture and landscaping and houses a vast collection of artworks and other artefacts. Among these is a crucial connection to the history of science: the library of Henry Cavendish, on some measures the most influential English natural philosopher of his day.

From its beginnings in the 1550s, the house has been in the hands of the Cavendish family. The original Sir William Cavendish (c. 1505-1557) was a courtier who married the well-connected Bess of Hardwick, a Derbyshire native who developed both Chatsworth and nearby Hardwick Hall. Mary, Queen of Scots spent several periods as a guest/prisoner at the house during Bess’s time.

Though the original Tudor Chatsworth was already among the grand projects of its day, it was greatly remodelled and extended under a later William Cavendish (1640-1707), fourth Earl of Devonshire. A strong Whig in politics, Cavendish was prominent in the movement to remove King James II and secure the Protestant succession by any means necessary, including rebellion. After a violent altercation at Court and subsequent trial, he retired to Chatsworth and begin rebuilding in 1687, in expectation of a period of internal exile.

This work had not long been under way, however, when a group including Cavendish successfully engineered the Revolution of 1689. With his chosen man now King as William III, Cavendish – soon promoted to Duke of Devonshire – found himself in the unaccustomed role of loyalist, with opportunities to spend freely on lavish displays of loyalty. The imposing frontages on all sides and the baroque state apartments, intended for a royal visit, date from this period, as does the extraordinary Cascade, an artificial waterfall of stone steps.

Though several of the family were active in natural philosophy, the most influential by far was Henry Cavendish (1731-1810), a grandson of the second Duke, best known today for identifying the ‘inflammable air’ subsequently reinterpreted as hydrogen. Widely reported to be painfully shy and almost reclusive in his personal life, Henry nonetheless carved out a career as one of the most eminent organisers of collaborative scientific enquiry of his day, aided by his early introduction to bodies such as the Royal Society and vast inherited wealth. His work spanned electricity, heat, the composition of water and airs, astronomical and terrestrial surveying, and the famous ‘Cavendish experiment’ using a torsion balance, intended to determine the mass of the Earth.

Though Henry was never a Chatsworth resident, the House is now home to his vast collection of 12 000 books on natural-philosophical subjects. After his death, this collection passed through the family to the sixth Duke (1790-1858), an avid collector who added a full wing to the house and performed extensive renovations to house his mineral specimens, sculptures and books. Chatsworth also holds personal papers of Henry Cavendish including the ‘White Book’, the only known surviving notebook of his chemical and mineralogical studies.

The sixth Duke also comprehensively reshaped the grounds surrounding the House. His gardener, Joseph Paxton, oversaw the re-laying of the gardens and the addition of such spectacular features as the arboretum, rockeries, and the Emperor Fountain, built for an unrealised visit by Tsar Nicholas I: fed by a purpose-built lake on the moors above Chatsworth, its single water jet has on occasion played to a height of 90 metres.

The upkeep of all this grandeur was, of course, fabulously expensive, and the social and economic upheavals of the twentieth century left the traditional pattern of life at Chatsworth entirely unmanageable. Like most surviving stately homes, it now survives primarily as a public visitor attraction. Unlike many similarly grand properties, however, Chatsworth is cared for not by the National Trust, but by a private charitable trust which leases part of the property to the current generation of Cavendishes, who continue to make it their home.

This excursion is only available by prior reservation through the University’s conference services office: please reserve your place at the time of registration, or contact mcc.reg@manchester.ac.uk for further information. There is a charge for this excursion.

This is a full-day trip. Coaches will run from outside University Place directly to Chatsworth, returning in time for the evening reception. A packed lunch is provided and included in the reservation cost.

For more information about Chatsworth today, see the website:  www.chatsworth.org. The Art, library and archives collections pages are useful on the House’s collections, and the Chatsworth Library Project has its own blog.

For the life and work of Henry Cavendish, start with Christa Jungnickel and Russell McCormmach, Cavendish: the Experimental Life (Bucknell University Press, 1999).