We hadn’t seen each other for some time, so all we wanted was a nice day out together. Hannah, my 20 year old daughter, suggested we went to Chatsworth.
I was amazed. It seems only yesterday that she was a stroppy teenager with several awards for ‘attitude’ who wouldn’t and couldn’t be dragged to a cultural or heritage site. Everything changes – now she is a rather sophisticated designer working in fashion jewelry promotion.
I still had no idea what Hannah would like or dislike in a stately home. I was slightly nervous, but fascinated to find out. And me? I really didn’t care what we did. I was just thrilled to be spending quality time just the two of us.
“We can pretend we are in Downton Abbey‘ she said, refering to a strong shared interest. We giggled.
She suggested we went into the house which I hadn’t done for years. Not since a rather unsatisfactory visit on a very rainy day when all I remember are the crowds and the opulence.
I should explain two things about Chatsworth: it is one of the most successful heritage attraction businesses that I know and it is part of our family life.
Chatsworth offers something for everyone. You can walk in the parkland and picnic for the cost of a car parking ticket – and that’s lovely. The farmyard is a brilliant visit for families, as is the Adventure playground. The gardens are beautiful and under the present owners, who collect contemporary art, often contains high class sculpture exhibitions. There’s a farm shop and a great garden centre too.
So, many reasons to visit Chatsworth, and to keep coming back, with new reasons each year. There is a lot to respect and learn from in how this business works.
Meanwhile, back to me and Hannah on our day out. I guessed, I am sure rightly, that this was not a day for audio tours, or even a guidebook so we went in without either. I started to watch Hannah.
She used her camera phone constantly. She photographed what seemed to me to be to a carefully, albeit rapidly, chosen, eclectic selection of objects. Some we talked about in a ‘oh, that’s nice‘, or ‘OMG, how disgusting‘ (the Damian Hurst) sort of way.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to pick up the laminated sheets in the corner of the room and read the notes on the pieces we commented on. Sometimes I read quietly to myself, sometimes I read it out loud. I don’t think that information added anything to Hannah’s visit. It may have been an interruption. She was busy – looking, photographing, a designer building a portfolio of ideas, squirrelling away the richness of the place.
She went through faster, but I felt with a surer, more confident eye than me.
I was “I wonder what that is?’. She was “Doesn’t matter, it’s lovely.” Two contrasting approaches to a visit.
Other visits were going on around us. Some people were attracted more by vistas, the whole room, rather than Hannah’s eye for the detail. One man interrogated a room stewart about the role of the Cavendish family in perpetuating poverty and social inequality. Another played every piano in the building (very well and to the delight of other visitors). I wasn’t working so I tried not to notice (but clearly failed).
Both Hannah and I came away from the house with a theme, a big, organising, idea about the visit. Mine was how having the very contemporary art in the house alongside and mixed among the art collected over three centuries, was great way to demonstrate how generations of a family add to the great house – a theme I have helped various stately homes wrestle with.
Hannah’s was, of course, much more visual and revealed her great passion:
Afterwards, we took tea, hit the shop, strolled around the grounds, and chatted and chatted.
It was a great day out, a lovely afternoon together in a great setting. An afternoon we will look back on, talk about and repeat. A good outcome for everyone, Chatsworth included.