Several years ago, I joined an endeavor called “Trust Heart, Venture Forth,” which was led by the fabulous Cathy Hay. It was a short coaching program geared for creative business owners. It was a fabulous experience, and I’ve kept in touch with most of my group, many of whom live in England.
Cathy has hosted a weekend get together for the members the last few years, and I’ve watched enviously from the States, Skyping in when I could. When they started talking about a 2017 meetup, I knew I didn’t want to miss another year. I had promised myself a trip to Paris this year, so why not combine the two trips? And so a plan was hatched. Bonus, it would be my first trip to the UK.
I flew to England at the end of August and was able to spend almost 4 days with these fabulous women. Our first day together we headed out to Chatsworth House and their House Style exhibit. I was excited to visit any historic home in England, and it wasn’t until we arrived at Chatsworth that it dawned on me that this was the home of Georgiana Cavendish, which as a historical costuming nerd, I really ought to have realized sooner.
It was also the weekend of their Country Fair, so we had the unexpected treat of entering the grounds by way of the Duke and Duchess’ private gardens, which are normally closed to the public. The front of the house and entry are absolutely magnificent.
The exhibit itself was laid out very thoughtfully, tying the rooms of the house to the theme of the clothing inside. The chapel, for instance, held garments related to birth, marriage, and death. Another room was painted with an impressive floor to ceiling mural, with figures arranged in sporting attire that spanned many decades and sports. I was especially drawn to this beautiful example of men’s tailoring.
The sheer variety of clothing was fascinating. There was everything from military costumes to designer gowns. One room held what seemed like dozens of navy blue sweaters embroidered with tongue-in-cheek mottos. Another showcased the costumes worn at a fancy dress ball held in 1897, including a gown by Worth.
The house was also full of art, including portraits of Georgiana, delicate miniatures, and a delightful lady in a pointed had with something strongly resembling a wand in her hand. She made me think of some delightfully bright Hogwart’s professor, and the fact that the artist used all my favorite colors didn’t hurt one bit.
As a business owner, I was also deeply impressed by the Chatsworth House gift shop. I’m used to a loosely connected and uninspired collection of knick-knacks and postcards. This gift shop was completely different than any I’ve seen. The majority of the items had a direct connection with Chatsworth House, and spanned all price ranges. Blankets woven with wool from the Chatsworth sheep, Gucci bags with the family emblem, scarves, mugs, magnets – something at every price range. It was one more reason to admire how the Duke and Duchess are keeping Chatsworth open through sound business decisions.
After touring the house and gift shops, we stopped in one of the restaurants for a lovely afternoon tea – my first tea on British soil. I was having so much fun, I completely forgot to take pictures. We had so much fun, in fact, that the day grew late and we didn’t have much time to visit the gardens. I could have easily spent as much time in the kitchen gardens, orangeries, greenhouses, and orchards as I did in the house, but it will have to wait until next time. I did capture this tantalizing view of prize-winning muscat grapes inside one of the vineries on our way out.
Visiting Chatsworth House was a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t have asked for better companions. Several commented that Chatsworth is their favorite country house in all of England, so if I only got to see one my first time in England, I’m glad this was the one.
My time at Chatsworth and in England was all too short, but I’ll definitely be back. Who knows? Maybe there’s a 2018 THVF weekend in my future. I definitely need to spend more time with these women.