Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Devonshire Blue


It sounds like a cheese but in this instance it’s a shade of blue that must be applied to all woodwork on homes on the Chatsworth Estate. Edensor (pronounced Enzor) is an estate village just off the road from Rowsley to Chatsworth in Derbyshire. It was developed in 1838-40 when the 6th. Duke of Devonshire could no longer tolerate the sight of the old village of Edensor from the windows of Chatsworth House and dispatched Joseph Paxton to find a new site to which it could be moved. All the residents were employees of the Chatsworth Estate and the generous housing provision in the rebuilt village suggests that most of them occupied senior positions within the hierarchy. These are unlikely homes for agricultural labourers.


What makes estate villages different is that they possess a singularity of vision that most other villages do not. Organic growth is replaced by centralised planning. The quality of vision does not have to be especially elevated to be interesting but in this instance there is an emphasis on good design to appreciate. From what I can find out Paxton’s involvement went no further than selecting the site and advising on the layout. There was a policy of applying a wide variety of architectural styles to the individual houses but the only named architect I could find reference to was Sir Jeffery Wyattville who was employed in designing the two gate lodges - an Italianate villa and an English lodge.


The parish church (St Peter’s) was built 30 years later in 1870 on the site of a ruined Norman original to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It has an elevated position and a prominent spire that give it a towering presence in the village. The body of Joseph Paxton was buried in the graveyard. JFK visited briefly in 1963 to pay his respects to his elder sister who is buried there. There are three such villages in this corner of Derbyshire and all sport Devonshire Blue in defiance of the English tradition of asserting individuality by choosing the least appropriate colours in which to paint your property. Curiously when these houses come on to the open market they are much sought after because the application of a house colour creates a sense of homogeneity and exclusivity. There’s an undertone of paternalism about the project and the master/servant relationship is implicit in every course of bricks. The quality that lingers in the imagination is the artificiality of the experience. There’s an absence of disorder, a lack of clutter and an imposed street-plan rather than one that has evolved.

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