When I visited the house recently, I was flabbergasted by the scale of the changes he has made, and was also impressed by how sensitively the work has been carried out.
Chatsworth is a family home, but it is also a profitable operation, a tourist attraction visited by hundreds of thousands each year.
Messing around with any historic building is a risky business, but making alterations to Chatsworth, England’s grandest stately home, must take nerves of steel.
That is a quality that Peregrine “Stoker” Cavendish, who succeeded his father as the 12th Duke of Devonshire in 2004, has in abundance.
As chairman of the British horse racing board, he oversaw the reform of the sport and also led the rebuilding of Ascot, so he wasn’t one to baulk at the investment of £14 million (by the charity that looks after Chatsworth and receives all the income from admissions) in a five-year plan to restore his inherited home to its original splendour and to improve the services that the house, which opens tomorrow after its three-month winter closure, could offer to visitors.
Despite his laid-back manner, the Duke, and the Duchess alongside him, works hard to get things done and takes infinite pains to do them well.
Though it means that some part of the façade will be under scaffolding for the next two years, the emerging results are spectacular.
When the cleaning is finished in 2012, the house will look much as it did when the first Duke built his baroque palace in the wilds of Derbyshire out of warm buff-coloured stone between 16.
Inside, only someone who knew the house intimately would realise how radically the public spaces have been altered to enhance the visitor’s experience.
And that meant capitalising on the tremendous interest in contemporary art in recent years.
Since the Duke is deputy chairman of Sotheby’s and with his wife, Amanda, has long been an enthusiastic collector of modern art and contemporary craft, one of his first innovations was to stage a selling show of large-scale modern sculpture on the lawns behind the house.
At first, the Duke told me, “eyebrows were raised”.
But such was the success of the first show in 2006 that it is now staged each autumn, attracting visitors just as numbers might otherwise be starting to dwindle. Next he tackled the daunting task of cleaning three centuries of weather and two centuries of industrial pollution from the darkened exterior.