Bookcase with secret door used for George IV's Royal affair leads sale

Chatsworth House, which is a large property in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire is overflowing following the sale of other family properties and the inevitable transference of items back there.

It's quite a sale. A startling 20,000 items are being offered, with the overall sale's total expected to reach £23.5m.

Two highlights stand out: Firstly a fireplace/chimneypiece designed by William Kent which was originally part of Devonshire House - the family property adorned with their finest possessions, even more so than Chatsworth, but demolished in the 1920s.

William Kent Chimneypiece
William Kent chimneypiece

As much of the property as possible was shifted into Chatsworth's attics. Whilst some of Kent's work elsewhere survives, it is present only in listed buildings, away from the reach of private collectors. So the presence of the fireplace is a rare opportunity.

From the Saloon in Devonshire House - a room so grand it prompted Lady Eastlake to describe it in 1850 as a 'perfect fairyland, marble, gilding, mirrors, pictures and flowers…' it is a magnificent and extremely rare George II carved white marble chimneypiece, circa 1735.

The exceptional piece from the 'Lost Palace of London' as it is sometimes known, is listed at £200,000-300,000.

George IV Cupboard with secret passageway
Cupboard with secret passageway used by the future George IV

The most historically fascinating piece, however, is a George III gilt-bronze mounted library bookcase, attributed to Marsh and Tatham, circa 1800 which conceals a secret door. The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire explains its significance:

"The Regency cupboard in the Day Nursery (at Chatsworth) was a fixture from Devonshire House, highly unsuitable for a Nursery, as George IV, a great friend of Georgiana and constant visitor at Devonshire House, used to go through its doors to Mrs Fitzherbert (his Catholic mistress whom he later married in secret) in the next room there."

The piece carries an estimate of £60,000-80,000. It is naturally impossible to do complete justice to all the items in the sale, which takes place in Chatsworth in October, with the assistance of Sotheby's.


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