WOMEN WHO DE­FIED THE ODDS

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4

DEB­O­RAH CAVENDISH, DOWA­GER DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE Debo Devonshire (the youngest Mit­ford sis­ter) mar­ried An­drew Cavendish in a bomb-da­m­aged church in London, say­ing ”the glass was blown out of our house, so my mother put up wall­pa­per rolls as pre­tend cur­tains and went on with the wed­ding.” The cou­ple had six chil­dren, three of whom died in in­fancy. Her hus­band be­came heir to the duke­dom on the death of his brother in 1944 and suc­ceeded un­ex­pect­edly early, six years later. The cou­ple in­her­ited prop­erty in­clud­ing Chatsworth House 14 weeks be­fore the date on which the es­tates would have es­caped 80% death du­ties. With 175 rooms and a £5m rev­enue bill in­cur­ring £1,000 in­ter­est a day, it took 17 years to clear the debt. Debo be­came a keen busi­ness­woman, spot­ting a mar­ket for be­hind-the-scenes tours and cook­ery classes and over­see­ing shops for food, gar­den fur­ni­ture and books. Debo turned the Chatsworth es­tate into a wel­fare state in minia­ture, with work­ers of­fered their own club, an im­pres­sive pen­sion scheme and wid­ows stay­ing in their homes on the es­tate for life. By the late 1990s, the shops and restau­rants were turn­ing over more than £4.5 mil­lion.

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