WOMEN WHO DEFIED THE ODDS
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.