Deborah “Debo” Cavendish (31st March 1920 to 24th September 2014)


On a cold Saturday morning in February 2015 I I drove through Derbyshire to Chatsworth House. I’d have a walk around Chatsworth later but, before that, I had graves to find. If you look out from Chatsworth House there’s a broad sweeping hill and over this is Edensor village. I parked here at the gates of the church and had a coffee from a flask. There were many walkers out with the dogs. Out from the car parked in front stepped an old man and his daughter. They sat on the church steps getting their boots on. Had a little chat with them about walks around the stately home. I thought it nice to see a dad and daughter out walking...up until the moment they joined hands and locked lips a couple of times.


I walked up behind the church and, being Saturday morning, it was understandably empty. I had come here specifically to find the grave of Deborah Mitford or “Debo” as she preferred to be called. For years I’ve been reading about the Mitford sisters and Debo was the youngest and last one to die (last year) bringing an end to the fascinating life and times of the Mitford’s. They were born into a eccentric aristocratic family and led colourful controversial and sometimes scandalous lives in the 1930s and 40s. There was Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover, Jessica and Nancy the novelists (“The Pursuit Of Love” is one of my favourite novels) and Debo who turned Chatsworth House into a thriving mega-business.


I wanted to see if Debo was actually buried here as the other siblings lay together in a churchyard in Swinburne, Oxfordshire. I soon found the Cavendish family plot at the top of the graveyard, fenced off but open to sad nosy nerds like me. I’d seen photos of Debo’s grand funeral in the newspaper but didn’t know if there’d just been a service in the church or a burial, too. Both had happened. I guessed which headstone was hers before I reached it as grass around it had been worn muddy. She was buried with her husband Andrew Cavendish, the Duke Of Devonshire. They had had seven children but four died shortly after birth.


I must admit I knew more about Nancy Mitford having read her funny novels and Unity Mitford (seen photos of her with Hitler; she’d shot herself in the head (unsuccessfully) when England declared war on Germany). However Debo was a lively lass. She was been the public face of Chatsworth House, wrote 12 books (her memoirs Wait For Me! is the best) played a key role in the restoration of the house and gardens (was often seen serving in the Chatsworth Farm Shop), supervised the development of the Cavendish Hotel (near Chatsworth) and the Devonshire Arms Hotel at Bolton Abbey.


Talking of Hitler another head of a country President John Kennedy had visited the next grave along (months before he was assassinated in Dallas.) His sister Kathleen had married into the Cavendish family but died instantly at aged 28 in a plane crash while flying to the south of France for a holiday. 


Check out the photo - I stood where JFK stood! Despite her many siblings and the breadth of the Kennedy Clan her dad was the only family member to attend the funeral. Her mother even refused to attend a memorial service, instead choosing to enter a hospital for routine medical tests.


There were lots of Cavendish in that fenced section. I think is as closest I’ll ever get to so many Dukes at one time. I headed down to the church, spotting some war graves and you’ve just got to stop and do a salute at each one haven’t you? See photo.


I entered the church where Debo’s funeral service had been held and chatted with two women who were passing through (in muddy walking boots.) The heavy door clunked shut as they left and I had a wander around, went up the steps into the pulpit, preached to the invisible congregation that if you care anything for animals don’t eat them (take up cannibalism instead).


I sat in silence in the celestial light spilling in through the main window.  Not sure if anyone was watching me - Big G (God) or Little CCTV. I wondered how many of the Cavendish family would be matched, hatched and dispatched in this church before the sun burned up and Planet Earth withered. 




She isn’t far from her home which is just over the hill…



Reunited for always…




I saw these soldier’s graves in the just off the path so you’ve got to stop and salute them haven’t you.


Outside the church at edensor village


The Cavendish family live here


…but end up in the family plot over the hill…..about here…


The next grave is occupied by Kathleen Cavendish, the sister of President John. Kennedy…




Inside the church where Debo’s funeral services was held…