By Gordon Rayner
First published in the Telegraph 2 October 2014
More than 600 staff from the Chatsworth estate have been give the day off work so they can line the two-mile route that the cortège is taking to St Peter’s Church in the village of Edensor.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who were close friends of the Dowager Duchess, were among the mourners, and walked the entire route behind the hearse carrying her coffin.
The estate staff lining the route fell in behind as the hearse passed, with more than 500 chairs set up for them at the church so they could watch the funeral on a giant screen showing the service from inside the church, which only holds 200.
Halfway through the service the sound of Elvis Presley singing How Great Thou Art filled the parish church.
The Dowager Duchess was a huge Elvis fan and owned a collection of Elvis memorabilia.
The Dowager Duchess, who died on September 24 at the age of 94, was the last of the Mitford sisters, the most celebrated and controversial family in pre-war high society.
It was her head for business that transformed Chatsworth from a crumbling stately home into one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions and the model for virtually ever other stately home in the country.
She was buried in the church’s graveyard next to her late husband, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, who died in 2004. His gravestone has been removed for the Dowager Duchess’s name to be added.
The plot is next to the grave of Kathleen Kennedy, sister of John F Kennedy, who was married to the 11th Duke’s brother.
In accordance with the Dowager Duchess’s wishes, the estate staff lining the route of the cortège wore their work uniforms, with butchers turning out in aprons, gardeners in their green sweatshirts and tour guides in their crested blazers. All wore either a black tie or black armband.
As the staff gathered at their muster points to be briefed on their positions, they swapped stories and memories of the Dowager Duchess, who was known as “Debo”.
Paul Neale, 59, the head butcher at the Chatsworth Farm Shop, said: “We have turned out in our uniforms because it is what the Duchess wanted and it is the highest compliment we can pay her because she started the retail side of Chatsworth.
“She was a lovely lady, very much involved in the business and we would see her three or four times a week coming to look round the shop.
“She used to stop and talk to everyone. I’m so proud to have known her and to have worked for her for 18 years.”
The Dowager Duchess knew the names of virtually all of the 620 staff standing to attention along the route, from the 92 catering staff to the 40 gardeners, the 20 tenant farmers and the three gamekeepers.
Alan Hodson, 66, one of the 63 tourist guides among the mourners, said: “Today is a celebration of a wonderful lady.
“She used to speak to absolutely everyone, she had fabulous social skills, she would always admire people’s children or their dogs and you would see her holding the door open for visitors who probably had no idea who she was.”
The Dowager Duchess’s son, the 12th Duke, followed immediately behind the hearse with his wife and his sister Lady Emma Tennant. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall walked immediately behind them.
The Duchess of Cornwall’s former husband Andrew Parker Bowles was also among the mourners.
As the cortège progressed along its route, accompanied by the steady monotone beat of a single bell at the church, the numbers walking behind the coffin grew to hundreds and then well over a thousand as the staff and members of the public joined it.
The Dowager Duchess’s wicker coffin, ringed with flowers, was carried into the church by pall bearers including Stephen Reid, head gamekeeper, and Andre Birkett, manager of the Farm Shop.
The Dowager Duchess’s retired former butler, Henry Coleman, carried a cushion bearing her insignia of the Dame Commander of the Victorian Order.
The funeral service, conducted by Canon David Perkins, included music by Bach, Brahms, Handel and Grieg, and the hymns Holy! Holy! Holy! and We Plough The Fields And Scatter.
The readings included the poem Lament Of The Irish Emigrant by Helen Selina, Lady Dufferin, and a passage from Ecclesiastes Ch.3 v 1-22.