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At Boughton House

April 5, 2015
by the gentle author

In the Great Hall at Boughton

To celebrate the plaster being cut off my arm, Charlie de Wet, Director of the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival, took me on an Easter trip away from the East End to visit her pal the Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry, and explore Boughton House, his palatial seventeenth century mansion known as ‘The English Versailles.’

The Duke’s ancestor Ralph Montagu was Ambassador to Paris at the end of the seventeenth century and a Huguenot sympathiser, subsequently employing hundreds of refugee Huguenot artists and craftsmen upon the embellishment of Boughton, creating a lavish country house in the French style in the English countryside. Astonishingly, the house and its contents have survived largely unaltered through the centuries, and it stands today as a showcase of the superlative creative talents of the Huguenot artisans.

There was a bitter wind blowing across the Northamptonshire park land as we arrived and we were relieved to enter the warmth of the kitchen, yet the Duke cautioned us not to remove our overcoats. The chill of the old house has contributed to the preservation of its furnishings all these years and as we stepped into the gloom of the vast shuttered rooms, there was a tangible drop in air temperature below the level of the exterior courtyards where pale sunlight was already encouraging spring flowers into bloom.

Sequestered in darkness since the death of Ralph Montagu in 1749, Boughton has been almost frozen in time and the eternal chill of the tomb prevails in the state rooms where I was able to wander alone – opening single shutters to admit a ray of daylight, illuminating ancient tapestries and refracting in clouded seventeenth century mirrors.

Among myriad treasures, I came upon Britain’s oldest woven carpet with a date of 1585 woven into it and the portrait of Shakespeare’s patron, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton with his cat. Entire galleries of family portraits by Lely gleamed in the half light and extravagant painted ceilings populated by gods and goddesses desporting themselves in cloudscapes glimmered overhead. From my brief stroll through this overwhelming labyrinth of riches, I offer these glimpses I was able to snatch with my camera.

In Fish Court

The Audit Room with paintings by Anthony Van Dyck, Godfrey Kneller and Peter Lely

The state bed was donated to the V&A in 1918 and returned ninety years later

In the unfinished wing – this door leads from one of the state bedrooms

Seventeenth century pagoda, once painted by Canaletto on the Thames-side terrace of Montagu House

The limed staircase

The Duke once kept his pet lion in this yard

The stable block

Britain’s oldest carpet, dated 1585 in the border

Shakespeare’s patron the Earl of Southampton and his cat, seen here confined in the Tower

Click here for more information about this summer’s exhibition devoted to the work of the Huguenot artists and craftsmen whose work is represented at Boughton House

You may also like to read about

The Huguenots of Spitalfields

Huguenot Portraits

15 Responses leave one →
  1. April 5, 2015

    Lovely. I’m glad that you’re better.

  2. April 5, 2015

    Incredible. A treat for Easter. And glad to hear the plaster’s off!

  3. odl permalink
    April 5, 2015

    ohhh, i am so enraptured by this eerily intriguing looking digs! kinda like downtown a la
    miss havisham………. i adore your brilliant and informative blog and i’m so happy that my
    sister, katya, who also subscribes to it! loverly! happy pacques! odl

  4. April 5, 2015

    a pagoda, in an unfinished room.
    all houses should have at least one.
    of both.

  5. Sarahc permalink
    April 5, 2015

    What a wonderful Easter treat. Glad you are better.

  6. April 5, 2015


  7. paul boucher permalink
    April 5, 2015

    A perfect evocation of the place. Lovely piece…

  8. April 5, 2015

    Thank you GA for this post…I have visited the house before but only to see the stunning Orpheus landform in the garden…I plan to visit to see the exhibtion in August. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  9. April 6, 2015

    Wow! That’s all so amazing and authentic looking – by which I mean as a reader I felt priveledged to witness it as if I myself were discovering it first hand. Bravo! Great that you’ve regained use of all your appendages too!

  10. Pauline Taylor permalink
    April 6, 2015

    So sad really to see that this house is frozen in time, it should be lived in and brought alive again, so what if one or two things suffer as a result, that’s life. Lovely to see the photos though, thank you GA.

    Pleased to hear that you are free of the plaster, make sure you exercise the arm now as your muscles won’t have liked being inactive so long.


  11. April 6, 2015

    Simply stunning location and story I hope the GA is on the mend best wishes and keep it up.
    I love these interiors the way the light carressses the interior and the portraiture on the walls simply adorable thank you once again…

  12. Stephen Barker permalink
    April 7, 2015

    The Pagoda also known as the Chinese Pavilion is thouht to date from the 1760’s. The interior of the roof is yellow with writhing dragons painted as decoration. For those interested in its history Christies sponsored the publication of a book on The Chinese Pavilion by Rosemary Bowden-Smith in 1988.

    The formal water features with the addition of the Orpheus landform are some of the best in the country and are well worth a visit in their own right.

  13. Mary Guzman permalink
    April 9, 2015

    fuck yea

  14. Hettie permalink
    April 15, 2015

    What makes you think it isn’t lived in, Pauline?

  15. Hettie permalink
    April 15, 2015

    Beautiful photographs

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