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Breathtaking Boughton

1st March 2017

I am very rarely lost for words, as a fully card carrying extrovert I find it harder to restrain myself than to be quiet. However I have just visited a place that took my breath away and rendered me speechless. Beautiful, breathtaking Boughton House. An absolute must see.

I wonder how many accidents this stunning house has caused. The first view of the house appears as you head along the A43. A monotonous progress of shrubby verges and farmland suddenly and unexpectedly reveals rolling parkland, a stretch of reflective water and the mansion looking utterly glorious in the distance. It’s hard not to slam on the brakes for a better look at the house that has been described as ‘the English Versailles’.

Boughton House was once a typical Tudor manor centred around a great hall, like many in Northamptonshire. However in 1683 when Ralph Montagu inherited the estate the transformation began.

Ralph had been an English ambassador to France during the reign of Louis IX, the Sun King, and he saw how the French monarch had developed a hunting lodge into the glittering palace of Versailles. Ralph brought his love of French architecture to Boughton and began to extend and remodel the house with style and elegance.

Ralph’s son John Montagu developed the landscape, with grand schemes of water features, carefully designed vistas and spectacular radiating avenues of trees. At their peak these avenues stretched for 70 miles - if laid consecutively they would have reached London! Even today the sobriquet ‘the English Versailles’ seems well deserved.

Then something rather magical happened.

There were no male heirs produced by the Montagu family. The Boughton estate passed through the female line as they married into other families, and the house was mothballed for two centuries. The house was preserved as it was, with little damaging sunlight, dust or disturbance. The spectacular furnishings, tapestries, and paintings were covered, and thus spared the impact of the agents of decay. And even more helpfully, the house was spared the potentially damaging modernisations and improvements often inflicted on historic houses during the Victorian era.

It was in the 20th Century that the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, the Montagus descendent, gently awoke the house and developed it into the family home that can be seen today. And my goodness it is spectacular! The collection of fine art is world class.

I accompanied Charles Lister the house manager as he opened up the house for the day, and as every door opened I couldn’t help but gasp! A Gainsborough portrait here, oh look, a self portrait by El Greco there, a gallery full of Japanese lacquer cabinets around the corner, richly beautiful tapestries, oh I could go on! As Charles explained, the wonderful thing about Boughton’s collection is that the Family have concentrated many of their finest items at this historic house (they have several elsewhere) and so the collection here is far richer than originally intended. Add to this the absence of 200 years of wear and tear, no smoke and soot from candles, fires or tobacco, it becomes clear why Boughton’s interior so rich in colour and is truly special.

It is no surprise that the brides of Northamptonshire are so keen to book Boughton for their special day - a more stunning setting it would be hard to find (only a few spaces left for 2018!) I left Charles with a hopeful young lady and her mother, and wandered outside to the equally breathtaking gardens and parkland.

The gardens suffered a worse fate than the house during the 200 fallow years, as nature reclaimed the formal gardens, and the woodlands were used for sport. However during the 21st century a major restoration programme has reclaimed the parkland with its complex water features, canals, lakes and reflecting pools.

My favourite feature is the reflecting pool named the Grand Etang with its spectacular jet of water. It’s nearly an acre in size, and contains 1.5 million gallons of water, and the huge fountain, known as the Jet D’Eau plumes over 75 feet high. On the breezy day I visited, the spray was being carried endlessly over the lawns creating rainbows.

Breathtaking Boughton indeed.

I went as the guest of Charles Lister the House Manager. As the son of the head gardener, Charles has grown up at Boughton and has a deep connection to the place, and to the family that built it. In the old fashioned way, the Duke of Buccleuch employs many of his staff from the local village of Geddington, and many generations of staff serving many generations of Montagu descendants give Boughton a truly family feel of joint ownership. The house and community united.

Scores on the very grand doors for Boughton?
Things to see and do: 5/5 there’s more inside and out than you could explore in a day
Timeless sense of ancient and modern: 5/5 the ancient interior is complimented by the modern outdoor restoration
Surprise: 6/5, I was speechless! It’s a world class visit

Boughton is open for Easter, private tours and during the summer months. For more information please visit www.boughtonhouse.co.uk

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