Last week, as an escape from researching my current book, and in its own way, a fact gathering mission, I was lucky enough to pay a visit to Boughton House, one of the most remarkable houses in Northamptonshire remodelled by Ralph, 1st Duke of Montagu, who had been an ambassador to Paris and was much influenced by French taste. The sun was shining and we inspected the digging and shaping of the canals, which are part of a process of recapturing something of the formal setting of this wonderful house, called by some the English Versailles, and still very much in private hands, now of the 10th Duke of Montagu and the 12th Duke of Queensberry.
Because they have larger estates in Scotland, the house also has a very complete set of grand apartments of the late 17th century, very little changed, with wonderful Mortlake tapestries, although the collection was much enriched in the early 20th century by the contents of the Montagus London house. I was very taken by the early 18th century Chinese tea house, which used to sit outside Montagu House in London.
There is in the nearby parish church at Warkton a very fine set of family monuments, including two fine sculptural groups by Roubiliac as fine as anything in England. One 19th century vicar is said to have re-ordered the church and cut off this handsome Classical chancel, arguing it was high time the parish started worshipping god and not the Montagus.
Our life at home in Cambridge, meanwhile, is turned upside down by the arrival of a new family member, “Archie” a new Jack Russell terrier, but he is great company and full of character. I only hope we don’t bore him too much. The girls are infatuated and we all attend training classes, at Crow Hall Farm near Soham, with a man called Charlie Carricoats. I think we are being trained as novice owners ourselves as much as the new dog.