There has just been an advertising campaign encouraging visitors to Northamptonshire citing amongst other things the plethora of country houses, to which you could easily add the breath-taking expanse of unsullied countryside rare on our crowded island.
Aspect Events, in conjunction with Travel Editions, has been visiting this county and some of the adjacent counties with Country House visiting in the forefront of our minds, for some time. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments in England lists 81 houses in Northamptonshire alone, so we have quite a way to go before we have “done” them all.
New on the list this time was Southwick Manor. A delightful hugger-mugger dwelling dating from the 14th century which has been added on to by successive Knyvets, Lynns, and Caprons, without the “benefit” of architects from that day to this. It is a delightful place to call with rabbit-warren of rooms, unexpected corners and dotty exhibits in some of the rooms with beautifully written idiosyncratic descriptions.
A great favourite is Cottesbrooke, attributed to Smith of Warwick, whose architecture bears resemblance to the original Buckingham House, bought by George III for his Queen Charlotte. It, and its garden by Arne Maynard, is immaculately maintained by the Macdonald-Buchanan family with above all a superb collection of sporting art. The walls are sprinkled with works by Stubbs, Ferneley, and Munnings not to forget portraits by de Laszlo, Zoffany and Devis. A wonderful, comfortable and elegant house.
New on the list, actually in Cambridgeshire, is Elton Hall. Again, a much added to house, but awash with wonderful things. A Constable of Dedham Vale which the artist never sold, the Great Seal of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII Prayer Book with jottings in the margin by Henry himself. There are three libraries, lacking unfortunately, the Gutenberg Bible, which once lived here, which was sold to pay Death Duties, but certainly still with amply filled shelves. The 5th Earl of Carysfort was a great collector and the dining room displays the fruits of his labours with over forty 17th and 18th century pictures crowding the walls. This Earl also bought contemporary 19th century works, including Alma-Tadema, Wilkie, Millais and G F Watts. Probably the best known is Eastward Ho! and its preliminary sketch, showing troops departing for India by Henry O’Neil. And, of course there are the family portraits by Reynolds, Hoppner, Gainsborough and all the great and the good of the 18th and 19th centuries. No mention is made of the Sèvres porcelain or the French furniture, or the pietre dura cabinets or the cabinets from William Beckford because they are all there in serried ranks. Why is this house not better know?
Another superlative is Boughton. Sitting calmly in its greensward, this early 18th century house is inspired by Duke Ralph’s embassy to the court of Louis XIV, so Versailles comes to Northamptonshire. Well, at least, superficially, because behind the “French” facade is a warren of much earlier rooms which are also much affected by the Duke’s French sojourn. Exceptional tapestries, and upholstery which has survived because the house was little-used for 200 years. A Chinese tea-house in an unfinished wing, furniture given to the family by Charles I (one married his bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth), a state bed retrieved from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a series of State Rooms painted by the Louis Cheron. But the delights of this place do not end with the house itself, for not far away is the tiny village church of Warkton. Here the chancel is filled with monuments to rival anything in Westminster Abbey. Two are by Roubiliac, another by Canova’s Pupil, Campbell, a fourth by Robert Adam’s preferred sculptor, van Gelder. Not bad for a village with 136 people! All newly restored lit by the vast west window looking out on the churchyard.
We will be visiting the area again from 16th to 19th July when the programme will include Southwick, Elton, Rockingham, Deene, Apethorpe, and Boughton. Please apply to Travel Editions 0207 2510045 for booking arrangements (there may be rooms available) or for further information about the itinerary please call Nicholas Merchant on 01423340017 who will accompany the tour and give a talk on Apethorpe Palace.
The destination will also feature in Travel Editions 2018 brochure.