Boughton House


This beautiful harpsichord (pictured) made by Andrew Garlick is one of the many treasures I gasped at when visiting Boughton House (Northants) known as ‘the English Versailles’, which is the southern seat of the Duke of Buccleuch, just outside Kettering. My contact with all this fabulous stuff was violinist Paul Boucher who for the last years has been working as an archivist at Boughton, on a wonderful collection which includes some of the earliest examples of printed music, leading onwards to Lully and Handel first editions. I was particularly charmed by a plethora of Scottish folk music, mostly in manuscript, collected in the later 18th century by Lady Elizabeth Montagu. Thanks to her genuine enthusiasm for our artform, musicians still have good reason to convene at this site, as was the case on the day of my pilgrimage. In the midst of a necessarily high speed account of the family’s doings, because lunch was waiting, one typically remarkable detail I recall is that the 2nd Duke was responsible for arranging the Handel commission for the Royal Fireworks Music, being in charge of Ordnance (including fireworks, presumably) at the time of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Rushing round the enormous Boughton campus led by the lively, engaging Duke himself, I was most struck by the energy being spent by all present in renewing old objects and property in the most creative way. We saw huge tapestries beautifully restored (in Belgium) hanging next to a couple of saggy old ones that hadn’t had the treatment yet. The expense must be massive, but you can instantly see that it is worth doing. As musicians, we know all about this. Coming from the opposite of a ducal family, my most willingly-paid spends have nevertheless been on the upkeep of musical instruments which have ended up in my custodianship. Our ‘family violin’ was presented to an uncle when he retired from the Post Office in Grantown-on Spey in the 1940s. And my mother’s viola, legend has it, was obtained from the ice cream seller (hint, an Italian, a scion of the Demarco family) in Brechin about ten years later. No-one could say these are important instruments, but we still keep them going with some expense and effort. Maybe one day they too will become interesting ‘antiques’.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer