Duke’s letters bring Boughton House’s history to life

Alan Toseland with a portrait of John, the second Duke of Buccleuch
Alan Toseland with a portrait of John, the second Duke of Buccleuch
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Hundreds of letters dating back to the 18th century have been transcribed and published in a new book which details the history of a stately home near Kettering.

About 800 letters from between 1709 and 1739 had been uncovered by a tour guide at Boughton House, just outside Geddington.

Boughton House : Boughton House:Home of the Duke of Buccleuch'Wednesday 10th July 2013

Boughton House : Boughton House:Home of the Duke of Buccleuch'Wednesday 10th July 2013

And the resulting book was launched by its author Alan Toseland – who taught himself to type before painstakingly transcribing 450 of the letters – and the current Duke of Buccleuch, Richard, earlier this month.

The letters date back to the time when John, the second Duke of Montagu, lived at the home, which is known as the English Versailles because of its French architectural style.

Initially a Tudor manor, the house was added to over the course of the next 200 years.

Today Boughton, which is open to visitors, continues to be used as a residence. It has also starred as the set for musical blockbuster Les Miserables and hosted X Factor’s Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole during filming for the ITV talent contest in September last year.

Duke of Buccleuch with Orpheus at Boughton House on July 29 09.'Pic by Glyn Dobbs

Duke of Buccleuch with Orpheus at Boughton House on July 29 09.'Pic by Glyn Dobbs

It is a far cry from the world depicted in the hundreds of transcribed letters.

The second Duke, who died in 1749, oversaw significant developments to the landscape at Boughton. Locals knew him as John the Planter because of his love of planting avenues of trees, including elms and limes.

He was known as a practical joker and an animal lover, and also built a new family home in Whitehall in central London, which stood until the mid-20th century.

He even arranged an ill-fated expeditition to the Caribbean in 1722.

The current owner of the house – Richard, 10th Duke of Buccleuch – has expressed his gratitude to Mr Toseland for his efforts in bringing the life of his predecessor to public attention.

He added: “It’s hugely, hugely exciting that this time has arrived. This is entirely possible because of the passion and wisdom of one man, Alan Toseland.

“As an eminent local historian, his informed transcription of nearly 450 handwritten papers has given depth of characters to not only my forbearers but to many in the county and beyond with whom they had relationships and did business.”

The Duke added: “Often these documents quite change our view of them. What they got up to at times provokes smiles, at others grimaces, with detail on everything from large property transactions to the safe delivery of John Montagu’s dog Harlakin to London, casting new light.

“Be it the brewing of beer, the blackened faces of poachers, how deep the canals should be dug, it is as fresh as if it was happening yesterday.”

Mr Toseland said: “I first came across the letters while researching the history of Warkton.

“At that time I could not type or use a computer,” added the historian, who completed a computer course at Boughton House in order to help him with his transcriptions.

“I’m delighted that my years of transcribing these wonderful letters have finally come to fruition, resulting in a book that gives a fascinating insight into what life was like in the early 18th century.

“It’s been a labour of love and I would like to thank many people for their support throughout this long journey, particularly the Duke and her Grace for their continued encouragement.”

Mr Toseland’s book has been published and edited by the Northamptonshire Record Society.

The society, which was set up in 1920, preserves and publishes the records of the county, with 46 volumes published to date.