The Attingham Trust Summer School and a Visit to Boughton House

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Attingham Trust Summer School, an intensive study course of the British country house.  The Summer School started in 1952 as a way to educate American curators about the complexities of British country houses since many of them had country house materials in their museums.  It has since expanded to include 24 students from the US and 24 international students with two course leaders.  The experience is incredibly intense both mentally and physically – there is something slightly crazy about spending 14-16 hours a day, often in small, enclosed spaces, with 49 other people while visiting 31 properties in 18 days.

But wait, you say, wasn’t Chancognie French?  So why did I spend two and a half weeks trekking around the British countryside looking at British houses and their contents? My recent posts about Boughton House, with its significant French architectural influence and holdings of French decorative and fine arts, seemed like a perfect time to reflect on this.  Having never formally studied architecture, fine art or decorative arts, Attingham was an incredible opportunity for me to further my understanding of the progression of styles in all these areas and get a better sense of where the Chancognie House fits into that.

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Although it may be hard to imagine now, Boughton started as a modest Tudor manor house in the early 16th century, the remains of which still lie behind the impressive pavilion. Two generations after the Boughton estate first came into the Montagu family, Ralph, the 1st Duke of Montagu (1638-1709) transformed Boughton into what we see today. During his time in France as Charles II’s ambassador in the 1660s and 1670s, Montagu developed a deep affinity for the culture of Versailles under Louis XIV. He brought a love of this French style home with him and applied those contemporary French architectural influences on the expansion of Boughton, which is often referred to as the English Versailles.

As with Boughton House, styles migrated back and forth between France and Britain and then across the Atlantic.  I find it interesting to see how those European styles, primarily British in Charleston, were interpreted by craftsmen here during colonial times and the early years of the nation.  In the early 19th century, craftsmen who had just come to America from Europe were touted in advertisements as bringing knowledge of the latest European styles with them.

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It is not often that one has the opportunity to observe late 17th century building techniques, but that was just one of the highlights of my visit to Boughton House. The east pavilion was intentionally left unfinished as it was merely there to architecturally balance the west wing containing the state apartments.

At this point, I have not been able to find any information about the craftsmen who built the Chancognie House, but there would have been both free and enslaved craftsmen working here.  It is entirely possible that some of the free craftsmen who worked here or consulted on the design came from either Britain or France with style references from across the Atlantic.  I am working to learn more about who designed and built the house, but finding this information is challenging as records have either been long lost or did not exist in the first place.

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The 1st Duke of Montagu laid out the landscape at Boughton House in the manner of Versailles.

Attingham also provided me with a wonderful opportunity to see a wide range of interpretation at historic properties which included National Trust sites as well as private homes.  I was fortunate to be able to observe preservation and conservation work in progress at several sites as well.  As the work here continues, I look forward to drawing on my Attingham experiences to inform my restoration and interpretation decisions here at the Chancognie House.

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