The Plunket Phase of the SPAB Scholarship
After 6 months of hectic travel around the UK alongside my fellow Scholars, we transition from Lethaby to Plunket Scholars for the final 3 month stint of this incredible journey. The Plunket phase is dedicated to a study of the art and culture of the country house. In complete contrast to the Lethaby stage, the pace has slowed right down and we spend a full week at a different country house at a time, allowing for a period of absorption. The intention is to further our ‘appreciation and understanding of the crafts that brought these pieces about and to train the eye through periods of sketching, painting, reading & observation etc.’
As we are at the mid-way point of the Plunket, it feels like the moment to reflect on the amazing places we have visited so far during this phase of the Scholarship.
Houghton Hall, the home of Lord and Lady Cholmondeley, provided plenty of time to pause and reflect in the beautiful deer park, gardens, and sculpture park.
Whereas during the Lethaby we might have spent a day or two at most with a new host, now we have the opportunity for full immersion. Typically, we stay in the country house itself alongside the family who live there (sometimes Lords and Ladies!)
Compared to the Lethaby stage, it has been an interesting challenge to focus on something other than specific details and repairs. We are encouraged to look at the house holistically, including the estate and the collection. Whilst at first it was tricky to adjust to the change of focus, after the first week I felt I got my head around the purpose of the Plunket and feel I can fully absorb myself in each new house I visit.
Court of Noke is a beautiful Queen Anne style family home. We were able to fully absorb ourselves in the entire house with its vibrant interiors, including exploration of the grounds and nearby villages.
It was also unusual not to feel quite as ‘productive’ or hands on as we did during the Lethaby stage; however, I now feel more comfortable with the slower pace. I am hugely enjoying the opportunity to practice my drawing skills, and learn so much more about the arts. It’s outside my comfort zone to sit and draw for a day, so this discipline has been good; I’ve come see quite how productive I am being, producing several drawings a week. I also enjoy periods of self-study and am reasonably self-motivated - I find this has helped, as we are largely left to our own devices.
One of my drawings of Levens Hall.
So far, this has been a useful period for developing my own sensibility and taste. It has certainly widened my interests in the allied arts! I enjoy the houses I have stayed in which are ‘old and evolved’, still occupied by families, where the collections and decor have developed over time to accommodate their needs and aesthetic tastes. It’s interesting to see these transitions, and naturally leads one to form opinions!
Levens Hall exemplifies the 'old and evolved' house - with a Tudor core, this Elizabethan house features many updates by various generations.
I have loved the six houses I have visited so far for such a variety of reasons, and I'm very eager to see the next four and meet more amazing families!
The majority of the houses I have visited have had a family ‘wing’ with separate state or ‘historic’ rooms attached, which are not typically lived in by the family on a day to day basis. Often these rooms are not used by the family at all, but seem more like having a museum attached to the family’s home. This was the case with Chavenage, Holkham Hall (marble hall pictured above), Houghton Hall, and Levens Hall.
In comparison to the houses I have visited where the family wing was attached yet seemingly separate and different to the main rooms of the house, at Court of Noke and Stanway House (shown above) the family lived very much within the whole house. They either used or moved through all the rooms on a daily basis.