There are times when the country really does come to town. If you’d passed the entrance to Christie’s in St James’s last week, you’d have seen the master and huntsman of the Duke of Rutland’s hounds in full hunting fig with a couple from that distinctive pack looking about for one of those urban foxes they’d heard so much about.

Inside, ruddy-faced gamekeepers in full estate tweeds greeted guests, and, with the efficiency of a well-run beating line, ushered us up the grand staircase towards rooms crammed with important furniture, sculpture and tapestries for an impending sale. But the evening belonged to the Duchess of Rutland and the launch of her book, Belvoir Castle.

Sumptuously illustrated and stylishly written, it was given the highest praise by John Julius Norwich. He painted a picture of his own boyhood Christmas times at Belvoir in the 1920s and 1930s, when the extended family would descend for a week to enjoy the then duke’s largesse.

With valets and ladies’ maids accompanying their masters and mistresses, he estimated his uncle would have been feeding 200-odd mouths in fine style for more than a week. Two World Wars, death duties and several recessions later, it’s clear that the Manners family still knows how to throw a good party.

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