Last week, I spent a wonderful day visiting Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire 🙂
Sudbury was given to the Treasury in 1967 in part-payment of duties on the death of the 9th Lord Vernon. It was subsequently transferred to the National Trust and several of the principal rooms were redecorated under the supervision of the eminent interior designer John Fowler. Sudbury was mainly the creation of George Vernon, grandfather of the first Baron Vernon.
By all accounts, George was a man of wealth, energy and ambition. When he inherited the estate in 1660, he soon demolished the existing manor house and began work on Sudbury Hall. To give you an idea of the scale of his ambition, between 1661-2, George brought 1,200,000 bricks for his new project! For the rest of his life, he was either constructing or decorating his new house, laying out the garden and improving the nearby village of Sudbury. Despite fathering fifteen children (!) the Vernon line almost ended with George’s death in 1702 as only one son – Henry – survived him. Henry was not born until 1686, when George had already buried two wives and was in his fifties. Henry’s mother, George’s third wife Catherine, was almost thirty years younger than her husband.
This is the north front of Sudbury. In architectural terms, Sudbury is unusual, combining Jacobean features with more progressive designs. The E-shape plan with a rich central frontispiece was an old-fashioned idea in 1660s and the interior plan, too, is old-fashioned in many respects. The central cupola was a more modern design feature. As you can see if you click on the image to enlarge, the cupola is crowned by a golden ball, designed to reflect the suns’s rays and act as a beacon for travellers. The Long Gallery (more on this below) is perhaps the most anachronistic and unusual feature of a house of this period. It may have been added to rival the Long Gallery at Haddon, a former seat of the Vernon family.
One thing I found particularly interesting was the light levels inside the house. It was grey and overcast when I visited, and of course, the light in the rooms is often limited to protect the fragile contents. However, this gave an idea of how difficult it must have been to light these great houses in the days before gas or electricity. The bill for candles must have been astronomical – apparently 250 candles are needed to equal the output of a single electric lightbulb! LOL a lady would have needed to get up close and personal in the dimly lit corners of the ballroom to make sure she was kissing the right rake!
There was also the smell to consider. No, not the rake (I’m sure he smelt of shaving soap and fresh linen ;0) !) but the candles. Tallow candles were made from rendered animal fat and the associated smell was very unpleasant. Even in the greatest houses, when the family did not have company to impress, tallow candles were used in preference to the more expensive beeswax and only when and where light was needed. There is an interesting exhibition in the basement/kitchen area which looks at how technology has been used at the Hall from the Regency period, through to Edwardian inventions to the present day environmentally-friendly heating system.
As photographs are not allowed inside most NT properties, I bought some postcards – shown are the great staircase and the long gallery, both of which featured in the 1995 BBC production of Pride And Prejudice.
Situated a few hundred yards from the house, the Church of All Saints contains the Vernon family chapel housing several monuments to Vernon family members.
Sudbury also houses the Museum of Childhood, which had a re-vamp in Spring 2008. It’s well worth a visit and contrasts and compares a variety of childhood experiences from the 19th Century to the present day. They have a sample 19th Century chimney for children to ‘climb’ – great for giving them an idea of the terrible conditions climbing boys and girls were subjected to.
There was a poignant quote near the chimney. It was from a witness at the inquest into the death of a 6 year old chimney sweep in 1816 – ‘They said the boy was their apprentice and they had the right to do what they pleased with him.’
Next stop, Kedleston Hall!….
There’s an exhibition of costumes and images from the 2008 film The Duchess at Kedleston until 1st November 2009 – I’m planning to visit that, and if I can, the Georgian Gentleman and Regency Rogues weekend in August. Sounds like fun!