4 March 2014

Crumbling

Sutton Scarsdale Hall in 1827
One of the ornate reception rooms - around 1918
Visitors to England may delight in our great stately homes - Chatsworth, Castle Howard, Blenheim - to name but three. However, they might be surprised to learn that our landscape has lost many grand country houses. Built mostly in the eighteenth century, they fell into disrepair as the owners' funds dwindled, times changed and the burden of taxation increased.

In a way, I don't bewail the demolition of those monuments to privilege. The prancing aristocrats and wealthy families who built them were experts in exploitation. In their heyday they employed crowds of servants, paying them a pittance while they themselves played pianos,  enjoyed banquets, chased foxes on horseback or competed with other privileged families as they lavished yet more money upon internal decorations and furnishings. It was really quite obscene. "Beautiful" Harewood House near Leeds was one of several grand homes built upon the profits of slavery in the West Indies.

The other day I learnt about a grand country house called Sutton Scarsdale Hall. It is between Chesterfield and Mansfield. It was saved from demolition back in the 1920's by the aristocrat and writer Osbert Sitwell but today it is a crumbling, roofless shell of a building. No more croquet on the lawn, no more carriages arriving for lavish dances in the ballroom, no more footmen hovering like shadows in the baroque dining room with its Italianate plaster mouldings. A sad and yet still beautiful place,  it looks over the Doe Lea Valley and the M1 motorway towards Bolsover Castle.
Sutton Scarsdale Hall was built in the Baroque style on the site of an existing house between 1724 and 1729 for the fourth Earl of Scarsdale. The architect for the new hall was Francis Smith of Warwick, who skilfully incorporated the earlier building of about 1469 within his design. The Italian master craftsmen Arturi and Vasalli carried out the fine plasterwork detailing in the principal rooms, remnants of which can still be seen.The cost of this splendid building and its maintenance left the Scarsdale heirs with depleted funds and they were eventually forced to sell the hall in the 19th century. 

Finally in 1920. many of its finely decorated rooms were sold off as architectural salvage and the house was reduced to a shell. Some rooms still exist: three interiors are displayed at the Museum of Art in Philadelphia. A pine-panelled room is at the Huntington Library, California. It was offered to the Huntington by a Hollywood film producer who had used it as a set for a film, "Kitty", in 1934. He had bought it from William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate and well-known collector.

So yesterday, I parked near that house of grandeur and memories and walked around it, absorbing its atmosphere before striking out across the fields towards Bolsover on a walk that lasted for more than four hours in unseasonally warm March sunshine.
From Sutton Scarsdale Hall you can look across the
valley of the River Doe Lea to Bolsover Castle

13 comments:

  1. Regardless of their history, it is a shame to see once great buildings crumble. Having said that, perhaps it is a salutary reminder to the folly of excess.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "...a salutary reminder to the folly of excess". Thank you Hippo. I wish I'd used that description myself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. a place i heard about and never unfortunately visited

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Forget Las Vegas and the Taj Mahal - put Sutton Scarsdale on your Gray Bucket List.

      Delete
  4. "played pianos"

    You quit preaching and went to meddling. What could possibly be wrong with the playing of pianos?

    Four hours of warm March sunshine have had a deleterious effect on your brain.

    Other than that, I enjoyed the post immensely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Essentially, there's nothing wrong with playing pianos but these aristocrats lived a life of leisure in contrast with their servants and tenant farmers. I used the idea of piano playing as a metaphor for their carefree existence. Please do not be offended - I am well aware that you like to tickle the ivories even though you (very obviously) are not a member of the landed gentry. Mind you, The First Earl of Canton has a pleasant ring to it.

      Delete
  5. Clumber Park is another. Most of that is at Thornbridge Hall. Now the home of your favourite brewery and the wicked witch who stole money from us through A4E. She has yet to be put in a dunking stool and confess to her sins.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never knew that about Clumber Park Adrian. Thanks. As for Emma Harrison, she is living proof that crime pays when you are rich and influential.

      Delete
  6. YP, this post has it all for me: a most intriguing place, great pictures, a host of information well presented - in short, the perfect post to make me well and truly fall in love with the blog it appears on!
    What you write about the dwindling number of Great Houses very well matches the (non-fiction) book I am currently reading, "Vanishing England". It also reminds me a lot of a book I read and reviewed on my blog in 2011, and which left a lasting impression: http://librarianwithsecrets.blogspot.de/2011/07/read-in-2011-17-little-stranger.html
    Oh, I so wish I could walk around Sutton Scardsdale Hall! It is so much my kind of place it almost feels as if I've made it up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arian - When next in England, you could walk around the old house and then maybe hike over the fields to Bolsover Castle or turn right for Hardwick Hall - another magnificent pile. Dreams can come true. Thank you for your supportive comments.

      Delete
  7. It must cost huge amounts of money to maintain these buildings, and when the owners "cry poor" it becomes a debate, I am sure, whether the building has national significance and therefore maintained by the National Trust.
    Each building would be worthy of being maintained by the national purse ~ but just how many does the UK need?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I believe the old building is maintained by English Heritage but this just involves making sure the masonry isn't going to fall on visitors. There are much more important things to spend money on than the gentry's bankrupt houses. I rather like the fact that Sutton Scarsdale Hall is an eroding shell.

    ReplyDelete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.