Saturday, 29 December 2012

In the belly of a ruin: Sutton Scarsdale Hall

I went on a little adventure with a friend this week to a crumbling pile in Derbyshire. Sutton Scarsdale Hall is a strange entity and not what you'd expect from a country ruin.

Though the site has been occupied from Saxon times, the present structure really began to take shape in 1724. It was an elegant Georgian Neo Classical country house intended to rival nearby Chatsworth. However, its construction was the ruin of the then owner, and it passed through several hands until, in 1919 after years of neglect it was purchased by local businessmen who asset-stripped the place. They sold all the furniture, tore out the wooden wall paneling and the roof was removed in 1920. Thus all that remained were the bare walls. In 1946 Sir Osbert Sitwell bought the wreck with the aim of preserving what remained and in the 1960s it was passed to English Heritage.

This article astutely points out that the fate of the Hall reflects the changes in society it witnessed. It was built by the English gentry, inherited by 'the richest commoner in the country', eventually bought by businessmen of the mercantile class and now, under English Heritage, is open to all. The fate of the wooden paneling is strange. The pieces were bought by the American newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst for use in Hearst Castle, but later passed to Pall Mall Films for use in sets during the 1950s. The panels are now incorporated into the decor in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

What is unique about this ruin is how, barely one hundred years ago it was a beautiful working house. Photographs still exist of the interiors from the likes of Country Life magazine and the floorplans are available. One can quite easily navigate around the house and imagine the rooms as they might have been early last century. In my post about the fate of Wallaton Hall I bemoaned the municipal-ising of grand buildings now in public hands. With its curiously rain-worn stones, rotting plaster work and quiet chimneys I rather feel Sutton Scarsdale has paid a high price but perhaps retains more dignity than some of its siblings.

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