In my younger days I would travel up and down the M1 to Sheffield University and it was whilst making these journeys I would be struck by the number of Country Houses visible upon hillsides looking down upon the winding monster of a motorway. They of course peaked my interest, although it would be several years before I would be able to explore some of them I can assure you it was well worth the wait.
It was one of those mornings that you certainly needed a scarf and gloves aswell as your good winter coat that we arrived at the rather windswept hilltop village of Sutton Scarsdale and even though the mist hid the M1 down in the valley you could still hear the roar of the cars and lorries.
Sutton Scarsdale Hall, is unique in the fact that its demise did not lie with the spiralling taxes of the 1950’s and 1960’s, nor had the bloodline of the family died out nor even victim to fire like Witley Court.
The house now sits almost forlornly looking across the valley, the M1 cutting through what once would have been estate or farmland. It’s once exquisite rooms now just empty spaces. With ferns growing from the open spaces were glass once sat and birds nesting in chinmeys where fires once roared.
The was a bitter wind that howled around us as we explored the house, looking for evidence of it’s past history and it’s former life but sadly nothing remained and the only glimpse you got to Sutton Scarsdale Hall were the history pannels dotted around the grounds
It was in 1919, after many years of neglect that the house went on the market; it was sadly purchased by a consortium of local businessmen who then asset stripped the house even removing the roof from the house. Leaving a once great house now just a shell.
Some parts of the building were shipped to America, where one room’s oak panelling was bought by William Randolph Hearst, who planned to use it at Hearst Castle but after many years in storage in New York, The film company Pall Mall Films bought the panelling for use as a set in their various 1950s productions. Another set of panels are now resident in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
And whilst the grand interiors, the furnishings, the staircase, the glass from the windows and even the roof disappeared across the Atlantic we were left with a few impressive pieces of plaster that cling to the exposed and empty rooms and a few remaining broken wall tiles.
We travelled on from Sutton Scarsdale Hall, to find another of the houses that I had spotted whilst driving in my youth, this was the ruin of Hardwick Old Hall. I knew of Hardwick Hall which sat adjacent to the old hall but nothing of the majestic ruin that overlooked the landscape.
Hardwick Old Hall was the family home of Bess of Hardwick, who was the Countess of Shrewsbury, who during her lifetime embarked on several grand building projects to display her immense wealth and authority; these included Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth. The Old Hall is now nothing more than a ruin and again as with Sutton Scarsdale Hall there are examples of the plaster work that would have once decorated the rooms.
Hardwick Hall was built when Bess of Hardwick decided that she needed something that displayed her wealth and situation in Elizabethan society and it was in the 1590’s that Hardwick Old Hall was left for the new Hall. It remained in the family until 1956 where it was handed over to HM Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty and then it luckily transferred to the National Trust in 1959.
It is a stunning house, with an amazing stone staircase that winds up towards the top of the house, where there is the breathtaking long gallery, which is noted to be one of the longest in any English House, there is also the little-altered, tapestry-hung great chamber with a spectacular plaster frieze of hunting scenes.
After a traipse around some country houses we drove down into Bakewell, mainly to eat and purchase a famous Bakewell Pudding. The problem that arose was that there were several shops all claiming to be the “best” or the “first” pudding shop. We opted for the busiest shop, surely a good indicator of a great pudding.
Puddings purchased and we headed off to Buxton, where we strolled through the Victorian park, admiring the stunning stone buildings and old houses then it was a nice drive home as the sun set over the Peaks