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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Sutton Scarsdale Hall

Posted Thursday, May 31, 2007

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`One of Derbyshire's, if not Englands finest classical country houses'

In it’s heyday Sutton Hall at Sutton Scarsdale, between Bolsover & Chesterfield was one of Derbyshire’s, if not England’s finest classical country houses, rivalling Chatsworth in size and splendour after it was rebuilt by Nicholas Leke, Earl of Scarsdale in 1724.

Now devoid of warmth, roofless and open to the elements, the Hall retains an immense sense of the dignity and grandeur of it’s former opulence, and an aura of early Georgian splendour still haunts the expansive and romantically evocative ruins which stand stately and proud in modern-day dereliction at the heart of a once great country estate overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale.

The rows of empty windows beneath the Corinthian Order and Central Pediment, which bears the Earls of Scarsdale coat of arms, stare like sightless eyes eastward toward the rising sun – and directly across the valley to the white limestone eminence of Bolsover Castle on the opposite hillside.

`A Royalist stronghold'

During the Civil War the two houses were occupied by opposing forces, and Sutton Hall, a Royalist stronghold, was beseiged by a force of five hundred Parliamentarians and was taken by force. Today they face each other passively across the valley, both managed by English Heritage, and displaying themselves like architectural grande dames to the thousands who pass by every day on the M1 motorway.

Bolsover Castle, which crouches like a lion atop the magnesian limestone spur across the valley, may appear more resplendent, but it’s smaller and less conspicuous neighbour, a couple of miles westward has a longer and more interesting pedigree.

The History

There has been a Hall at Sutton Scarsdale, three miles east of Chesterfield, for over a thousand years, and the present ruin is perhaps the fourth or fifth house to be built in this magnificent setting.

The original Hall formed part of a Saxon estate owned by Wulfric Spott, who died in 1002 and left it to Burton Abbey.

By the time of the Domesday Survey Sudtune is recorded as having a mill and a wood, and in the possession of Roger de Poitou. It is later recorded that `The Lordship of Sutton-in-the-Dale was given to Peter de Hareston by Henry 3rd in 1255’ and that it was purchased by John Leke of Gotham in 1401.

The Church of St. Mary

The Church of St. Mary is built onto the south side of the original courtyard, and was rebuilt during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries by Sir John Leke.

The Leke family were royalists and well rewarded for their support of the crown; John Leke was knighted by Henry 8th. , and then Sir Francis Leke was created Baronet by James 1st in 1611 and elevated to Earl Scarsdale by King Charles 1st in 1640.

When Civil War broke out, Sir Francis fortified the original hall and defended it from repeated attacks by the Parliamentary army. Sir Francis, who lost two sons in battle during the war, refused to surrender to Gell’s five-hundred-strong force, but the house was stormed, the defences removed and Sir Francis taken prisoner. His lands were seized by Cromwell and only restored upon forfeiture of the sum of £18,000, a fine levied for his support of the now defeated and imprisoned King Charles. It is recorded that after the execution of Charles 1st in 1649, Sir Francis was so disillusioned and in such despair that he had his grave dug, and each Friday evening, would clothe himself in sackcloth and lie in the grave to meditate and pray!

Francis Smith of Warwick – Designer & Builder

The Leke family held Sutton Hall for three hundred and thirty three years, until it was inherited by the fourth, and last Earl Scarsdale, Nicholas Leke, and it was he who had the present Hall built in 1724.

The designer and builder was the noteable architect Francis Smith of Warwick, who used mostly materials from the old Hall and incorporated some of it’s structure into the heart of his lavish design.

Sadly Nicholas Leke died heavily in debt due to his lavish rebuilding and the Hall and it’s estates were sold in 1740 to Godfrey Clarke of Somersall, whose son Godfrey, remained Lord of the Manor until 1786.

Sutton Hall and Estate was subsequently transferred by marriage to the Marquis of Ormonde, and following his death in 1824 it was purchased by Richard Arkwright Junior and remained in the family until it was sold at auction by William Arkwright in 1919.

Sadly it fell into desrepair and was sold during the 1920’s to a consortium of Chesterfield businessmen to demolish. Much of the interior, including the Adams fireplaces which were beautifully and elaborately inlaid with Blue John, and the ornate oak staircases, were purchased by a Philadelphia Museum and shipped to America.

The roof was stripped of lead and the massive wooden joists removed, leaving only the shell of this once proud Georgian building.

By 1946 the building had deteriorated so much that demolition was scheduled, but an emergency rescue was successfully put into operation by Sir Osbert Sitwell to buy the property and to preserve the shell for eternity. He subsequently gave it to the Department of the Environment and work to secure the structure from further deterioration was undertaken. This was finally completed in 1992, and now in the care of English Heritage, it is open and accessible to visitors throughout the year who can walk inside the shell of Sutton Hall and enjoy the magnificent vista across the Vale of Scarsdale – a prospect which will forever bear testimony to the vision and architectural triumph of Nicholas Leke, the fourth, and final Earl Scarsdale.

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