The Arkwrights of Sutton Scarsdale Hall - The history of the ruined stately home
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 November 2019
Catherine Roth talks to Paul Halksworth about his new book which explores the history of the ruined stately home
Sutton Scarsdale Hall is an imposing ruin of what was formerly one of the grandest country houses in Derbyshire. Two miles from Bolsover, the Hall and its occupants have a rich history which historian Paul Halksworth has researched for his new book The Arkwrights of Sutton Scarsdale Hall.
Paul first worked as a Design Engineer in Chesterfield before embarking on a career in teaching that included the position of Head of History. Since retiring Paul has pursued his interest in the Arkwrights by researching generations of this family as well as leading guided tours and giving talks for both the Arkwright Society and English Heritage, which now owns Sutton Scarsdale Hall.
Paul's interest in uncovering Sutton Scarsdale's past has a special significance as the Hall and its estate have been a part of his life since he was a small boy. Paul's parents were married in St Mary's Church at Sutton Scarsdale and he was christened there during the war. He says, 'My father was in the Navy in the Second World War and was given three days leave to get married. When he was demobbed I was three years old and had never met him. So that we could get to know each other well, my mother and father took me in the pushchair for long walks around Sutton ponds - of which there were seven or eight at the time. That's how I first became acquainted with Sutton Scarsdale.'
Paul's next contact with the estate was through one of his school friends when he was 10. He says, 'There were three of us - Michael, Richard and me. One day Michael said to us, "My mother would like you to come to tea." Michael walked us down Rock Lane and when I saw the house at the end of the drive I couldn't believe a friend of mine lived there - it was amazing!' The house was Sutton Rock, a large 13 bedroomed mansion on the estate.
Paul says, 'Running around the house was wonderful. The top floor, which would have been the servants' quarters, was completely empty. We'd also run through the barns where there were hundreds of turkeys and on several occasions we went back for tea.' They also explored the ruins of neighbouring Sutton Scarsdale Hall, unaware of its years of history. No longer the grandiose Georgian mansion, the rooms were empty, the floors carpeted in soil with trees growing where furniture had once stood.
Although Michael and his family moved away, Paul continued to visit the estate. He says, 'As a teenager I was saddened at the state of the Hall so knew how Sir Osbert Sitwell must have felt when he had visited. He was horrified by the destruction of the 18th century estate which was why, in 1946, he bought the Hall in order to preserve its architecture.' Paul adds, 'If it hadn't been for Sir Osbert there probably wouldn't have been anything left of the Hall today.' On his death Sir Osbert left the Hall to his nephew, Sir Reresby. Paul says, 'Sir Reresby contacted the Department of the Environment and persuaded them to take responsibility for the building. In 1984 this became English Heritage, which continues to preserve the site to this day.'
Sutton Scarsdale Hall was built between 1724-1728 by Francis Smith of Warwick for Nicholas Leake, the fourth Earl of Scarsdale, although it remained unfinished as building it had caused him financial ruin. On his death his three illegitimate children were not entitled to inherit the estate so it was sold and the Clarkes, who owned estates in South Derbyshire and Staffordshire, bought Sutton Scarsdale in 1740 and finished building the main staircase along with completing the fittings.
Anna Maria Katherine Clarke, the last descendant of the Clarkes to own the Hall, married Walter Butler, Marquis of Ormonde in 1805. They spent much of their time in Ireland, visiting Sutton Scarsdale only occasionally. In their absence a cousin of the Clarkes was appointed to look after the Hall, building houses on the estate and carrying out repairs. On his death, however, the estate was neglected and much improvement was needed when it was bought by the next owner.
Sir Richard Arkwright's son, also called Richard, bought Sutton Scarsdale Hall in 1824 but remained living at Willersley Castle in Cromford. Robert, one of his sons, moved into Sutton Scarsdale Hall in 1837. Robert married Frances Crawford Kemble, who came from a very famous acting family from Newcastle, and in time they moved to Sutton Scarsdale. When Robert died in 1859 only Godfrey - one of their five sons - was still living. His inheritance was short-lived as he died just a few years later. A grandson of Robert's, William Arkwright, inherited the estate when he was just nine years old so the estate was looked after by trustees until he was 21. William bred pointer dogs, wrote novels and changed his religion four times.
In 1919 William Arkwright sold the Sutton Scarsdale estate. The Great Agricultural Depression had hit the farming industry hard and William wanted to fund his permanent move to Devon, but he didn't forget his tenants. When most of them wanted to buy their farms and houses, William helped them with mortgages. However the Hall, together with several acres, remained unsold. It was finally bought by Haslam Builders who demolished most of it for building materials which were used to build houses in Holymoorside and Somersall.
However, the interior grandeur of Sutton Scarsdale has not entirely been lost as some of the stately rooms still survive to this day. Paul says, 'They were bought by Roberson's of Knightsbridge, a London dealer, and can now be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whilst the Pine Room was bought by entrepreneur William Randolph Hearst who eventually sold it to Paramount Studios. They then used it in the 1945 film Kitty which won an Oscar for its background.'
Paul has been meticulous in his research, with eight years of work going into his book. He says, 'I think this is the first book that's been written on the topic and I want it to be a book that people read out of interest and think "I didn't know that!" I also hope the book will encourage further research and writing.'
Whilst Sutton Scarsdale is merely a shell of its former grandeur, Paul is bringing it back to life in all its glorious Georgian splendour through the lives of the people who once lived there.