Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire was used for the interior shots of Pemberley House in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. We learnt in our post here of the rooms used by the BBC on the ground floor of Sudbury; the entrance passage, library and saloon, but today’s post concentrates on the last room on the ground floor to be used; indeed, it is the room that links the ground and the first floors of the house, The Great Staircase.
It is in the Great Staircase that Mrs Gardiner spots the miniature of Wickham, still on display, not on the walls of the family dining room, as in the book, but in a vitrine.
This is the approximate position of the vitrine, now taken by a 17th century side table.
And it is in the Great Staircase room that Mrs Reynolds learns that Elizabeth is already acquainted with Mr Darcy – a little– and Mrs Gardiner begins to suspect that something is not quite right with George Wickham…..
Which all makes for a thoughtful ascent of the Great Staircase itself.
The Great Staircase is probably the finest existing example of a late 17th century staircase in the country.
It was most probably designed by the Hall’s first owner, George Vernon. The carving of the balustrade was executed by Edward Pierce (1630?-1695) who had also been employed in the Saloon (go here to see his work there). Pierce was commissioned by Sir Christopher Wren to provide decoration for some of the new City churches which were designed by Wren after the Great Fire of London,and the effect of the Great Staircase is similar to that found in those churches.
The balustrade is carved in lime wood and the fruit and flower baskets in elm.
The plasterwork was entrusted to James Pettifer,who also worked in the Saloon. The plasterwork is sumptuous and encrusts the ceiling and the under slopes of the staircase.
The magnificently carved door-case, which leads from the Great Staircase to the Saloon, was created by Thomas Young a master carver from Chatsworth. Normally access to the the Great Staircase is forbidden to the general public, in order to try and preserve the detailed work from wear and tear and accidental damage, but on the day I visited to take these photographs,we had to suddenly leave the building via that route from the first floor of Sudbury, as a fire alarm began to sound. I took this opportunity to take this somewhat blurred photograph of the door surround, to the horror of my children who were rather more keen that I vacated the building safely….
This is the view from the top of the Great Staircase…
The ceiling paintings were executed by Louis Laguerre and it is thought that George Vernon again was inspired by his neighbours at Chatsworth when he commissioned him, for Laguerre worked in the Great Painted Hall there too.
The Great Staircase was restored in 1969 and decorated by John Fowler in two shades of white paint on the panelling and balustrade, and this distinctive yellow on the walls. I have always loved this effect but now it is questioned as to whether it is historically correct.
My Twitter friend Patrick Baty of the historical colourists,Papers and Paints has written this critique of John Fowler and his work with the National Trust and it makes for very interesting and thought provoking reading.
But, whatever its demerits historically, I confess I shall always love the bright, light effect of this joyous colour in such a bravura room…despise me if you dare…
Next in this series, the remaining rooms at Sudbury which were used as Pemberley Interiors.