Sudbury Hall is an E-shaped Restoration mansion housing a brilliantly crafted interior decoration. The house was built by George Vernon around 1660, with contributions by Grinling Gibbons. Vernon financed his new home after an advantageous marriage the year before. It seems likely that the eccentric Vernon acted as his own architect; certainly, the exterior is a peculiar mix of styles, ranging from diapered red-brick to a fanciful cupola, and entered through a two-story porch.
The Hall was built in a style that would have been thought old-fashioned at that particular time and included a row of oval windows in the upper storey that has been likened to spectacles as if the house wore multiple pairs of eyeglasses. The most striking feature, however, is a small dome high over the entrance portico, crowned with a golden ball. Aside from being a striking decorative feature, the dome was used as a beacon for travellers.
At the same time as George Vernon was building the Hall, he also rebuilt the estate village, which has remained remarkably unchanged since. He even built a village pub, The Vernon Arms, which is still a pub today.
The simple, even understated exterior belies the impressive and luxurious interiors. The interior has been well-preserved, though in places the furnishings are sparse.
The long gallery sports more superb plasterwork, with likenesses of Roman emperors sharing space with exotic animals and foliage designs. The gallery stretches 167 feet and is lined by family portraits. Long galleries were common in Elizabethan houses, where they provided a place to exercise on wet days, but it is unusual to find one in a Jacobean house.
One peculiar chamber is the Billiard Room, which seems at first glance to be in a dreadful state of disrepair, but actually, it is preserved exactly as the Vernon family left it. One theory, that a friendly volunteer steward suggested to us, is that the family simply ran out of money and could not complete the Billiard Room.
We mentioned Grinling Gibbons earlier; nowhere is his craftsmanship more evident than the superb carving that surrounds the fireplace and mirror overmantle in the drawing-room. Look closely and you will see that what appears at first to be a design mirrored on both sides is actually different, with unique clusters of foliage, fruit, and animals. The carving was created in 1678, at a cost of 40 pounds. The detail is extraordinary and underlies why Gibbons was so highly respected and sought after by the wealthiest house owners in Britain.
Perhaps the finest room in the house is the Great Staircase, built for show, probably to a design by George Vernon himself. If Vernon did design the delicate traceried stair and the ornate plasterwork ceiling, he was an artist of no mean skill, for it is one of the finest staircases chambers in any British country house.
As you wander through the ornate state chambers the rooms might look a little familiar. That’s because the Hall was used for interior settings in the 1996 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. The Hall stood in for Pemberly in the film, with scenes set in the Long Gallery, Saloon, Great Staircase, and other rooms throughout the house.
The staterooms are luxurious and opulent in the extreme, but when you pass beyond them to the family rooms and bedchambers you get a completely different picture of the Vernon family’s home life, for here the rooms are simple, pleasant, and intimate, with none of the sumptuous decoration of the staterooms. You really do get a glimpse into the family’s private life.
The parkland surrounding the Hall includes a formal garden laid out at the Restoration, and later 18th-century landscape gardens designed by Capability Brown. A more recent addition is a Victorian formal garden. Beside the Hall is the medieval church of All Saints, with tombs of the Vernons dating back centuries. One of the highlights is an alabaster memorial to John Vernon and his wife Mary (c. 1600).
The Grade One Listed stately home once had an illustrious resident. The widowed Queen Adelaide retired there after the death of William IV. She technically left in 1842 when, as a tenant of William Ward, the Dowager Queen moved into her own home, Witley Court, in Worcestershire.
But some say that she came back to Sudbury, in December 1849, and she remains there still. She’s just one of the ghosts said to haunt Derbyshire’s, Sudbury Hall.
Sudbury Hall is, without doubt, one of the finest and best-preserved Jacobean houses in England.
The Royal Haunting
Queen Adelaide has been identified as the ghostly lady in the green, velvet dress.
Queen Adelaide was certainly at Sudbury Hall during her lifetime. There are countless historical documents to prove it.
Records from the house recall how many servants accompanied her; and how suddenly more grand everything became. Everything from etiquette to the quality of the meals steps up a gear when royalty is in residence.
Dowager Queen Adelaide arrived in 1840, three years after the death of her husband, William IV.
Her niece Queen Victoria was on the throne. In the movie, The Young Victoria, it’s Adelaide we see privately giving advice to the teenager, before quietly retreating. London could not cope with two Queens!
So it was to Sudbury Hall that Adelaide went. It was here where she wrote her will, then quietly mourned her husband. She was gone again by the end of 1842 to take up residence in Worcestershire instead.
The only question hangs over whether she later came back to Sudbury. Countless members of staff and visitors to the hall think that Adelaide might have done just that.
In the Queen’s Room, several people have reported a feeling of being watched.
Occasionally people approaching the small dining room will catch a glimpse of green from the corner of their eyes. Others have seen more clearly the woman in the green, velvet dress. She walks into the room and disappears.
No reenactment staff even dress like that, let alone are on duty during the sightings. But it’s obvious who she is. Too many portraits of Queen Adelaide exist not to match her visage with the ghostly apparition answering a long gone dining call.
The Woman in Black
The great staircase is the location for a distressing scene, which historians have been unable to place.
In contrast to Dowager Queen Adelaide, nobody knows the identity behind a far more frequent haunting at the house.
The grand staircase is beautiful to behold. Visitors to the property tend to spend a long time gazing up to its height, taking in its sweeping elegance and the portraits lining its walls. This was the staircase used in the classic BBC miniseries of Pride & Prejudice. Housekeeper Mrs Reynolds stood on it to show miniatures to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr and Mrs Gardiner.
Fortunately for them, the only people in the shot that day were actors and actresses. Others looking up the great staircase have seen much, much more; and it’s terrified them all.
A woman in black descends from the top floor. She appears to be in distress. All of the colour has drained from her face. She reaches the bottom step and pauses. She’s grief-stricken and doesn’t know what to do.
Who she is, or what has upset her quite so much, still remains a mystery.
Long Gallery Ghost
Who is the blue lady who walks up and down this room at night?
Since Elizabethan times, stately homes in Britain have included a long gallery; Sudbury Hall is no exception.
Stretching the length of the house, lined with windows and artwork, this room would have been used for exercise. High born inhabitants would pace up and down, collecting their thoughts and contemplating the scenery.
One of them apparently still does.
There have been many sleepless nights for Sudbury Hall’s National Trust Property Managers. The flat which comes with the job is situated directly beneath the Long Gallery. During the night, when all is otherwise quiet, footsteps can be heard walking up and down, up and down, in the room above.
Sometimes it even triggers an alarm. Responsible for security, the manager has to leap from his or her bed and rush up the grand staircase to check for intruders; there is never anybody there. The Long Gallery remains empty.
However, a clue to the nocturnal walker may come in the blue lady seen by some visitors to the house.
When the Mayor of Derby visited, in an official capacity, his chauffeur remained with the car outside. Sudbury Hall staff, eager to extend their hospitality, kept nipping out to invite him to come inside. There were refreshments being served inside.
The chauffeur said no, but everyone got the sense that it wasn’t just professionalism keeping him out. He looked decidedly uncomfortable.
Eventually, he was outright asked why; and then he shared a story dating sixteen years before. He had been just an ordinary visitor then, touring the house with his family. They’d wandered into the Long Gallery and immediately spotted the lady in a long, blue gown, sitting on a chair at the far end.
The assumption, of course, was that she was a tour guide, dressed in period costume as part of a living history day. But that was strange because no-one else was doing that.
As the family neared her seat, she suddenly stood and, without a word, walked into the adjoining Talbot Room. They followed her inside, then starred with shock. The book-lined room was completely devoid of a single soul, but themselves.
By now very rattled, the chauffeur and his family rushed out to find the nearest actual tour guide. They were reliably informed that no-one was dressed up that day, and, no-one had been overseeing the Long Gallery.
Photos and written piece by Paranormal Investigator and Urban Explorer, Simon Wilson.