Sutton Park (nr York): Samantha Cameron’s dad’s pad & Buckingham Palace Associations

Remember that I went to Sutton House (East London) last year?  Well, totally unassociated but bearing the same name, I returned to Sutton Park for a second visit (but I haven’t written about it before), a mid-1700s house probably designed by Thomas Atkinson (with influence from James Paine).  Just the kind of house I like.  It could be a doll’s house – five bays across, three stories high, end on roof, north/south-facing, gravel paths, formal gardens, wooded walks, cosy-sized rooms, not too big, not too small, not too affected by later periods.

It is north of York (via a 15 minute detour as the only direct road was closed with no diversion signs: thank you for a good old trusty map as the Sat Nav couldn’t cope).  The house is open Fridays and Sundays and there is a tea shop and smattering of shops in the space where one parks.

On our last visit, probably in 2008, it rained and so we made a beeline for the front door.  This time it rained again (just as we arrived) but the sky cleared and we had a chance to visit the lovely formal gardens.  Just the type of gardens this Georgian house deserves: symmetrical, formal beds of irises, roses, herbaceous plants, a pool, fields beyond.  Then there’s the Victorian addition of a fernery.  Above the back door the bees/some wasps had made a hive and D tried to warn the house guides about this.

Inside photography isn’t allowed, but after two trips and a smattering of photos on the house’s website, I have a good enough memory of its finer parts.

Reason to visit: the formal gardens are the best bit here.

The history of the Sheffield family’s association with Sutton Park only goes back to the end of the 20th century, when in 1963 the Sheffields bought the property and shifted the contents of their previous home (Normanby Hall) here. Notably, most of the fireplaces were brought from Normaby.  Originally Sutton Park had wooden fireplaces but as the house was requisitioned during the war, most were probably damaged then.

As a result of the ‘borrowed’ contents from what was essentially a regency property, the interiors at Sutton Park are largely “period appropriate” to the house but I query the wood panelling in the smaller reception room (already there when the Sheffields moved in) and the brown walls in the library on the south side of the house.  I also REALLY question the tortoiseshell paint effect in the north facing room to the immediate left of the hallway in which a lift was installed and therefore stud walls were added, giving rise to the opportunity for a new paint effect.  I thought D was about to vomit.  In this room there is also a photocopy of a Gainsborough that an ancestor gambled away into the pocket of Lord Rothschild and which now hangs at Waddesdon Manor.

To the right of the entrance hall is a small porcelain room lined with glass cabinets containing collections (somewhat diminished since in 2009 the thieves stole a rare Meissen Monkey Teapot – see with a Meisen chandelier that a naughty visitor pinched a bit from.  In 2008 we were told that a similar bit to that which was stolen had been sent to Germany for a replica to be made; given we were told the same story in 2012, Meissen are either incredibly slow or the story has just become part of folklaw.

The “incest” dogs under the table in the hall (as we were introduced to them last time by a much embarrassed guide who I suspect meant to say “incense dogs” but it was her first day and she was rather young so perhaps was more familiar with the former word and not the latter) were not mentioned but the trunk and large framed picture opposite them were, as was the clock next to it, a Chippendale piece and a gift from the family at Nostell Priory.

That trunk and picture come from Buckingham House, which was originally built by John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham before being sold to the Hanovarians and becoming Buckingham Palace.

We also noted the Giuseppe Cortese plasterwork in the hallway (and were shocked to learn that in the 18th century Wakefield of all places was a sophisticated capital and centre of interior decoration where Cortese was based!)

Through to the library with the TV (opposite the front door), a left turn into the pine (stripped) clad room – the panelling was brought from Potternewton Hall near Leeds by a previous owner and is reminiscent of a sauna.

We then moved along the corridor to the better rooms (in my opinion): the lady’s sitting room with some nice French furniture and then the late 18th century extension of the summer room – a high, long room dressed in chinoiserie style with original wall hangings (including cut out birds pasted over seams in the wallpaper) and a drinks cabinet inside a trunk.  This room has no cavity wall or foundations so is incredibly cold in the winter; however it does have its original wooden fireplace. Could this have been a bedroom during the war and therefore as there might always have been someone sleeping here it wasn’t damaged?

Upstairs, on the landing is a rare Dutch dinner service in a Dutch cabinet (and some pots without lids – a visitor soke the top of one so the other has been removed too for its own safety!) and then a couple of Victorian bedrooms.

Another staircase at the other side of the house winds down into the dining room (where weddings are also held) in a strange wing to the house.  The picture above the fireplace of Normamby Park by Felix Kelly in here is delightful but the windows in this room are very high.  I think I’d be moving the dining room into that sauna so I could look out over the garden while eating…

Outside D had a field day with the cheaper than chips (well, Central London chips) plants on the stall by the front gate.   I admired the hog on the gates and stumbled across the ice house, next to the walled garden, which now houses a falconry centre (extra cost).

For those who are interested, the pictures of the rooms from the house’s own website:

The summer room


The brown library

When visited: June 2012

House * out of 5: ***

Garden * out of 5: ***


8 thoughts on “Sutton Park (nr York): Samantha Cameron’s dad’s pad & Buckingham Palace Associations

  1. Thank you for this post. I have long had Sutton Park on my ‘list’. Was it not the home of a drama school at one time? Perhaps I’m getting muddled and am too lazy to go to my ‘local’ leaflets drawer to dig out the relevant ‘file’. I’m trying to open the website but it’s being obstinate. Never mind I guess as you went in June it is unlikely to be open (even on Sundays and Fridays) again until next spring. Barbara

  2. Incest dogs are quite common in some parts you know!

    Sutton Park is such a beautiful and well proportioned house. When you say the rooms are cosy, could you hazard a guess as to their actual size? Would eighteen or twenty feet deep by sixteen feet wide be close?

    1. I’m going to try and work out dimensions but these are random guesses based on what I think seems right – pot room: 15ftx10ft; lift room – 10ftx10ft with a lift in the corner; library 25ftx12ft, sauna room (!) 12ftx12ft, ladies sitting room same size as the library, summer room 20ftx40ft (it’s essentially added onto the end of the house so sits across the full width). I’m going to upload the pics from their website so you can see.

  3. Sutton Park is a delightful place to visit – I hold two plant fairs there each summer, one in April, the other in September and they’re held outside the main door of the house beside the two magnificent Cedars. Good event to come if you’re looking for fabulous (and unusual plants, shrubs, trees, etc) plants at fantastic prices. As to the family – Lady Sheffield is a really sweet lady and spends most of the day wandering about the stands talking to people and buying plants. The house has a very lived in feel to it (as they do live here) and as you say, the gardens are great to wander through. The Falconry centre closed end September 2012 by the way.

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