The Porch Room fireplace at Sudbury Hall
Sudbury Hall possesses a number of extremely grand fireplaces, from the alabaster grandeur of the Queen’s Bedroom to the exotic marbles of the Saloon via the exuberance of the carved overmantel in the Drawing Room (carved by no lesser a craftsman than the great Grinling Gibbons himself) but it is one of the lesser fireplaces, in one of the lesser rooms that always tickles my fancy every time I see it.
The Porch Room was formed out of a Cross Gallery off the Long Gallery during alterations in the 19th century. It is a bit of a passage room, unnoticed by many of its visitors, except, perhaps, for the glorious view out over the park that is glimpsed from its strange ocular window.
As part of the re-decoration of Sudbury undertaken by John Fowler for the National Trust during 1969-71 this room was papered in a famous (and now terribly expensive) Colefax and Fowler blue and white paper called ‘Berkeley Sprig’.
At the same time the fireplace was painted white to match. It was probably a wise decision for the fireplace is made up of disparate bits of Sudbury joinery that relate to the periods of the development of the Hall (and before) and will have had similarly disparate complexions.
Its main features are a pair of Jacobean terminal figures (human top half, columnar bottom) in typically ‘antique’ poses supporting what was probably once a bed head of geometric carved and inlaid work (much of the inlay now missing – another reason to be thankful for the white paint) whilst a cornice is provided by a run of deeply undercut moulding of the type synonymous with the building of the hall in the later 17th century.
The cheeks of the fireplace are provided with 18th century glazed tiles, probably made in Liverpool, which feature (unfortunately for Fowler’s blue and white scheme) a very vividly green urn. The whole seems to have been put together in the later 19th century when the new bedroom was created and needed a fireplace. Theodosius Coxon, the former clerk of works for the Sudbury Estate told the story of its creation to the new Lady Vernon when he accompanied her on a walk round the Hall in the 1920’s.