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History of Sudbury Hall

Oil painting on canvas, George Vernon (1635/6-1702), the Builder of Sudbury Hall by John Michael Wright (London 1617 - London 1694), circa 1660.
Oil painting on canvas of George Vernon, the builder of Sudbury Hall by John Michael Wright, London, circa 1660 | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

George Vernon was just 25 when he inherited Sudbury. He was described as a ‘prudent young man, sober and active' and was well connected in the local area. He set about creating a house that would celebrate his political ambition, wealth and social position. Discover more about George's history and how his descendants bolstered the families fortunes.

Inheriting an estate

George inherited the estate in 1660 and immediately began to rebuild his ancestor’s smaller mansion. He moved the village of Sudbury to its present location and set about building the current hall.

Around the same time George married lucratively to Margaret Onley, an heiress from Northamptonshire, and began his life’s work, spanning the next 42 years of creating Sudbury Hall. Together they had nine children with at least six daughters and one son surviving her.

Mrs Edward Onley by John Michael Wright (London 1617 - London 1694) first wife of George Vernon
Mrs Edward Onley, by John Michael Wright (London 1617 - London 1694) first wife of George Vernon | © National Trust Images

Building his dream home

George kept accounts of all the money he spent on the house, which has proved to be an invaluable research source for the team at The Children’s Country House at Sudbury. In these documents, there's no record of a payment to an architect, so we believe he designed the house himself.

With his energy and new-found wealth, he created a Jacobean house, but kept the traditional structure preferred by the Tudors, with the state rooms towards the east and the service rooms to the west.

Full length portraits, the fireplace and the elaborate wall carvings by Edward Pierce of 1678 in The Saloon at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire
The Saloon with full length portraits, fireplace and elaborate wall carvings | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The women of Sudbury

Dorothea Shirley

Just one year after Margaret’s death in 1675, George married Dorothea Shirley, who was the daughter of Lady Catherine and Sir Robert Shirley.

Her titled parents provided a higher social standing to the family. They married in 1676 and had celebrations at nearby Staunton Harold Church. They had two daughters, before she died in childbirth in 1680.

Catherine Vernon

After Dorothea died in 1680, he married Catherine Vernon who was just 18 at the time, and George was 44.

It was another advantageous marriage and gave George access to the business acumen of her London based merchant family.

It was their son, Henry, who inherited Sudbury upon George’s death in 1702.

Lords, legacies and children

Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and also married well. His first wife, Anne Pigot, was heiress to property in Shropshire and Cheshire. It was their son who became the 1st Lord in 1762.

Through his first wife, the 2nd Lord Vernon, George, inherited substantial land in Wales, but it was his second wife, Georgiana Fauquier, who was considered a formidable woman; her painting hangs in the drawing room.

Finally, the trend continued, to bolster the family fortunes when the 7th Lord married an American heiress, Frances Lawrence, whose wealth enabled the building of a new stable block and coach house.

Lady Vernon's Sitting Room decorated in cool green sage, redolent of the 1930s at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire
Lady Vernon's Sitting Room, decorated in cool green sage, redolent of the 1930s at Sudbury Hall | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Creating a legacy

The history of the Vernon family is a mix of ambition, passion, creativity, innovation and design.

It's their passion for 17th-century craftsmanship that has enabled Sudbury’s interiors to remain untouched and to be considered one of the most richly decorated, and complete houses of its period.

Reimagining the house

Inspired by this creativity and innovation, the property has been reimagined into The Children’s Country House at Sudbury.

The south front of Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, with geese resting on the lawn.

Discover more at The Children's Country House

Find out when The Children's Country House is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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