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The Great Staircase at Sudbury Hall

Visitors in the Staircase Hall at The Children's Country House at Sudbury, Derbyshire
Visitors in the Staircase Hall at The Children's Country House at Sudbury | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Few houses have stairs as spectacular as these at Sudbury Hall. This grand staircase has been the focus of major conservation work that will allow the stairs to be opened up to the public for the first time in 40 years. Discover more about the project.

Designed to impress

If you were building your dream home – what would you spend the most money on? A grand kitchen? A fancy bathroom? The man who built Sudbury Hall (now known as The Children’s Country House at Sudbury), George Vernon, started designing his dream home in the 1660s.

To celebrate his wealth, social position and political ambition he hired the most skilled and talented 17th-century craftworkers available, to design and build state rooms, service rooms, large gardens and a grand staircase.

Located at the heart of the hall, this staircase needed to possess a wow factor that would get everyone talking. He installed (and we believe contributed to the designs of) one of the country’s finest examples of a 17th-century staircase.

The ornate balustrade was carved by Edward Pierce, the decorative plasterwork surrounding the staircase was carried out by James Pettifer, and the figurative painted panels looking down on the stairs are by Louis Laguerre.

View from the top landing of the Great Staircase, showing the elaborate carved balustrade by Edward Pierce 1676-7 plasterwork ceiling by James Pettifer & wall & ceiling painting.
The magnificent great staircase showing the elaborate carved balustrade | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Steps to conservation success

The Great Staircase had been closed to the public for over 40 years, due to concerns over the structural integrity and its poorly fixed treads. The resulting unsafe vibrations, and the undersized carriage beams, meant it had to stay closed and could only be used in real emergencies, otherwise it ran the risk of becoming loose, and damaging the surrounding plasterwork.

In 2019 we initiated a project to get the Great Staircase carefully repaired and restored to its former glory so it could be used as a staircase once again. Here’s a little insight into everyone who stepped up to The Children's Country House, Great Staircase challenge.

Starting steps

Step one

A plan is created

We’d known for years about the structural integrity of the stairs due to the poorly fixed treads, the resulting vibrations and the undersized carriage beams.

With the help of Structural Engineers, Frank W. Haywood & Associates, Building Surveyors, Kirby Surveying Ltd and conservation and joinery experts, we came up with a detailed plan, which was reviewed by the National Trust teams before heading off to our local Conservation Officer, for listed building and planning consent.

Due to the nature of the planned repairs and the importance of the staircase we needed to tread carefully, to ensure this one-off opportunity to fix the stairs didn’t fail.  

The staircase hall at The Children's Country House at Sudbury, Derbyshire
A very grand staircase indeed | © National Trust Images/John Millar

The result of team work

Throughout the project, we had the full support of Trust specialists (past and present) – this included the planning officer, archaeologist, finance business partner, assistant director of operations, curators, conservators, building surveyors, operational risk – they were on hand to advise and encourage.

Everyone in the property team also had a role to play – from project managing aspects of the repairs, opening for contractors, staying late so a tricky bit of staircase could be fitted, overseeing streams of activity, advising on solutions, finding the money for the work, promoting what we were doing on social media, cleaning, the list goes on….

Climb the stairs for yourself

Finally, after 40 years being closed, with a wide ranging team of experts and a mammoth amount of team work, the stairs are safe to walk up once again. We couldn’t have done any of this work without your help – from your admission tickets, donations and memberships which all helped to fund this work to look after the history here.

We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the hall later in 2022. Do come back and visit when we're open and climb the stairs for yourself – but please no sliding down the bannisters.

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

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