Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 28, 2013

Sudbury Hall

Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire was inherited by Sir John Vernon in 1513 and remained the Vernon country home until 1967 when it was transferred to the National Trust [1]. The house as seen today is mainly the creation of George Vernon who rebuilt Sudbury Hall in the mid-17th century [2]. With rooms that are "lofty and handsome, neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance [3]", Sudbury Hall is famed as the interior location of Pemberley in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

Sudbury Hall

It was planned that Lyme Park would represent both the exterior and interior of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, however, a change of management at Lyme Park meant the interior was no longer available; Sudbury Hall was miles away, but was chosen because of its elegant interiors and impressive long gallery [4]. Said Pride and Prejudice Location Manager Sam Breckman, “Houses on the scale of Pemberley are few and far between. It is supposed to be in Derbyshire which would give it a distinctive northern look, and it has to be very big and set in stunning scenery” [4]. The interior of Sudbury Hall, with its many family portraits, effectively establishes the Darcys as members of the established gentry.

From the 17th century onward, visiting country houses was an accepted social convention and popular pastime; visitors, who interacted with housekeepers and not the owners themselves, were particularly interested in the portraits on display which visually represented the family members and dynastic status of the house [5]. Perhaps the most famous of all country house visits is Elizabeth Bennett's tour of Pemberley, during which she reevaluates her feelings for Mr. Darcy based on the finery of his home and earnestness of his portrait.

The housekeeper first leads Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle into a room with ornate plasterwork and large portraits. In the film, this room is referred to as "The Music Room," however Sudbury Hall calls it a saloon. This would have been the most important of the reception rooms at Sudbury Hall, although it was likely first used as a dining room [6]. As the tour of the house continued, "[Mrs. Reynolds] related the subject of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture" [3], all details that visitors to the house would be interested to know.

Pride and Prejudice- Saloon

Pride and Prejudice- Saloon

John Vanderbank the younger, 1737

The strictly symmetrical Vernon family portraits displayed in the saloon are almost like a set-piece, each work framed by a series of tabernacles echoing the ornamentation on the ceiling [7]. The portraits are almost all full-length and would have been quite expensive to commission; the individuals are represented in lavish formal outfits, further emphasizing the family's great wealth. As guests were received here, they would be struck by the opulence of the room and decorations, which only intensifies throughout the house.

Pride and Prejudice- Saloon

Michael Dahl,  c.1725

John Vanderbank the younger, c.1737

In Sudbury Hall, the main reception rooms, along with the library and billiard room are located on the ground floor. The Great Staircase in a cheery yellow Staircase Hall leads up to the first floor, which is dominated by the grandiose Long Gallery. The ostentation of the weighty staircase, a feature of late Stuart architecture, provides a suitably luxurious atmosphere as they lead up to the first floor and the Long Gallery [8]; the family portraits in the Staircase Hall only add to the splendor.

Pride and Prejudice- Staircase Hall

Martha Harcourt, Lady Vernon (1715-1794)                    
Enoch Seeman the younger, c.1744 
Michael Dahl, 1690 - 1710

Enoch Seeman the younger, c.1714-1715

The Long Gallery, 138 feet in length, is located on the first floor of Sudbury Hall [9]; this is quite unusual for the period, but follows the text of Pride and Prejudice as the housekeeper relays that "in the gallery upstairs you will see a fine, larger picture of [Mr. Darcy]" [3]. Having a garden-front Long Gallery on the first floor was decidedly an old-fashioned feature by the 17th century, but its display of family portraits was certainly grand enough to represent the family's identity as aristocracy. The original purpose of long galleries did not require any particular furnishings or decorations, and it wasn't until the Elizabethan period that the ample wall space and natural light were taken advantage of for the display of portraits [10].

Pride and Prejudice- Long Gallery

after Sir Peter Lely, c.1675 

As the housekeeper continued upstairs with the tour of Pemberley, "the picture gallery, and two to three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art" [3]. The portraits displayed in the Sudbury Hall Long Gallery would have surely been of the highest merit, representing the many faces of the Vernon ancestry, along with depictions of friends and royalty. The contemplation of these many portraits served a moral purpose as well; as family members or visitors walked down the gallery, they would consider the virtues and vices of each individual depicted, and try to then improve their own character [10].

Pride and Prejudice- Long Gallery

In a very prominently placed portrait in the Long Gallery is Mary Onley, the wife of George Vernon; she is pregnant in this image, and her fertility is symbolized by the gathered folds of her dress and the pomegranates she holds [11]. As the wife of the owner who most extensively shaped Sudbury Hall, it is not surprising that her portrait is displayed in an eye-catching gilded frame in the center of the Long Gallery. 

John Michael Wright, 1659 - 1660

British (English) School, 1670 - 1699

"In the gallery there were many family portraits, but they could have little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walked on in quest of the only face whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her- and she beheld a striking resemblance of Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face, as she remembered to have sometimes seen, when he looked at her" [3]. The success of a portrait, at the most basic level, is whether it truly conveys the sitter [12]. In this way, the portrait of Mr. Darcy in the Long Gallery is hugely successful, as Elizabeth "thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before" [3].  This portrait of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy was specially commissioned for Pride and Prejudice, and given to Firth as a gift at the end of filming. He then gave it to his mother, and it was auctioned for charity in 2009; it sold for an astounding £12,000 [13]. 

Pride and Prejudice- Long Gallery portrait of Mr. Darcy

In a period when the upkeep of a country house can be too expensive for private owners, the National Trust has rescued many magnificent houses including Sudbury Hall. The grand but tasteful interiors of Sudbury Hall reflect on the wealth and taste of the Vernon family, and perfectly represent Pemberley as Mr. Darcy reveals his moral character through his aesthetic choices [14].


[1] BBC Your Paintings. “National Trust, Sudbury Hall.” Accessed April 28, 2013. ww.bbc.co.uk/arts/
[2] The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses. “Sudbury Hall.” Accessed April 28, 2013. 
[3] Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003.
[4] Austenprose. “Austen Film Locations: Pemberley- Pride and Prejudice 1995.” Accessed April 28, 2013. 
[5] Miers, Mary. The English Country House: from the Archives of Country Life. New York: Rizzoli International 
               Publications, 2009.
[6] Austenonly. “Jane Austen Film and TV Locations: Sudbury Hall.” Accessed April 28, 2013. http://austenonly.com/
[7] Jackson-Stops, Gervase, and James Pipkin. The English Country House: A Grand Tour. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985.
[8] Musson, Jeremy. How to Read a Country House. London: Ebury Press, 2005.
[9] Sykes, Christopher S. The National Trust Country House Album. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989.
[10] Maroon, Fred J. The English Country House: a Tapestry of Ages. Charlottesville: Thomasson-Grant, 1987.
[11] Strong, Roy. Introduction to The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 17. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 
[12] Kerslake, J.F. “Pictures as Documents: The Chatham House Collection.” International Affairs 33.4 (1957): 453-459.
[13] BBC News. “Darcy Portrait Sells for £12,000.” Accessed April 28, 2013. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7844319.stm.
[14] Duckworth, Alistair M. “Gardens, Houses, and the Rhetoric of Descriptions in the English Novel.” In The   
               Fashioning and Functioning of the British Country House, edited by Gervase Jackson-Stops, 403. Washington, 
               D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1989.

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