Saturday, 28 March 2009

Sockburn Hall

Today I went back to the house where my mother lived from about 12 years old to 22 when she was married and my Grandparents lived until 1952. My grandfather died in 1947 and my Grandmother moved in 1952. I used to stay there when my parents went off fishing before the War, so remember it mostly as an under 9, but the house downstairs till I was 22. The garden was going backwards fast from the beginning of the war. The double tennis courts were ploughed up to plant potatoes and the rest was too much for the elderly gardener who was left after the 'call up'.

The first purchasers in 1952 were known as the Forty Thieves and they sold off the timber. Then it was bought by a man who really did want to live there but his wife didn't. During those years pigs were kept in the down-stairs rooms. the next purchasers were the parents of the present owners. As can happen to anyone, things moved against them. The mother died young of breast cancer and the house had been her dream. It was a house designed to be lived in by a family with quite a large domestic and outside staff and the post-war situation did not support that. The place gradually went backwards, the house as well as the garden.

Many years later, a member of the next generation came to see the place for the first time and fell in love with it. She offered her Aunt help to try to improve the situation. Once given permission, with all the enthusiasm of youth, she ran with it. She raised all sorts of funds, not to restore it but to do some preliminary work. What was the task?

Probably the most important was the Conyers Chapel - All Saints. It was "a sacred place of coronation and consecration, where Higbald was crowned Bishop of Lindisfarne in 781, followed, in 796, by Eanbald as Archbishop of York." (The Legend of the Sockburn Worm, the Dragon of the Tees by Paul Telfer.) It contains the most incredible collection of ancient decorated stones. There is also the effigy of Sir John Conyers, from the 13th Century. He "lies recumbent, his legs crossed, as though resting after his heroic duel with the 'monstrous and poisonous worm'. But while good Sir John takes his well-earned rest, the battle between Good and Evil, continues at his feet, where a winged serpent, or wyvern, and a dog, or lion, are locked in perpetual mortal combat." Sadly, I did not take a picture today. I grew up with him as a very important item in my consciousness. This building is Grade 1.
Apart from clearing the brambles, thistles and nettles from around it, there was little to do. It is now easy to approach.

The site of the old medieaval manor is in a field to the south of the current house. This is a registered site and is preserved because the field is grazed, not ploughed. It remains in the ownership of the owners of the house. All the rest of the Estate has passed into other hands.

The house itself is listed 2* It was built in the 19th Century by the Conyers, I think, though it may have been the Blackets, who followed them. It was not lived in for a number of years after my Grandparents left and by the time the current family bought it, there was already some deteriortation. Gradually since then things have gone from bad to worse and now it is uninhabitable, though the entrance hall (a large room) is still mostly usable and today, we had a picnic lunch in there with a roaring wood fire in the grate. I also went into the library. Sadly the drawing room, the dining room and the billiard room were out of bounds. There are patches of rot in the floors and in the hall a large area has collapsed into the cellar, so is fenced off. This prevents entrance to the bottom of the stairs and also the back quarters.

Coming in from the double back door, the roof has fallen in over the passage which leads straight to the hall door. I was able to see the kitchen. In Granny's day, the windows were all at a great height but the current owners altered that so that you can see out. (Not at all proper that the servants might possibly see the owners in their garden!) I also saw the Butler's pantry where he cleaned the silver and washed the glass. I was not able to see into the Servant's Hall - a fairly small room where they ate and where the parrot Joey lived or the sewing room beyond. I saw the bottom of the stairs that led to the butlers room and the lady's maid's room. Further along there was staircase that led up to the second story where the rest of the domestic staff had their rooms.
Tomorrow I shall talk about the gardens.


Pondside said...

That must have been a very interesting feeling, Withy - to go back to a place that was once in your family and has fallen into such disrepair. What a big project the restoration will be - for I'm sure that one day it could all be restored. I look forward to reading more.

ChrisH said...

Golly! I dread to think what the upkeep was like on a house like that, but what a place! It was brave of you to visit, it must have quite difficult.

seashell cosmos said...

Oh Withy! What memories you have from that incredible house. And even though perhaps bittersweet, I 'm glad you went and glad you wrote about your visit.Super photos too! xxx seashell

Frances said...

Withy, thank you for taking us along with you on this visit to Sockburn Hall.

Matching what you recall of visiting your Granny's home, and seeing it today must cause all sorts of emotions and thoughts.

To think of the effort that went into creating that estate, and keeping it going for a number of years is rather staggering. Am I correct in thinking that it was warmed only by hearths? How about the lighting?

The outside view puts me in mind of a romantic novel. Wonder if the property could be of some use as a location for either filming or even ... fashion photographic shoots?

Please do keep us posted, if possible, on what the current owners are able to do with regard to restoration.

I am looking forward to seeing the garden.

(Also thank you for letting me know what a wyvern is!)



I was thinking about you all day yesterday. What an enchanting place, with such a rich history, and interesting people living there. I am captivated by the joy and sadness you must have felt visiting after all this time. The photos are splendid.I can imagine all the activity, lifestyle and memories it holds within it's walls.It is great material for a novel, Withy. You must record your memories living there, through the eyes of a child. I can just see you scambering up and down that staircase. Jacobean manor houses have a particular atmosphere, I think. I will keep abreast of the progress on the website, and hope it will be restored to its former splendor.

Withy Brook said...

I am so happy that some of you are so interested in the progress of Sockburn and its history. I shall indeed keep you informed of anything that is of interest.
I love the idea of using it for a film location or such-like and will suggest it to Laura, but I fear that her aunt, who lives in a caravan by the front door and is a very private person, may not like the idea.

Sally's Chateau said...

What a fascinating story Withy but how terribly sad that the house has been allowed to fall into such disrepair, lets hope one day it is bought back to its former glory.