The Arkwright family always did things in a big way. After all, was not Richard Arkwright junior – the cotton entrepreneur Sir Richard’s only son – called the “Richest Commoner in England”?
Young Richard had six sons and four had estates bestowed upon them, on which to put down roots, the exceptions being Richard, the eldest son, who pre-deceased his father, and Peter, the third son who took over as heir to Willersley Castle the house built for Sir Richard and finished by the younger Richard. The rest – Robert, John, Charles and Joseph – were settled respectively at Sutton Scarsdale, Hampton Court (Herefordshire), Dunstall Hall (Staffordshire) and Mark Hall (Essex), all with rather large houses, of which Mark Hall has been demolished and now lies beneath Harlow New Town.
Robert Arkwright (1783-1859), the second son, had the most splendid house, which was probably why he forebore to step up as heir to Willersley rather than his younger sibling Peter. He and his wife, the actress Fanny Kemble, settled at Sutton Scarsdale, which had passed from the last Leake Earl of Scarsdale to the Clarkes of Chesterfield and had been sold to Arkwright by their ultimate heir, the 1st Marquess of Ormonde KP, in 1824.
Robert managed to outlive his eldest son, Maj. William Arkwright of the 6th Dragoons by two years, and was succeeded by his grandson another William, who was barely a month or two old when his grandfather died. The house and estate were therefore vested in the infant’s uncle Godfrey for life, and reverted to young William in 1866 when Godfrey died.
Although only seven, William had an elder sister, Emily Elizabeth who, in 1874, married William Thornhill Blois (1842-1889), brother of Sir John Ralph Blois, 8th Bt., and they were settled in a large house half a mile to the west of Sutton Scarsdale, at first called Sutton House but later Sutton Rock, on the estate, just in Duckmanton parish.
It is not clear exactly when Sutton Rock was built, but it seems likely to have been erected specifically for Emily and William Blois and the architecture certainly looks the date – c. 1874-5. It was described in the directories of the time as “…a beautiful residence a short distance from Sutton Hall, built by William Arkwright Esq.”
It was a rather grand but conservatively styled two storey house with a first floor sill band and a matching plat band below. It was stone, built of ashlared blocks of coal measures sandstone, probably Rough Rock from local Wrang Quarry. It had originally had an East (entrance) front of three bays, widely spaced, with the central one containing the entrance under a portico of paired Ionic columns. Above it was a window with Corinthian columns from which sprang the segmental head with prominent keyblock, flanked by paired matching pilasters supporting the entablature that ran right round the house with a modillion cornice above, a low parapet and a hipped roof behind. There were skinny Corinthian pilasters at the angles, too and the sashed plate glass windows were all set in stone surrounds with entablatures. The south front was also of three bays, but with a narrower central one and paired sashes near the SE angle to light the drawing room.
The expansion of the Blois family (there were to be a total of four children) seems to have been the trigger for the enlargement of the house. This seems to have been done either whilst building was still in progress or not very long after completion, for another bay was added on to the entrance front at the North end in exactly matching style, but slightly recessed from the remainder. This wrapped round the north side taking in a substantial service wing, although lower, and having a glass roof lighting a substantial gallery which must have been de-commissioned before the house appeared in the 1919 sale catalogue, where it fails to get a mention. This wing also acquired a second staircase of a dog-leg type, whereas the main one was in the centre of the house, top lit and of cantilevered Hopton Wood stone with an elaborate cast iron balustrade.
That the extension was an afterthought is clear from the asymmetry it bestowed on the entrance. Had the additional accommodation been initially intended a Classical design of this type would surely have been adjusted to give a measure of symmetry.
The garden front may have been completed contemporaneously with the extension, though because it ran the full width of the extended building, and consisted of a recessed centre with a single bay of paired windows flanked by slightly projecting pairs of bays at the ends. The recessed part also boasted an arched loggia. The interiors were very plain, but there were nevertheless, nine bedrooms and four reception rooms two of which measured a generous 22 by 17 ft.
The stables, coach house and offices were situated to the west, running E – W of the pleasure grounds suggesting that the house replaced an earlier one of late 18th century date – or incorporated parts of it.
Unfortunately, it is quite unclear who designed the house; it is too pedestrian a design to have been by a London man, so perhaps Thomas Flockton of Sheffield or Giles & Brookhouse of Derby might be suggested.
Blois and his wife lived there until his death in 1889 aged forty eight; his widow and their four sons had moved out by 1891, when the house was let to A. W. Barnes, who seem to have been in residence only for about four years before it was taken over by Scots aristocrat Charles Edward Stuart Cockburn JP (1867-1917), grandson of Sir William Cockburn of That Ilk, 7th Bt. His name suggests that his father, at least, was a dyed-in-the-wool Jacobite sympathiser! He married Lilian the daughter of Sir Morton Manningham-Buller, 2nd Bt. of Capesthorne in 1894, which is probably when he, as the sub-agent to the Arkwright estate, moved in. They raised two daughters at Rock House.
The estate was, however, a relatively large one, running to 5,093 acres in 1883, 300 acres of which was parkland. Furthermore, it was exceptionally rich in coal deposits, which it was the job of Cockburn to exploit without compromising the setting of the house.
Cockburn died in 1917, by which time demand for coal during the Great War and a more aggressive attitude to its extraction by his successor had begun to make Sutton Scarsdale a less than life-enhancing place in which to live. Thus in 1919, William Arkwright (who died in 1925) sold most of the estate at auction, much of it, including Sutton Rock being acquired, with 23 acres of pleasure grounds and the 124 acre Rock Farm, by the Duke of Devonshire, the Arkwrights retaining only the mineral rights and a few hundred acres that went with them.
Sutton Rock therefore passed to the Devonshires, who settled their agent Capt. Joscelyn Denis Penrose JP there. Penrose’s father James, an Irish parson’s son, had been the Duke’s agent at Lismore, and Joscelyn was ultimately succeeded after the war by his son-in-law, the late Hugo Read, CBE, the last man to occupy Sutton Rock, from whom, I might add, I derive most of my slender knowledge of the house, amplified by the late Pam Kettle. The house and much land at Sutton Scarsdale had to be sold by the late 11th Duke in the death duty-burdened aftermath of his father’s untimely demise in November 1950.
Joscelyn Penrose’s, nephew, Derrick, incidentally, also eventually became agent to the Devonshires’ Derbyshire estates 1973-1994, and served as our High Sheriff in 1999. I might add that when I was researching Sutton Rock twenty or more years ago, I was much helped by Sir Reresby Sitwell, Hugo Read, and Pam Kettle, all alas, no longer with us. Pam gave me the aerial view and the others allowed me to make copies of material in their collections.
The end of the story is that Unlisted Sutton Rock was in 1950 acquired by the British Coal Board and was unceremoniously demolished around 1964 to facilitate opencast mining operations. Thus it stood for less than a century, but outlasted Sutton Scarsdale by just over 40 years, although the main house has, in a way, had the last laugh, being still standing – albeit as a shell. And whereas we may yet see Sutton Scarsdale itself returned to residential use, Sutton Rock has gone forever.