Both before and after the Holt family moved in to Sudley in 1884, Liverpool merchant and ship owner George Holt carried out extensive changes to the property, both structural and decorative.
"His taste in interior design was obviously influenced by the Aesthetic movement."
The redecoration included the installation of new fireplaces, panelling and bookcases, and fashionable new wallpaper. His taste in interior design was obviously influenced by the Aesthetic movement, as we can see from the style of the surviving features. Artists and designers of this movement believed in making objects beautiful for their own sake, as a reaction to what they saw as the ugliness of machine manufactures.
Following the death of both her parents, George’s daughter, Emma Holt, died in 1944. In her will she bequeathed Sudley House and its estate to the Liverpool Corporation (together with her father’s wonderful collection of paintings) to be enjoyed as an art gallery by the people of Liverpool. In 1946, nearly all of the original furniture of Sudley House was sold. While National Museums Liverpool has gradually been returning Sudley House to its original decorative style and furnishing, some original features still exist. We list our favourites below.
"Artists and designers of this movement believed in making objects beautiful for their own sake, as a reaction to what they saw as the ugliness of machine manufactures."
The entrance porch
The stained glass window in the porch was designed and made in 1883-84 by the firm of Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster. It depicts a female figure, symbolising Veritas, or Truth. Shrigley’s was founded in the 1750s as a carving and painting business. In 1868, it was acquired by Arthur Hunt, a London-based decorator and maker of stained glass and was subsequently re-named Shrigley and Hunt. The firm made high quality stained glass and art tiles. They also carried out interior decoration such as stencilling and gilding.
Simpler, yet just as beautiful, the plain glass window in the porch is made from hand-blown ‘crown glass’. This glass was spun into a large disc while red hot, before being cooled and cut into many smaller pieces for insertion in windows. The borders of the windows in these doors are made from the ‘bullseyes’ at the centre of the glass discs, where the glassblower’s blowing pipe was originally attached. They were considered the waste part of the glass and were usually sold off cheaply or thrown away. Here, they have been used to produce an impressive effect.
The entrance hall
To one side of the entrance hall, are stained glass windows in the doors leading to the lift. These were installed when the Holt family lived in the House. Like the window in the porch, they were probably made by Shrigley & Hunt of Lancaster.
When he moved into Sudley in 1884, George Holt commissioned the cabinetmakers and upholsterers J. O’Neill of Church Street, Liverpool, to make and install the Library bookcases. Their marquetry panels reflect the family's interest in the arts, with designs symbolising painting, architecture and music.
The embossed flock wallpaper in the Library was installed by the Holt family in the 1880s. Flock papers imitated the raised piles of more expensive cut silk or velvet fabrics that wealthy people mounted on their walls in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This type of tightly compressed flock was patented by Frederick Aumonier for the firm of Woollams & Co. in 1877. It was made by machine from ground up wool fibres, which were dusted onto the paper over a design applied first in size, a type of glue. The fibres stuck to the sized design, producing a raised effect. Once mounted on the wall, the paper was painted then given a glaze of a contrasting colour, which was quickly wiped off the surface. This made the colour on the raised surface stand out against the colour left in the crevices beneath, giving the design more depth.
The drawing room
The flock wallpaper in the drawing room, made by William Woollams & Co., was hung sometime between 1875 and 1900, and was originally painted green. In the late 1940s or early 1950s, when the house belonged to the Liverpool Corporation, it was painted over in blue. NML re-painted it in its original green in 1996. We reckon that still counts!
The gold stencilling around the frieze in the drawing room was possibly created by Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster, around the same time they installed the stained glass in the porch and the tiles in the library fireplace. It was re-painted by the Museums during the early 1960s, to match exactly the original designs. The scrolling acanthus leaf motifs of the stencils are echoed in the moulded plasterwork of the ceiling.
The dining room
The oak buffet is one of only two pieces of furniture now at Sudley that were in the house when George Holt lived here. It was made around 1884, especially for the dining room, and bears George Holt’s monogram, his intertwined initials, on the centre back. It was sold from the house in the 1946 sale of the furniture, organised by the Liverpool Corporation. The new owner’s nephew has very kindly loaned it back to Sudley, so that it can be enjoyed again in its original setting.
"The oak buffet is one of only two pieces of furniture now at Sudley that were in the house when George Holt lived here."
The embossed flock wallpaper in the dining room was installed by the Holt family in the 1880s. Like the paper in the library, it seems to match the type patented by Aumonier, and is therefore likely to have been made by Woollams & Co. The oak dado in this room was also installed at this time.
In addition to these special features, there are many original and unique Chimney Pieces in the House. Pop in to take a look or keep an eye out in Autumn, when we'll share some cosy fireplace inspiration.