Norwood Park

Norwood Park, c.1905
Norwood Park, c.1905.

ON one of the most elevated parts of the beautiful park of Norwood, a mile or so away from the venerable towers of Southwell Collegiate Church, there is a prostrate oak, the decaying remnant of a tree of vast proportions, which was once a very giant amongst the sturdy brotherhood of oaks that have flourished in the Norwood domain for generations. What remains of it is called to this day” Cludd’s Oak.” The tree has been cut in sections, a long while ago, for a reason which does not appear obvious, and to-day it lies in knarled and aged pieces amid the flowers of May and the luxuriant undergrowth of a picturesque plantation. This piece of fallen timber, whose only visible claim upon the attention of the wanderer among the Norwood plantations, is that doubtful one which comes of ago and decay, remains to remind one of a custom which was observed in the district two hundred and fifty years ago, and is in a measure associated with the history of the house which I visited in the spring of 1881. In the early part of the seventeenth century there lived at Southwell, a certain Mr. Edward Cludd, who had considerable influence in the neighbourhood. This gentleman is supposed to have been descended from the Cludds of Shropshire, and at one time he is said to have been possessed of a small property at Arnold, near Nottingham. He was concerned in the civil war which took place between King Charles and his Parliament, and he threw what influence and zeal he had into the Parliamentary cause, his course of action being dictated, it is recorded, not because he was an enemy to monarchical supremacy, but because he was a strenuous opponent of the government administered by the king. There is no necessity to invent an excuse for the introduction of this gentleman’s name into this article, because not only did Mr. Cludd own Norwood, but he was in his time the principal adviser of all measures taken by Parliament in the district in which he lived, and “was the person by whose invitation and under whose protection the commissioners of Scotland resided, and held their consultations in the Archiepiscopal Palace of Southwell “—whose servant once told an enquiring friend, “that he and his master (Cludd) ruled all Nottingbamshire.” This, of course, was a ridiculous exaggeration of Cludd’s authority, but that the then owner and occupier of Norwood Park was a man of considerable power in the State, there can be no doubt and perhaps those ‘who admire the grand old Minster at Southwell are not generally aware, that but for the influence of this man, that famous pile would not have existed to give celebrity to a county which cannot boat too many great buildings, to charm the antiquary, to delight every lover of the beautiful, and to provide an excuse for the establishment of a new episcopal see. Cromwell would have demolished Southwell if it had not been for Mr. Cludd,  afterwards of Norwood Park, who had great influence with the stern Protector, and who procured a revocation of the warrant that had already been issued for the demolition of the Minster. It was not until after the alienation of the episcopal and Church lands that Mr.Cludd became the purchaser of Norwood Park. Here he built a lordly pleasure house, whose hospitable doors were thrown open for the reception of guests who could entertain him with their wit and pleasant small talk, and also for the entertainment of those who needed a larger supply of the good things of this life. That he was a man of considerable wealth is tolerably certain, for a conveyanee, dated 1646, states that he became the purchaser of the Bishop’s Palace in Southwell, New Park, and Hexgrave Perk, in the bishopric of York, for one thousand six hundred and sixty-six pounds, seven shillings, and threepence halfpenny—the last-named coin presumably representing the fittings of the palace. Being a Justice of the Peace and a Knight of the Shire for the county of Nottingham in the Protector’s Parliament, Mr. Cludd did not lead an idle life, and in summer time he must have often led a pleasant one, as his duties often took him to the cool shade of that magnificent oak whose lifeless trunk now lies slowly rotting among the flowers which grow in the Norwood plantations at the present time. At the time to which I refer, marriages were solemnised by the civil magistrate, and “Mr. Justice Cludd became very famous for the numberless rites of this kind which were celebrated by his authority under a remarkable oak in Norwood Park.” Such is the history of “Cludd’s Oak,” as it is called to this day, and round its prostrate bole the flowers of the woods will blossom for many years to come, unless some future owner regards it simply as a piece of fallen timber that needs carting away.

After the Restoration, Norwood Park became the property of the Archbishop of York, and at various times there have been grants of timber from its well-wooded enclosure for the support of the Church and other purposes. Norwood Park has always been famous for its timber. A number of remarkably fine oak trees, equal in size and in shape to any to be met with amid the vast collection of Sherwood Forest, give it a picturesqueness and a charm which cannot he met with in most modern parks, and then there are elms and beeches and other trees of noble proportions. In a park which extends over more than a hundred acres there is room for some big trees, and Norwood has the advantage of these. The sylvan arrangements are, indeed, very fine, the views to be obtained from various ‘parts of the park are excellent, and not the least pleasing of them is that glimpse of the spires of the Minster, which appear ever the tops of the trees as you stand on the steps in front of the hall. Norwood Park has always been a delightful residence. The luxurious Archbishops of York, who could enjoy pleasant prospects and delightful natural surroundings, as well as sumptuous feasts and brilliant society, were happy in its retirement, and since then two handsome houses have been built within its domain by successive lessees, one of them that erected by Mr. Cludd. Towards the end of the seventeenth century the Residence House at Southwell was built in a great measure out of the profits arising from a sale of timber in Norwood Park, directed by the then Archbishop of York for the purposes of the Chapter. In the beginning of the present century the estate was in the possession of Mr. William Burton, who sold the lease of it, in 1731, to Mr. Edward Becher, from whom it was purchased, in 1747, by Sir Samuel Gordon, Burt. It was purchased, in 1764, by Mr. John Sutton, who built the mansion which stands in Norwood Park at the present time. Mr. John Sutton dying intestate, the family estates descended to Sir Richard Sutton, who, in 1778, procured an Act of Parliament, enabling him to exchange certain lands contiguous to the town of Southwell with the See of York, for Norwood Park. This member of the Sutton family, who owned large estates in Nottinghamshire, was one of the Lords of the Treasury during Lord North’s Administration, and was created a baronet, in 1772. He died at Bath, in 1802. By the means just mentioned the family estates became freehold, and the Norwood portion of them remained in the possession of the Suttons, until it was purchased by Mr. J. E. F. Chambers, J.P. In the meantime the hall has had a succession of tenants. It was once the residence of the Marquis of Carmarthen (the present Duke of Leeds), of Lord Edwin Hill, of Mr. Dashwood Fane, and, in 1881, it was sold by auction, and purchased by Mr. Starkey, a Yorkshire gentleman.

The mansion is of red brick, and its spacious front has caught that agreeable tint—that subdued ruddy tone which gathers upon good brickwork in the course of years in districts that are free from the soiling influence of smoke and other elements which mix with the air of towns. The house is three storeys in height, with entrance hail, staircase, and five reception rooms on the ground floor; on the first and second floors are fourteen bed and dressing rooms, and the two wings contain the servants’ offices and store rooms. Since the hall was built, considerably more than a hundred years ago, few, if any, alterations have been made either to increase its accommodation or to alter its proportions. It was, at the time of its completion, as it is now, one of the great houses of the county and the distinguished and wealthy tenants who, since it ceased to be the residence of the Sutton family, the head of which, the present baronet, has settled in a handsome house in Berkshire, have placed elegant furniture in its spacious rooms, and fine pictures on its accommodating walls, have found it sufficient for their requirements, and have lived contentedly in the enjoyment of those pleasures which make the life of an English country gentleman an enviable one. Mr. Chambers purchased Norwood when it was put up for sale some years ago, and became possessed of a residence, which, under less advantageous circumstances than those which obtain at the present time, was a centre of archiepiscopal hospitality, and the scene of those dignified orgies, at which in olden times the heads of the Church militant sometimes presided, gathering round them the intelligence and wealth of the district in which they had their residence. The late owner of Norwood is descended from a Yorkshire family, who at one time held Compton, in the parish of Collingham, from Kirkstall Abbey, and who, at a later date, have been settled at The Hurst, in the neighbouring county of Derby. A near relative of Mr. Chambers’ possession is a letter written by his Grace to that gentleman, which has a local interest, inasmuch as it relates to the Nottingham Castle, and to a charity fund then existing in the town, in which the Pelham-Clintons have such a considerable interest. The letter was written at Clumber, in 1830, and in it the Duke says, “After all that has been done at the Castle, I could not let it for less than was paid by the last tenants. It is a charming place for anyone, and ought to let for at least £150 for the half.” The latter part of the letter refers to” the charity fund at Nottingham,” to which the noble writer requests Mr. Chambers to raise his subscription from £25 to £50, “considering the property which I possess in Nottingham, and that being free from rates.” This letter is preserved, together with others from the same author, and among such of the documents relating to the family as are in the possession of Mr. Chambers.

In his rooms Mr. Chambers had a good collection of topographical histories, and a small assortment of books of natural history and learned literature. The walls of the drawing room, which is entered from the hall, contained some very interesting modern pictures. Mr. Chambers’ collection comprised a set of nine excellent examples of David Cox’s lovely art. Some of them are the unfinished sketches of the master watercolourist—unlike the incomplete work of any other artist. If you look at them they are full of transparency and life; with a few touches the painter has produced a picture truthful to nature and faithful to art. The more finished of the nine are as good specimens of the rare powers of David Cox as I have seen anywhere, and the collection is enriched by a very fine specimen of Do Whit’s beautiful colouring and accurate drawing —Kirkstall Abbey. In the drawing room there were two fine Venetian sketches in oil, by Mr. Keeley Halswelle, with whose bright and picturesque style visitors to the Academy are familiar; and a characteristic piece or work by Cattermole—Cellini valuing one of his works at the request of a party of brigands. There was in the same apartment a landscape by Sidney Cooper, and over the mantel-piece an intelligent portrait, by Sant, of Mr. Chambers’ sister. Two cabinets at one end of the room were filled with china, amongst which collection are several pieces of Pinxton ware, which have a certain local interest attaching to them. In the dining room there is an old-fashioned wall-paper, which has adorned the walls for a considerable time, and which does not seem to have suffered. The pattern is a somewhat curious combination of curves and colour, but it is pretty and light, and it certainly ought to be preserved, if modern ideas of decoration can be made to pale in the presence of the antique and the curious. The pictures in this room were chiefly portraits—one of them, by Wright, of Derby, of a John Whitehouse, FSA., of that town, who wrote a work on the stratification of the earth; another is of a Dean of the Irish Church, who was at one time rector of Pleasley, in this neighbourhood, and was connected with the Chambers family. The two sea pieces that were in this room were by Carter ; the other paintings were family portraits,oue of a gentleman in shooting costume, with dogs and gun ; the other of a person in uniform. The views from out the windows of these rooms—windows for the privilege of enjoying which, I am told, a former tenant had to pay a large sum of money annually in taxation—embrace beautiful glimpses of the park and grounds. In grassy hollow, and upon gentle swell, there are masses of tender foliage, the grand old oaks, holding rank as the monarchs of the park, their juices still circulating, after centuries of exposure to sunshine and storm, their branches still wide enough to cover such ceremonies as were performed under their prostrate brother yonder, three centuries ago, and the foliage still dense enough to shelter a hunted king. Under glass, within the kitchen garden enclosure, the grape, the nectarine, and the peach, are cultivated in large quantities, and on each side of one of the broad gravel walks, within the substantial brick walls which enclose the garden space, there is a growth of old-fashioned flowers, which fill the air with the scent of innumerable cottage gardens, and charm the eye with variety of familiar colour.