Sudley House offers a glimpse back in time to the high-minded preoccupations of Liverpool's 19th-century elite
Many an ambitious merchant made his fortune in Liverpool. As the city grew prosperous in the 18th and 19th centuries, Liverpool’s wealthy mercantile elite furnished it with architectural evidence of their generous patronage and enlightened civic interest. But it’s the mansions they built in Liverpool’s leafy suburbs that give us a tantalising glimpse of their private lives.
Nestled in wooded grounds overlooking the river Mersey, Sudley House was home to a typical merchant family. Believed to have been built by a corn merchant and later mayor of Liverpool, the imposing red-brick house was sold in 1884 to George Holt, a successful ship-owner, noted philanthropist and supporter of Liverpool University.
Holt himself (or at least an actor with passable mutton chops) discusses his life on a widescreen TV as you peruse his grand library, complete with scale model of one of Holt’s liners. The parlour maid tells of her daily routine in the drawing room, while Holt’s daughter, Emma, earnestly discusses her own charitable pursuits in the morning room.
Almost every wall is filled with Holt’s paintings, a vast collection including works by Turner, Landseer, Gainsborough and Millais. Favouring depictions of honest country life and high-minded religious themes, Holt bought art to delight, instruct and reassure his right-thinking Victorian household. As such, it offers a window onto how a merchant viewed himself and his status.
Upstairs, the original bedrooms have made way for gallery space, featuring displays of clothes, toys and board games once cherished by Victorian children. The assortment of exquisite evening dresses once worn by the fashionable daughters of the Holland family, Holt’s close neighbours, give us a real flavour of their luxurious lifestyle.
Don’t miss: The collection of fine evening dresses, once worn by the fashionable daughters of a neighbouring Liverpool merchant.