Guisborough Town Council

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The Sunnyfield House fence and garden restoration came about as a result of damage caused by vandals in 2001. A lengthy planning dispute followed when an application was made to replace the fence in metal. The Planning Department objected to this and advice was sought from English Heritage.

 

English Heritage advised us that the garden fence is extremely rare and the only one of its kind in the North of England, it has its own separate grade 2 listing. They felt the Town Council should undertake a restoration project to restore the fence to its original design by incorporating the `S` shaped scrolls along the top and to replace the front gate. They recommended the project should include the re-designing of the garden to reflect that of an 18th century town house, which would then fit the criteria for Heritage Lottery Funding.

Sunnyfield House is the most prominent survivor of Guisborough’s 18th century houses and its significance is emphasised due to the raised garden and the fence between the garden and the main road. The fence is a very example of `Chinoiserie` made in the Chinese fashion by local craftsmen. By the end of the seventeenth century this was very popular and its influence was reflected in pottery/ceramics such as The Willow Pattern and furniture produced by Thomas Chippendale.

The house was originally built in c.1780 for John Harrison the Chaloner Estate lawyer who lived there with his family until his death in 1825. Afterwards, the property acted as a “parsonage” for Guisborough for fifteen years.

In 1876 the property was sold consisting of the residence and pleasure grounds, orchard and between six and seven acres of land attached. This was sold to Mr Reid to dispose of the house and grounds separately and to lay the land for building purposes.

The west wing of the house was demolished at the end of the nineteenth century to accommodate Westgate Road, which divided the original boundaries of the property. The property originally included two stone gazebos; one remains in the garden of 1 Westgate Road from where the large gardens behind the house would have been viewed.

Since that time the house has had a number of different owners, the most famous being Dr. Stainthorpe who began a long residence with his family. At the end of the First World War, Dr. Stainthorpe was ready to expand his medical activities and after he bought the house; he extended it to the east to convert part of the house into a private nursing home. This became very well known and is most remembered as a maternity home. The doctor was a great benefactor to the town, introducing X-ray services to the Admiral Chaloner Hospital. Following his death in 1951, the property was sold in 1954 and this marked the end of Sunnyfield House in family use.

It was used by the Burton Group as a hostel for management trainees between 1954 and 1972 and then as local government offices. Since 1984 it has served the town as a community centre under the management of Guisborough Town Council.

To undertake this restoration project, the Town Council has employed two major specialists in their field of work. Burns Architects are approved by English Heritage for their specialist work on historical buildings and are managing the project. The garden historian, Fiona Green was commissioned to carry out research and submit a garden design that reflects the planting available during the late 18th century and laid out according to principles of planting at that time. Fiona has undertaken numerous prestigious commissions for an on behalf of English Heritage and the Town Council gratefully acknowledges the outstanding design that she has produced.

Although no original plans of the garden exist, it is quite probable that John Harrison would have created a town garden fashionable in the Georgian period. The layout of the new garden is based on designs from this period taken from old maps. The herbaceous plants, which are being used, are typical of the planting scheme at that time and the plants that were readily available.

The Town Council would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to Guisborough Museum volunteers for their invaluable help in researching this project, in particular the late Grace Dixon. The photographs and historical information assisted us with our successful application to The Heritage Lottery Fund.

We would also like to acknowledge the pupils from Laurence Jackson School who undertook a historical project on the life of John Harrison and to officers from the Planning department for their guidance and support.

We have been very fortunate to be able to complete this project thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Guisborough Market Town Initiative and the Town Council. The HLF enables communities to celebrate, look after and learn more about our diverse heritage and HLF grants open up our nation`s heritage for everyone to enjoy.

The project commenced in June 2005 and was completed the following September when schoolchildren from Park Lane Infants came along and planted spring bulbs in the garden. A display board has been erected in the garden so that visitors can learn about the history of the house and its inhabitants.

 

Pam Batts

Town Clerk