'Through the keyhole, 1881'

In 1881 Leonard Jacks visited Stuffynwood Hall documenting the visit very precisely. The following are extracts from his story.

Stuffynwood, the residence of Mr. Joseph Paget, although only four miles away from Mansfield is not in this county. It belongs to Derbyshire and is just over the border line. The division of the two counties is marked by a turbulent little stream, taking its excited course through the picturesque grounds which form an approach to the mansion, and is called the Meden. The scenery at this dividing point, if it may be so described, is exquisitely pretty— might fairly be called romantic, for it reminds one of the softer aspects of the Peak of Derbyshire. The stream has not the width of the Dove, but it has some of its graceful curves and sparkling eddies, and it threads its way along a ravine, which is sheltered by masses of limestone rock of picturesque formation, and by overhanging foliage. The name “Little Matlock” has been given to it. The house which has the advantage of an elevated situation commanding extensive ‘views in both counties, is a large, handsome building, of fine architectural proportions, and a conspicuous object from certain quarters, though as it is away from the population—its name does not stand for any parish or village—it is not much known. It was built by Mr. Charles Paget upwards of twenty years ago, and as its substantial walls are composed of the hard magnesian limestone so abundant in the neighbourhood, it is likely that it will last for many generations.

Living at Stuffynwood, a drive of a few miles brings you in the midst of all the glories of Sherwood Forest; in another direction you may soon get amongst some of the scenery for which the adjoining county is so famous. On clear days, Mr. Paget, by an instantaneous process, takes photographs of the surrounding scenery from his grounds. From his dining room window you may see the trains passing along the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire line, giving life to the landscape, and these with the smoke outpouring from the funnel of the engine as the train rushes along, he has photographed successfully. The large and well-lighted rooms, decorated with quiet taste and furnished in a befitting manner, without any appearance of display, contain many beautiful things. In the hail there are curious cabinets and quaint pieces of furniture which once belonged to a Roman noble, and are, I should think, very valuable. One of the cabinets is said to have been designed by Michael Angelo; the other pieces are curiously inlaid, and quaint illustrations of proverbs and episodes in sacred and profane history are introduced to form part of the work. A fine picture of Gilbert’s hangs in the hall, and faces the entrance. It is a Scotch landscape, suffused with the light of an evening sun. A dusky haze is gathering over a reedy lake from which the wild fowl are rising—a picture that would always arrest one’s attention. The principal pictures, I gathered, were mostly chosen by the late Mr. Charles Paget, who had rare taste in matters of art. If the pictures at Stuffynwood are not numerous they are all of them, good, and they would brighten any room in which they were hung. The room of an indiscriminate collector of pictures—I mean of a man who makes a practice of buying the works of great artists whenever they are offered to him, and who cares more for the autograph of the painter than for the subject or character of the painting, are sometimes the very reverse of cheerful. But the incongruity of arrangement to which I allude is only to be observed in houses where works of art are got together, either from a love of possession or to gratify a mania for collection. The owner of Stuffynwood is not an art collector in the accepted sense of that term, but he would be justified in pointing with some degree of pride to the few works of the painters’ and sculptors’ art which his house enshrines.

In the dining room, over the mantelpiece, there is a large Scriptural painting—an Old Testament subject—showing all the soft beauty of an Eastern landscape, by Marco, a Hungarian painter of considerable repute. It represents the meeting of Laban and Jacob, and it is flanked on either side by an example of Herring’s exquisite art, full of bright, transparent light and of atmospheric vitality. On the opposite wall there are some half-dozen portraits, two of them at once recognisable. These are of the much lamented and much missed public man, whose name will ever occupy a prominent place in local history, and of his son who inherited his estates, and who is the present owner of Stuffynwood and Ruddington Grange. The ceiling in the drawing room is ornamented with a very fine centre piece. It is a reproduction of one of the masterpieces of Guido, and was painted by Italians. On the walls of this room are a number of fine water colours, chiefly of the scenery of Italy.

One of them is the Largo di Gardo, by Vandervelde, formerly Geographer Royal to the King of Holland, and who made the first famous map of the Holy Land. In recesses at opposite sides of the large window, are two chaste pieces of white marble statuary— Pasterella, from the chisel of Wolff, and Cupid, disguised as a shepherd, designed by Gibson, and executed by one of his pupils. There is a finer piece of statuary than either of these, in the library upstairs. This is Beuzoni’s “Diana,” a lovely figure, which the sculptor executed as a commission for the late Emperor of Russia, at the time of the Crimean War. The statue was not, however, destined to adorn the Imperial Palace. His Majesty was probably too much occupied with the disastrous event in which his country was involved, to indulge in art cravings, and the statue remained in Rome until it was seen by the late Mr. Charles Paget, who purchased it and sent it to England. It now graces the library of an English country gentleman, and is safe from dynamite and the machinations ‘of Nihilism. But the effect of this beautiful figure would hardly have beet’ lost among the splendours of the home of Russian Royalty. It is of more than life size; the superb goddess holds in her shapely fingers an arrow which she has just taken from the quiver; the head is slightly towards the exquisite shoulders, showing a clear cut and perfect profile, when the statue is moved in the certain position ; the drapery is backward-fluttering, and one delicate foot is lifted, suggesting progression and swift movement. It is beautiful as an ornament, perfect as a work of art, and not easily to be forgotten by one who has bad an opportunity of studying it for any length of time.

Almost every good country house has a billiard room. Billiards is a game which never loses its fascination, and in these country houses the room where the board of green cloth is set, is frequently used. The game is generally played under the most favourable and favoured conditions. The board is of the very best make, the cushions are kept in perfect order, the cues carefully selected, and of the best description, and the room very comfortable. The billiard room at Stuffynwood is just what a private billiard room ought to be. It is detached from the other principal rooms in the house, but is quite easy of access. It is lofty, and is well lighted both by windows and by a skylight arrangement of diaphanous glass, which modifies the effect of the sun’s rays when that orb is shining. The progress of the game is marked by electricity; by touching one of the nipples set in the polished ledge on every side of the board, the players register their strokes upon a figured disc without any further trouble. If this arrangement is generally adopted, billiard marking may possibly become an obsolete calling. If my visit had happened earlier in the year, I might have had a better chance of seeing the gardens and the beautiful things in the way of orchids and other showy exotics that are grown in the extensive ranges of glass that are attached to the gardens, which cover a large area of ground. These visits are much pleasanter in summer—they are made pleasant in the winter by the unvarying kindness which is shown to me by the heads of the various families representing the great houses of this county, but after spending several hours amid internal comforts, such as are alone to be met with in residences of this class, on a cold and boisterous day, one is not anxious to pass much time in flowerless gardens and leafless pleasure grounds.