Introduction - Christopher Sykes
Sledmere House is a house of great charm that sits high up on the Yorkshire Wolds in a landscape of rolling hills and woodland. It is not a palace like its neighbour, Castle Howard, but a large country house, one of the many ‘stately homes’ that are to be found dotted around England. In the village and the neighbourhood, it is known as ‘the big house’, and it is still a home to the Sykes family, who built it and have inhabited it for over 250 years. It was my home till I was eighteen and left to work as a photographer in London, and it is now home to my brother, Sir Tatton Sykes, the 8th Baronet.
The money that paid for the building of this beautiful house came from wool. Having started life as sheep farmers in Cumberland during the Middle Ages, the family had migrated to Leeds during the early part of the C17th. Here they made a fortune in the wool trade, before moving to Hull where Richard Sykes established himself as a merchant in the then flourishing trade with the Baltic, exporting cloth in return for Pig Iron, a vital ingredient in the manufacture of steel. His marriage to Mary Kirkby, the sister of Mark Kirkby, Hull’s richest merchant, brought him the land and manor house of Sledmere, and on his death this passed to his nephew, Richard, who in his diary entry for June 17, 1751, wrote ‘Laid the first Stone of the new house at Sledmere.’
Over the next forty years, the fortune of the family increased, as they moved from being merchants to becoming titled landowners, and as it did so, so did the size of the house. This was the era of the ‘power houses’ when rich men showed off their wealth by building on a grand scale. Such a man was Sir Christopher Sykes, 2nd Baronet and nephew of Richard, who between 1780 and 1790 enlarged the house to what it is today, in the process consulting some of the leading architects and garden designers of the day, Samuel Wyatt and Capability Brown among them. They left him their plans and he adapted them to what he wanted, creating, with the help of Joseph Rose, one of the finest plasterers
of the day, some magnificent interiors for his new home, including a 120ft long Library that ranks amongst the finest rooms in England.
This house was home for the next four generations of the Sykes family, until 1911, when a disastrous fire, that started in a chimney breast in the attics, swept through the house, ultimately leaving nothing standing except the outer walls. Miraculously, with the help of every single person in the village, male and female, from schoolchildren to grandparents, ninety percent of the contents were saved, passed down a human chain, hand to hand, to be spread out on the lawns below. This was not the end, however, for from the ashes, and under the watchful eyes of Sir Mark Sykes, 6th Baronet, and Yorkshire architect, Walter Brierly, Sledmere House rose again, and it still stands today, a house that reflects two Georgian ages, those of George III and George V.