Tours at Sutton Park bring the history of the estate to life, and our dedicated team of guides do an incredible job when they share our stories with visitors. We caught up with Sue Bracewell, a house guide who has been giving tours of Sutton Park for over ten years, to learn the secrets and surprises she has unearthed here.
“I fell in love with the house the moment I walked in.”
What attracted you to becoming a tour guide?
I live in Huby, just down the road, and when I retired from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, I was looking for something locally that might occupy my mind and my time. I’ve always been a people-person, having done amateur dramatics and been a yoga teacher for years. When I saw the advert to become a Sutton Park tour guide it really grabbed me, as I thought it would be a great way to meet people.
What was your first impression of Sutton Park?
I fell in love with the house the moment I walked in. it has such a welcoming, homely feel, and I came out feeling instantly uplifted. Visitors often tell me they feel the same. That was over ten years ago, and I still feel the same way now.
How did you learn the ropes as a tour guide?
I was terrified at first! I was just so worried that I’d never remember enough to do a tour. Now I have to shorten them, so as not to bore people! Becoming a good tour guide just comes with time really. That’s because you have to learn stories about the place, and they often actually come from the visitors themselves, many of whom already know a lot about Sutton Park, or the antiques inside. One time I had a visitor whose father had helped move all the marble fireplaces from the Sheffield family’s residence in Lincolnshire, and he had some fascinating stories about how they did that. They’re interesting details for the next tour, and the longer you do the job, the more your tour will evolve.
What makes a good tour guide?
We’re all very different here at Sutton Park, and that’s important. The key is to get the measure of the people you’re taking round and adapt the tour for them. Some will be very knowledgeable about porcelain or antique furniture and would relish every detail, others are just popping by and only need an idea of what the place is about. The reason we became tour guides is different for all the volunteers, and we all focus on the things we like best. I like to think I can get a laugh out of people right at the very beginning – I like to make it fun. It would be awful to just read from a book and walk around doing identical tours, visitors could do that themselves!
Which is your favourite part of the house, and why?
For me, the boudoir and the Chinese room are really special. The boudoir has such a warm feeling, and the view of the garden is lovely. As a fan of oriental culture, the Chinese room with its stunning hand painted wallpaper and beautiful artefacts, fascinates me.
What interesting fact about Sutton Park has surprised you the most?
Before I started as a Sutton Park tour guide, I had no idea about the links between the Sheffield family and Buckingham Palace, so when I discovered some of the furniture was brought to Sutton from ‘Buckingham House’, I was very surprised. It’s the same for visitors, if they haven’t read about the estate before they come then most are very interested by those particular pieces.
What question do you get asked most often by visitors?
I’m not sure there is any one question that pops up every time – each tour really is unique. However, we do get asked a very wide range of questions, and sometimes I need to come back to people with the right answer. I used to be a little nervous when I knew that a group tour of specialists in a subject were coming, because I worried, they would know more than me and I wouldn’t be able to offer much. Now I understand that I’m here to guide them round the house and tell its story, and that they can teach me so much about their own area of expertise, whether that’s modern art, porcelain or antiques.
Can you share a secret about the house or any of its contents that not many people know?
Jean, the housekeeper, pointed out a very curious detail in one of the hallway paintings which you would never notice at first glance. The portrait is of two children, but if you catch the light at the right angle, you can see a deer, hidden in the background. We wondered whether perhaps the artist had reused a canvas, but there could be all sorts of explanations.
Another novel thing which amuses lots people is a tube, about the same size as a snooker cue, tucked away in the corner of the library, near the clock. I ask people to guess what might be hidden inside, and very few people get it right first time. It contains beautifully crafted wooden library stairs, which fold out to reach the higher shelves.
Why should someone visit Sutton Park?
I think this estate has got a fascinating history which will surprise people. But this house is not a museum, it feels lived in. The fact you can imagine yourself living here, or indeed actually stay for the weekend and do just that, is what really brings it alive and makes it stand out from so many other stately homes.
Private tours with our house guide Sue Bracewell and the rest of the team, can be arranged as part of your special event at Sutton Park, as well as being available to individuals booking a visit in advance. For more information about private hire click here or learn more about visiting Sutton Park here.