The highly praised biography of an archetypal great house and the family who lived there for over 250 years.
On 17 June 1751 Richard Sykes, 'laid the first stone of the new house at Sledmere, in a God-forsaken spot high up on the Yorkshire Wolds, where wolves had roamed freely less than fifty years before'.
The Big House is the biography of a great country house and the lives of the Sykes family who lived there, with varying fates, for the next 250 years. It is a fascinating social history set against the backdrop of a changing England, with a highly individual, pugnacious and self-determining cast, including 'Old Tat' Sykes, said to be one of the great sights of Yorkshire (the author's great, great, great grandfather), who wore eighteenth-century dress to the day of his death at 91 in 1861. His son was similarly eccentric, wearing eight coats that he discarded gradually throughout the day in order to keep his body temperature at a constant. Aged 48, he was forced to marry 18-year-old Jessica Cavendish-Bentick - a lively and highly intelligent woman who relieved the boredom of her marriage by acquiring a string of lovers, writing novels and throwing extravagant parties (her nickname became 'Lady Satin Tights'), all the while accumulating debts that ended in a scandalous court case. These and many more unique, engaging personalities are brought to life in Sykes' lively stories.
The Big House is vividly written and meticulously researched using the Sykes' own family papers and photographs. In this splendid biography of place and time, Christopher Simon Sykes has resuscitated the lives of his ancestors and their glorious home from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centuries.
First published 2004.