Taking the wet collodion process on the road has its limitations; since you have to carry your darkroom with you, there needs to be somewhere to park your car close to the subject. Back in the 1800’s Roger Fenton used a horse and cart rather than a Volkswagen, but I guess that he had the same parking problem. So, I have been scouting locations that are accessible by car in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and came across Sutton Scarsdale Hall near Chesterfield.
This imposing Georgian mansion house was built in 1724-29 by Nicholas Leke, 4th Earl of Scarsdale. By the early 1800’s it had passed to the Arkwright family, who were major players in the cotton industry. However, by the early 1900’s the house had fallen into neglect and was sold at auction in 1919 to local businessmen who stripped all of its assets, including the oak-panelled interiors and even the roof. What currently remains is an empty shell.
I arrived early on an October morning, just as a heavy fog was clearing. The light was beautiful, filtering through the trees in the grounds of the hall. I set up my portable darkroom and camera, and aside from a few dog-walkers I had the place to myself. Bliss.
If Sutton Scarsdale Hall had survived intact, it would have rivalled Chatsworth House for its Georgian splendour. However, the derelict building has its own beauty. In Japanese aesthetics there is a concept of sabi, nicely described by Junichiro Tanizaki in “In praise of shadows”:
“We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive lustre to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. . . . We love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them.”
Sutton Scarsdale Hall embodies this concept perfectly. Early morning when the sun is low, the inside of the building lights up with a warm glow that spills out through the windows. It simply wouldn’t do that if it had a roof and all its interior walls.
After a couple of hours I had shot all of my plates. Not bad – one or two turned out exactly as I had imagined them, a fairly rare occurrence when shooting wet collodion. It was a great pleasure to sit in the warm morning sun, waiting for the plates to dry, beside this great building. I shall visit again.