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Wentworth Woodhouse

Wentworth Woodhouse was built by the branch of the Wentworth descended from the Earl of Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, who was executed in 1641. It is on or near to the site of much earlier houses which had probably existed since Anglo-Saxon times. The appellation 'Woodhouse' meaning a house made of wood was something worthy of note when most of our ancestors lived in mud huts. There existed a substantial house dating from the 17th century when Thomas Watson-Wentworth, the first Marquess of Rockingham decided to build a new one of such grandeur that it became the largest private home in Europe.

The west front was built between 1725 and 1734 and has been attributed to Vanburgh though there are other opinions. Before it had been finished work had started on the vast east front, designed by Henry Flitcroft in 1737 but work was not finished until the 1760s. A further storey was added to the wings in 1782-4. John Carr added the stable block in 1768.

Wentworth Woodhouse
Wentworth Woodhouse
Wentworth Woodhouse
Wentworth Woodhouse

The east front of the Palladian building is the longest of any stately home in the country (600 ft). "A pedant writes: Wentworth Woodhouse is actually 606ft long, not 600ft.....". The house, though house seems too small a word, is twice as wide as Buckingham Palace and has more than a 1,000 windows, 365 rooms which covers an area of over 2.5 acres (1.0 hectares)together with five miles of underground passageways. There was a a priceless art collection which included works by Titian, Van Dyck, Guido, and Raphael. The stable block had accommodation for 100 horses and is itself a grand Grade 1 listed building.

The house was set in magnificent ornamental gardens including a walled kitchen garden. It was surrounded by a 150-acre (61 hectare) park and a nearly 90,000-acre (36,000 hectare) estate. There were large separate buildings including the engine house complex, the gunpark and the kennels.

After the end of the Second World War in 1946 the Wentworth area was open-cast mined for coal. The local seams were low-grade and many consider that the post-war Labour government were pursuing a class-war when Manny Shinwell, the Minister of Fuel and Power ordered the mining right up to the back door of the house. A old-school left-winger, Shinwell was given options to save the parkland and gardens but was determined to press on despite representations from the local miners who had been very well treated by successive generations of Fitzwilliams. This is further supported by the fact that the Ministry of Health attempted to requisition the house as "housing for homeless industrial families". To prevent this, the Earl attempted to donate the house to the National Trust, however the Trust declined to take over the house presumably because it didn't have a big enough endowment. In the end, Lady Mabel Fitzwilliam, sister of the 7th Earl and a local alderman, brokered a deal whereby the West Riding County Council leased most of the house from the estate to house an educational establishment, leaving a small portion of forty rooms as a family apartment.

After mining ceased only part of the gardens were restored. The east front of the house was leased to the West Riding County Council in 1949 for use as a teacher training college called Lady Mabel College; the west front being retained for use by the family. There were questions about the legitimacy of the inheritance so in 1972 the last Earl Fitzwilliam ordered a vast bonfire of 16 tons of family papers, some dating back to medieval times. This is reputed to have burnt for three weeks. William Thomas George Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 10th Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1979 and the title became extinct as he left only daughters, who of course don't count. I can't tell you the monetary situation because I don't know but about this time the Fitzwilliam estate began to sell off a lot of property; old farmhouses, barns, cottages and suchlike which did not form part of the core estate.

The teacher training college merged with Sheffield City Polytechnic in 1977 and the building was used by the Polytechnic until 1986. There are a lot of really rather horrible buildings from this time.

By 1989 the various Fitzwilliam family members were living elsewhere and the Wentworth Woodhouse buildings were in a poor state of repair. The family trustees decided to sell the house, stables and the 30 acres (120,000 m2) surrounding it. The house was bought by locally-born businessman Wensley Grosvenor Haydon-Baillie, who started a programme of restoration. He bought the mansion to house his picture collection. He was married in Wentworth Church some years ago. However a business failure caused his assets to be repossessed by a Swiss bank and Wentworth Woodhouse was put back on the market in 1998. All are now gone, house, works of art and wife, along with 50 odd other millions of Haydon-Baillie money. Had I but 50 million to lose!

At some point, don't quite know when, I believe part of the ornamental gardens and the kitchen garden were sold and became Wentworth Garden Centre. The engine house and gunpark I believe are still owned by the Fitzwilliam estate but are rented out to various businesses. The Fitzwilliam family retained the Wentworth Estate consisting of some 89,000 acres (360 km2) of productive land with vast parkland containing lakes, woodlands, farmlands and herds of deer. The estate also consists of much of Wentworth village and large parts of the surrounding countryside.

Don't know all the ins and outs of the matter but rumour has it that Wentworth Woodhouse the house was asset stripped and much of value sold at auction.

Once again I don't know the ins and outs but there was much talk of Rotherham Council purchasing the place and plans to develop it as an hotel or a golf club. These came to nothing. Wentworth Woodhouse was sold for some ridiculously low sum to a firm of London architects, whose name I forget. Newbold is the name of the architects and it cost them about £1.5million in 2000. I believe that it is now held in a family trust with the father, Clifford Newbold, spending some of his time slowly restoring parts of the house. Some years ago he applied for public funds to help restore the Magnolia House but since public funding was reliant on opening up the building to the public at certain times of the year he did not pursue the matter.

The police use part of the old college buildings as a training establishment, certainly dogs were being trained there. There is also a notice on the house saying that the area is used for police dog training and in March 2011 the stable area was being ransacked by rummage teams with dogs.

Wentworth Woodhouse Stables
Wentworth Woodhouse Stables
Wentworth Woodhouse Stables
Wentworth Woodhouse Stables

View of part of the gardens of Wentworth Woodhouse from the Garden Centre.

Wentworth Woodhouse Gardens
Wentworth Woodhouse Gardens
Wentworth Woodhouse Engine House
Wentworth Woodhouse Engine House

Wentworth Woodhouse is privately owned and not generally open to the public but the Newbould family, who are in an almighty wrangle with the Coal Authority about the subsidence and damaged caused by mining, have realised what a money pit the place is. A variety of events are planned with the intention of helping the restoration pot. The house is now opened for pe-booked visits though for the time being. The stable block was also empty last time I looked. In May 2013, much to my surprise, the Newbould brothers won a case in the appeal court for compensation from the Coal Authority. They hacen't got any money yet as a later hearing will decide on the amount of compensation, if any, which may be due. If they are granted compensation and the Coal Authority coughs up the readies, payment will come from the public purse ie you and I, dear friends.

There are very nice walks around Wentworth Park and the lakes - watch out for gamekeepers, fisherman and deer, especially the deer. Some of the footpaths are discretionary and may be closed: those around Morley Pond are marked "Fishermen only".

In 2011 plans are afoot for the restoration and development of Wentworth Woodhouse into a museum, hotel and spa with the stables being used for offices and business space. More here.

Dog Kennel Pond
Dog Kennel Pond
Heron
Heron

There is a string of ponds in Wentworth Park and fishing on them is for permit holders only (Details can be found at Recreation in Rotherham Sport Fishing - Wentworth Fisheries).

Links re the Fitzwilliam Family

To read more about the various disputed inheritances in the Fitzwilliam family you can find a lot of information at www.leighrayment.com/peers/peersF3.htm and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Simplex

The grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse were used for car speed trials in the 1900. In 1908 Earl Fitzwilliam bought the Peterborough-based Brotherhood-Crocker car building operations and brought it to Wentworth, renaming it Simplex. The stable building was used to produce custom-built cars, lorries, and later armoured, vehicles during the First World War.

Wentworth Woodhouse, Wentworth, Rotherham, S62 7TQ. Website www.wentworthwoodhouse.co.uk.

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