Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wentworth Woodhouse...

Whilst doing research for an upcoming post on Stables, I came across Wentworth Woodhouse...

Wentworth Woodhouse is a Grade I listed country house near the village of Wentworth, near Rotherham, South Riding. Its East Front, 606-foot (185 m) long, is the longest country house facade in Europe. The house includes 365 rooms with 1000 windows, and covers an area of over 2.5 acres (1.0 ha). It is surrounded by a 150-acre (61 ha) park and a nearly 90,000-acre (36,000 ha) estate (now separately owned). Built by Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693–1750), and added to by his heir, in the nineteenth century it became the inherited family seat of the Earls Fitzwilliam.

The house, built in the second quarter of the 18th century, is basically two houses joined back to back: with the approach from the East showing a Palladian front over 600ft in length, the longest in the country, whilst the West front is Baroque. It also has a stable block which can accommodate 100 horses.

The house passed to the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam who embellished the building cumulating in the best Georgian interior in England centering on the magnificent great hall. Its surrounding park was stuning too, until open-cast coal mining devastated it in the 1940s.

In April 1946, on the orders of the then Labour Party's Minister of Fuel and Power a "column of lorries and heavy plant machinery" arrived at Wentworth. The objective was the mining of a large part of the estate close to the house for coal. This was an area where the prolific Barnsley seam was within 100 feet (30 m) of the surface and the area between the house and the Rockingham Mausoleum became the largest open cast mine in Britain at that time: 132,000 tons of coal were removed solely from the gardens. Ostensibly the coal was desperately needed in Britain's austere post-war economy to fuel the railways. A survey by Sheffield University, commissioned by the 8th Earl, Peter Wentworth-Fitxwilliam, found the quality of the coal as "very poor stuff" and "not worth the getting"; this contrasted to Shinwell's assertion that it was "exceptionally good-quality."

Shinwell, intent on the destruction of the Fitzwilliams and "the privileged rich", decreed that the mining would continue to the back door of Wentworth, the family's East Front. What followed saw the mining of 99 acres (400,000 m2) of lawns and woods with devastation of the renowned formal gardens and the show-piece pink shale driveway (a by-product of the family's collieries). Ancient trees were uprooted and the debris of earth and rubble was piled 50 ft (15 m) high in front of the family's living quarters.

Local opinion supported the Earl. Joe Hall, Yorkshire branch President of the National Union of Miners said that the "miners in this area will go to almost any length rather than see Wentworth Woodhouse destroyed. To many mining communities it is sacred ground" - in an industry known for harsh treatment of workers, the Fitzwilliams were respected employers known for treating their employees well. The Yorkshire branch later threatened a strike over the Government's plans for Wentworth, in a futile attempt to stop the mining. This spontaneous local activism, founded on the genuine popularity of the Fitzwilliam family amongst locals, was dismissed in Whitehall as "intrigue" sponsored by the Earl.

The opencast mining moved into the fields to the west of the house and continued into the early 1950s. The mined areas took many years to return to a natural state; much of the woodland and the formal gardens were not replaced.

The tragedy of Wentworth Woodhouse is that it was never opened to the public after the Second World War as were most of the stately homes. The 8th Earl Fitzwilliam was killed in a flying accident in 1948 with no direct heir and this led to the sale of the contents and a split in the ownership. From 1950 a major part of the house was let to various councils as a training college with the Fitzwilliams still occupying the remainder until 1979 when the 10th and last Earl died.

The present owner is Clifford Newbold, an architect from Highgate who bought it for something over £1.5 million in 1999, and set about restoring it, but I understand that it is on the market again. (?)

Some of the other landmarks of Wentworth Woodhouse...

The Stables

Keppel's Column

A 115 ft tall Tuscan column built to commemorate the acquittal of the court-martialed Admiral Keppel, a close friend of Rockingham. Its entasis is disproportionate, due to an adjustment in its height, made when funding problems reduced the height. It was designed by John Carr.

The Needle's Eye

A 45 ft (14 m) high, sandstone block pyramid with an ornamental urn en flambeau atop and a tall ogee archway through the middle, which straddles a disused roadway. It was built in 1780 allegedly to win a bet, after the second Marquess claimed he could drive a coach and horses through the eye of a needle.

The Rockingham Mausoleum

A three-story building 90 ft high, situated in woodland, where only the top level is visible over the treetops. It was commissioned in 1783 by the Earl Fitzwilliam as a memorial to the late first Marquess of Rockingham; it was designed by John Carr, whose first design, for an obelisk, was rejected, in favour of an adaptation of the Roman Cenotaph of the Julii. The ground floor is an enclosed hall containing a statue of the first Marquess, and busts of his eight closest friends. The first floor is an open colonnade with Corinthian columns surrounding the sarcophagus. The top storey is a Roman-style cupola.


  1. Demned Soshie Laborists, a pox on them and thernarsty ways. Quite horrid and mean spirited, if you ask me!

  2. What a treasure! Thank goodness it has been saved after such adversity but sadly minus the original contents. A great pity that someone didn't feel the same way about my personal favourite of Hamilton Palace some 90 years ago!

  3. I agree here, such a shame that it has been left as it is. So many properties seemed to be well cared for by organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage although I understand the heirs still living in the estates feel otherwise. It seems destined to pass from one to another until, I wonder how many more throughout Europe sit with a similar fate.

    Thanks for this post!


  4. Hi David
    Interesting back story on this estate... I admit to knowing little about such but it would seem that historical buildings of any significance should be preserved where possible...

    Love the British Green racing car in previous post.. My car is a british green in colour .. supposed to be bad luck.. Do not really remember why.. perhaps the colour was hard to see on the track... My father raced Singer racing cars he built himself.. back.. gee.. back when..

    Thanks so much for popping over my way and your kind words.. Have a great week.. ciao Julie


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