Wentworth Woodhouse
Wentworth Woodhouse is a Grade I listed country house near the village of Wentworth, in the vicinity of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England. "One of the great Whig political palaces", its East Front, 606-foot (185 m) long, is the longest country house façade in Europe. The house includes 365 rooms 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.

Wentworth Woodhouse is virtually two houses, the rarely-seen or photographed West Front, the garden range facing towards the village, which was the first built, of brick with stone details, and the immense East Front ( illustrations, right). The huge length of the East Front is credibly represented as the result of a resentful rivalry with the Stainborough branch of the Wentworth family, who inherited Strafford's minor title, Lord Raby, but not his estates, which came to Watson, who added Wentworth to his surname. The Wentworths, for whom the earldom was revived, lived, not by accident, at the nearby Wentworth Castle, which was purchased in 1708, in a competitive spirit, and strenuously rebuilt in a magnificent manner. The Baroque, brick-built, western range of Wentworth Woodhouse was begun by Thomas Watson-Wentworth, after 1728 Lord Malton after he inherited it from his father in 1723. It replaced the Jacobean structure that was once the home of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, whom Charles I sacrificed in 1641 to appease Parliament. The builder to whom Wentworth's grandson turned for a plan for the grand scheme that he intended, was a local builder and country architect, Ralph Tunnicliffe, who had a practice in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. The model they settled on was Colen Campbell's Wanstead House, illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus i, 1715. Tunicliffe was pleased enough with this culmination of his provincial practice to issue an engraving signed "R. Tunniclif, architectus" which must date before 1734, as it is dedicated to Baron Malton, Watson-Wentworth's earlier title. That same year the rebuilding was already well begun, for in a letter from the amateur architect Sir Thomas Robinson of Rokeby to his father-in-law Lord Carlisle of 6 June 1734, Sir Thomas reports that he found the garden front "finished" and that a start had been made on the main front: "when finished 'twill be a stupendous fabric, infinitely superior to anything we have now in England," and he adds "The whole finishing will be entirely submitted to Lord Burlington, and I know of no subject's house in Europe will have 7 such magnificent rooms so finely proportioned as these will be." In the twentieth century, Nikolaus Pevsner would agree, but the mention of the architect-earl Burlington, arbiter of architectural taste, boded ill for the provincial surveyor-builder, Tunnicliffe. It is doubtless to Burlington's intervention that about this time, before the West Front was finished, the Earl of Malton, as he was now become, commissioned Henry Flitcroft to revise Tunnicliffe's plan there and build the East Front range. Flitcroft was Burlington's professional architectural ammanuensis" "Burlington Harry" as he was called; he had prepared for the engravers the designs of Inigo Jones published by Burlington and William Kent in 1727, and in fact Kent was also called in for confabulation over Wentworth Woodhouse, mediated by Sir Thomas Robinson, though in the event the pedestrian Flitcroft was not unseated and continued to provide designs for the house over the following decade: he revised and enlarged Tunnicliffe's provincial Baroque West Front and added wings, as well as temples and other structures in the park. Contemporary engravings of the grand public East Front give Flitcroft as architect. Flitcroft, right-hand man of the architectural dilettanti and fully occupied as well at the Royal Board of Works, could not constantly be on-site, however: Francis Bickerton, surveyor and builder of York, paid bills in 1738 and 1743. The grand East Front is the more often illustrated. The West front, the "garden front" that Sir Thomas Robinson found to be finished in 1734, is the private front that looked onto a giardino secreto between the house front and the walled kitchen garden, intended for family enjoyment rather than social and political ambitions expressed in the East Front. Most remnants of it were redesigned in the nineteenth century. Wentworth Woodhouse was inherited by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, briefly Prime Minister in 1765-66 and again in 1782. The architect he employed at the house was John Carr of York, who added an extra storey to parts of the East Front and provided the porticoes to the matching wings, each the equivalent of a moderately grand country house. James "Athenian" Stuart contributed designs for panels in the Pillared Hall. The Whistlejacket Room was named for George Stubbs' portrait that hung in it of Whistlejacket, one of the most famous racehorses of all time. The additions were completed in 1772. The second Marquess envisaged a sculpture gallery at the house, which never came to fruition; four marbles by Joseph Nollekens were carried out to his commission, in expectation of the gallery; the '' Diana, signed and dated 1778, is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Juno, Venus and Minerva, grouped with a Roman antique marble of Paris, are at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Wentworth Woodhouse, with all its contents, subsequently passed to the family of Marquess's sister, the Earls Fitzwilliam,

The park
Having finished the course of alterations in the hands of John Carr, Lord Fitzwilliam turned in 1790 to the most prominent landscape gardener, Humphry Repton, for whom this was the season's most ambitious project, one that he would describe in detail while the memory was still fresh, in Some Observations of the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803). A terrace centered on the main block effected a transition between the house and the rolling grazing land. Four obelisks stood on the bowling green, dwarfed by the scale of the house; Repton re-sited them. Though the parkland had accumulated numerous eye-catcheres and features ( see below), Repton found there were few trees, the house being surrounded by "coarse grass and boulders" which Repton also removed, before the large-scale earth-moving operations began, effected by men with shovels and donkey-carts, to reshape the lumpy ground into smooth swells. Two large pools visible from the East Front and the approach drive, were excavated into a serpentine shape. Some of Flitcroft's and outbuildings were demolished, though not Carr's handsome stable court (1768), entered through a pedimented Tuscan arch. Many trees were planted. The grounds (and surrounding area), which are largely open to the public today, contain a number of follies, many with associations in the arena of eighteenth-century Whig politics. They include:
  • Hoober stand. A tapering pyramid with a hexagonal lantern, named for the ancient wood in which it was erected. It is 30 m high and was built to Flitcroft's design in 1747”“48 to commemorate the defeat of the Jacobite rebellion, in which Lord Malton and his surviving son took part; his defensive efforts for the Hanoverian Whig establishment were rewarded with the Lord Lieutenancy of Yorkshire and the title Marquess of Rockingham: thus the monument indirectly reflects the greater glory of the family. The tower, which surveys the surrounding landscape like a watchtower, is open to the public on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer.
  • Keppel's Column. A 115 ft (35 m) Tuscan column built to commemorate the acquittal of the court-martialed Admiral Keppel, a close friend of Rockingham. Its entasis visibly bulges, due to an adjustment in its height, made when funding problems reduced the height. It was designed by John Carr.
  • The Rockingham Mausoleum. A three-story building 90 ft (27 m) 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 at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, near Arles. The ground floor is an enclosed hall containing a statue of the former prime minister by Joseph Nollekens, plus busts of his eight closest friends. The first floor is an open colonnade with Corinthian columns surrounding the (empty) sarcophagus. The top storey is a Roman-style cupola. Like Hoober Stand, the Mausoleum is open on summer Sunday afternoons.
  • The Needle's Eye. A 45 ft (14 m) high, sandstone block pyramid with an ornamental urn on the top and a tall Gothic ogee arch 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.
  • Bear Pit. Accessible if patronising the nearby Garden centre. Built on two levels with a spiral stair. The outer doorway (about 1630) is part of the architecture of the original house. At the end of the garden is a grotto guarded by two life-sized statues of Roman soldiers.

Destruction of the estate
In April 1946, on the orders of Manny Shinwell (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 mining site 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; it was, however, useful cover for an act of class-war spite against the coal-owning aristocracy. A survey by Sheffield University, commissioned by Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, the 8th Earl, 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 m 2) of lawns and woods, 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 Mineworkers 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, and Joe Hall wrote personally to Clement Attlee 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 Lady Mabel College
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. 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. Thus, from 1949 to 1979, the house was home to the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education, which trained female physical education teachers. The college later merged with Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University), which eventually gave up the lease in 1988 due to the prohibitive cost of maintenance.

Private residence
By 1989 the house was in a poor state of repair. With the Polytechnic no longer a tenant, and with the family no longer requiring the house, the family trustees decided to sell the house and the 30 acres (120,000 m 2) surrounding it (but retaining the Wentworth Estate's 89,000 acres (360 km 2) of productive land. The house was bought by locally-born businessman Wensley Grosvenor Haydon-Baillie, who started a programme of restoration; however a business failure caused it to be repossessed by a Swiss bank and put back on the market in 1998. The present owner is Clifford Newbold, an architect from Highgate, who bought it for something over £1.5 million. Mr Newbold has clearly undertaken and is progressing with a defined programme of renovation/restoration as evidenced in two recent editions of Country Life magazine dated 17 February and 24 February 2010.


3 photos

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings removed 2 media and updated 2 media
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com
  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator