The final instalment of my year-long engagement with the heritage of fine plasterwork was a visit to Wentworth Woodhouse, the behemoth house in South Yorkshire with renowned plasterwork by Joseph Rose senior, a past member of the Company and father of Joseph junior who became Master in 1775. It is also a house with multiple challenges and opportunities as the Trustees, of which I’m one, and the Chief Executive embark on a two-decade long master plan which will realise multiple uses for the vast array of rooms.
A group of 23 from the Company joined Sara, me and my mother for an exclusive tour on a day when the house was closed to the public. Our guide, Reg, is much lauded on Trip Advisor and began with a tour of the principal rooms in the West Front. These spaces were designed to impress and originally contained very little furniture, which is just as well as most of the contents were removed for safekeeping many years ago.
I asked Reg to show the group parts of the house that are normally closed to visitors. And so we experienced ‘Bedlam’, the wing occupied by male servants and now in a near-derelict condition.
From here we returned to the Long Gallery with its full length windows overlooking the gardens. A single long table had been set for lunch with a generous buffet and flowers picked that morning by the team at the House and plopped in whatever containers were available, including milk bottles. Remarking on the sandwiches, one wag observed that you could tell we were in Yorkshire as the crusts were still on the sandwiches. Crusts or not, they were certainly delicious.
The Long Gallery forms part of the earlier, more manageable house on the East Front and after lunch we toured the rest of it before having tea with the Chair of Trustees, Julie Kenny, and our Chief Executive, Sarah McLeod, who outlined the plans for the property, including the stable block. Along the way we saw the final state room with a particularly fine ceiling where at my request David Harrison, a new Freeman and doyen of fine plasterers, gave an exposition of how the complex plasterwork was created.
It was drizzling as we headed out to the gardens but the party nobly wanted to draw as much as possible from the day and tramped to the Camellia House (alas, in a particularly poor state) and on to the huge south bastion overlooking swathes of countryside.
It gave me great pleasure to show the house to my fellow liverymen (and to my mother who has followed every twist in the saga of our purchase and subsequent ownership of this remarkable property).