A visit to Wentworth Woodhouse
Report by PM Hugh Kersey
The party that visited Wentworth Woodhouse comprised a number of people from Tim Cooke’s various interests, so there were only three Plaisterers present – Tim, Jon Riley from Locker & Riley (MD of Locker & Riley) and me.
Wentworth Woodhouse is a Grade I listed stately home in South Yorkshire, with the longest façade of any country house in England. It stands in 87 acres of gardens and grounds and has extensive views over former parkland, including a deer park and lakes.
History of the House
- Wentworth family owned lands in the area from around 1300.
- The current house dates from the 1700’s but incorporates some bits of the 1600’s house. Various enhancements and alterations happened throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s
- During WWl the park was used for training some of the Royal Horse Artillery and in WWll the house was requisitioned by the army with the Intelligence Corps in the East wing and the family still in the West wing with a battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment stationed in the Stables.
- After the War, part of the House plus the stable block was leased out as a teacher training college – in 1950 it became the Lady Mabel College of Further Education (named after the sister of the 7th Earl); this merged with Sheffield Polytechnic and then the whole operation moved out in1986 back to Sheffield.
- So you can see that at various times only part of the property was occupied and the rest therefore suffered.
- The Estate had been a major employer over the years both with staff for such a large House and with the industrial and coal-mining activities
- The effects of coal mining were really brought home to roost when Mannie Shinwell, Minister of Power in the post-war labour Government passed an Act of Parliament which allowed a large number of local farms as well as a huge area of the House grounds to be turned into open-cast coal mines and came within a few yards of the House itself!
- Thomas Wentworth was First Earl of Strafford and had three wives in succession, of whom the first two died and he was beheaded whilst married to the third.
- Having been made Baron Wentworth and Viscount Wentworth in 1628, he then became Lord President of the North in 1629 and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1604 but was executed in 1641 for treason arising from his service in Ireland!
- His son died without heirs and so the earldom was then extinct, however the estate was inherited by his nephew Thomas Watson who added Wentworth to his name. He was succeeded by his son (also Thomas) who started the transformation of the building between 1724 and 1750, when he died (having become 1st Marquis of Rockingham). His fourth son Charles inherited the title – he became Prime Minister in 1765 before William Pitt and then was Prime Minister again in 1782 and commenced peace negotiations with America but died 14 weeks later without an heir.
- The estate passed to William, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was his nephew. The property then passed down the family line to reach William, 7th Earl Fitzwilliam who with his wife did much modernisation pf the house before his death in 1943.
- The problems then began as having died in 1943, his son was killed in a flying accident in 1948 – his cousin inherited but died in 1952, so the family was hit with three lots of 80% death duties over a period of 9 years.
- The property passed to a cousin (10th Earl), but with no children, the local village was transferred to a Trust to ensure maintenance of the amenities and housing.
- The estate then passed to a step daughter of the 10th Earl and in 1989 the House was sold to Wensley Haydon-Baillie as a private residence (!) (who needs 365 rooms ?).
- Ten years later it was sold to Clifford Newbold who undertook some conservation work before selling it to the Wentworth Woodhouse Trust in 2017.
The House and Restoration
The plasterwork was undertaken by Joseph Rose who was probably the best in the business at the time – and also a Past Master of our Company.
- The building has more than 300 rooms and the longest façade (606 ft) of any country house in England, with 250,000 square feet (23,000 m2) of floorspace, 124,600 square feet (11,580 m2) of living area. It covers an area of more than 2.5 acres (1.0 ha), and is surrounded by a 180-acre (73 ha) park, and an estate of 15,000 acres (6,100 ha)
- The house comprises of the unusual combination of two back-to-back houses, the West Front is built of brick in the English Baroque style, whilst the East, is in sandstone and is a classical, Palladian masterpiece.
- As far as the interior of the house is concerned, a number of formal rooms on the ground floor have been re-established in some of their grandeur, but there is virtually nothing in the way of furnishings as much was sold off over the years, particularly to cover Death Duties.
- A number of the ceilings are very fine examples of decorative plaster work and Jon Riley was able to wax lyrical about some of the technical aspects.
- The pillared entrance hall contains a number of what appear to be marble columns but are plaster “scagliola” (plaster made to look like marble)
- A number of drawing rooms, the main staircase, the saloon, the Whistlejacket (name of a horse pictured in the room) room, the boudoir, state dining room etc. all show off some really good decorative plaster on ceilings and some walls.
Example of damaged ceiling of which sadly there are many
It was a wonderful trip and good to see the impressive improvements since the trust acquired the house, with great involvement of the local community and attracting the interest of the Government.