A Brief History of Wentworth

The history of Wentworth village is inextricably linked with the history of the great aristocratic families – the Wentworths, Watsons and Fitzwilliams – who presided over it for generations. Only recently, following the end of the Fitzwilliam family line in 1979, has the village started to lead a more independent existence.


The village itself dates back to at least 1066, when lands in the area were given to Adam de Newmarch and William le Flemming, later passing to the Canons of Bolton Abbey. It is not known how the Wentworth family came into the lands, but around 1300 they united by marriage with the Woodhouse family who lived outside the village on the site of what is now Wentworth Woodhouse. The Woodhouse lands were originally part of the manor of “frerehouse” which also included the sites of the modern Friars House, Friars Cottages and Boltons Yard. The combined Wentworth family went on to dominate the area for centuries, slowly acquiring more land, money and influence.

The first Wentworth family member to achieve national fame was Thomas Wentworth (b. 1593), 1st Earl of Strafford (pictured). He entered parliament and progressed rapidly through the ranks, becoming Lord President of the Council of the North and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and no doubt acquiring a lot more land and money along the way. Unfortunately he must also have acquired a lot of enemies in the House of Commons because he was tried and beheaded for treason in 1641. His remains are buried under the Old Church in Wentworth.


The Earl’s son, William (they all seem to have been called either Thomas or William!) inherited his father’s title, but died without an heir and the estate passed to the Watson (later Watson-Wentworth) family. It was the Watson-Wentworths (who later became the Marquises of Rockingham) who built many of the grandest structures in the area, including the magnificent East Front of Wentworth Woodhouse and the Hoober Stand and Keppel’s Column follies. They also gave the village some of its first public buildings such as the Barrow school and the former windmill on Clayfields Lane. The 2nd Marquis of Rockingham even found time between the building work to become Prime Minister on two occassions. Unfortunately he didn’t find time to produce an heir and so the estate changed hands yet again.


The Earl Fitzwilliams (or Wentworth-Fitzwilliams) took over in 1782 and were responsible for much of the early industrial development in the area, establishing numerous mines and factories in the surrounding towns and villages (not too close to their house of course!). This made the family even richer, and by the mid-nineteenth century they were reckoned to be the 6th wealthiest landowners in the country. They didn’t lose touch with the village though and gave money to establish the Mechanics Institute and the girls school (now Wentworth C of E school) for the benefit of their tenants. They also built cottages for their workers in Wentworth and Elsecar, most of which exist to this day.

The 6th Earl gave us the magnificent Holy Trinity Church (the “new” church), the 7th Earl started a factory in Sheffield which produced one of the first motor cars (the Simplex), the 8th Earl sadly died in a plane crash along with Kathleen Kennedy, sister of J. F. Kennedy, who he was seeing at the time. And so it goes on…

Present Day

The Fitzwilliam reign continued until the death of the 10th Earl in 1979, again tragically without issue. Since the death of the last Earl much of the property in the village has been managed by a trust which does an excellent job of preserving the character of the village and continues to make charitable donations for the benefit of residents. Wentworth Woodhouse is now under separate private ownership, and little is known about future plans for the building. The rest of the estate, which still has significant land holdings in the area, lives on under the stewardship of Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland.

Family Tree

Please visit our online Wentworth/Fitzwilliam Family Tree for detailed information about the Wentworth, Watson and Fitzwilliam families who dominated Wentworth Village for generations from the stately home of Wentworth Woodhouse. It brings together hundreds of individuals dating back to the reign of Henry II.

More History

The above are just edited highlights of the history of the village and estate. For more comprehensive and scholarly coverage you may wish to read Roy Young’s excellent “The Big House and The Little Village”, which you may be able to obtain from shops in the village.

Wentworth Books

A new book by Catherine Bailey about the history of the Fitzwilliam family and Wentworth Woodhouse is now available. It can be purchased on line from Amazon.co.uk – click the link below for details.

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12 Responses to “A Brief History of Wentworth”

  1. Monika Hartmann Says:

    I read the Black Dimonds and become really interested in stately homes. Would love to visit the big house if it ever become opened to the general public. Must come down in the summer and look around all the places I read about.

  2. Fitzwilliam, Wentworth, Watson and Woodhouse – Jane’s characters have more in common than you might think! « Jane Austen Sequels Weblog Says:

    [...] decided to put in a search in google. I hit upon a site about Wentworth village in south Yorkshire Wentworth village.net and have found it totally fascinating, as I am sure you will too. I discovered that the family [...]

  3. Susan Smith Says:

    I am in the middle of Black Diamond which has been a real eye opener. Firstly , I had never realised before that it was possible to become so incredibly rich on the backs of the grinding poverty, insecurity and harsh working conditions of so many people. Secondly, the number of skeletons in the Wentworth family during their last 100 years of its existance.

  4. susan Stonehewer Says:

    my grandmother was born in Wentworth and so was my mother. They lived in The Roundhouse in Mill Lane. Her brother lived in The Roundhouse all his life . They were called Dean. I have numerous great aunts that lived in the village after they were wed. One was at Barrow feild Gates. My mothers sister was married at St Trinity`s and I was there being only 10 months old at the time. I used to live with my grandmother when I was young and then used to go for holidays later.She lived in Mill Cottage in Mill Lane again she never moved far. The Round House was divided into two dwellings and my great grandparents had 12 children .My great uncle lorry used to work at the sewage plant in Mill lane. My grand mother was named Wilkinson but my granfather died fairly young. She later remarried a man named Stanley Horn who came from Harley. He used to work in Elsecar pit and retired after spending 52 years there, starting at the age of 13 years. I remember a Mrs Miles who used to live on Main St and she used to have the best plum tree in Wentworth , it was always laden with fruit. My grandmother told me that she had evacuees during the war. I also have read Black Diamonds I found it very interesting. My mother used to tell me that they would all go and watch the “Hunt ” on Boxing Day. I will be visiting again shortly to bring back some more memories . Best wishes to you all Sue

  5. Elizabeth Hudson Says:

    Hi I have just finished reading the Black Diamonds and couldn’t put it down. I was a student at Wentworth – Lady Mabel PE College from 1962 – 65. I was staggered at how little I knew about the place when I was in residence. However, The writer Christine Bailey mentions the Marble Saloon as having beams hanging from the ceiling and gymnastic equipment in it. Never in my time and there was certainly no evidence that there ever had been. It was our dance studio and we felt very privileged to use it. The floor was covered in wood and we used it also for badminton. We treated it with great reverence. Our Gymnasium was in stable block and the only facility of its kind in the whole building. I cannot believe that marble saloon was ever desecrated in the way it was described. My admission booklet from 1962 shows a wonderful photo of marble saloon and it certainly has no gymnastic equip. evident. The book has left me with very nostalgic memories of my time in Wentworth. I had a wonderful 3 years. Best wishes to all who help to preserve its memory. Elizabeth Hudson nee Murray

  6. Rebecca Wildsmith Says:

    My parents just gave me Black Diamonds to read as my father was born & lived his childhood in Barnsley & my mother lived in Wentworth Woodhouse as a child during the 2nd World War & they met aged 14 & 17, in the gardens of Wentworth as my father went there to sketch & draw.

    My Mother’s father, Bernard Ithurbide, (a French Basque) was head chef to Lord Fitzwilliam VII. Bernard’s wife, (my grandmother) lived at the time in London with her three daughters & at the outbreak of war all children had to be evacuated from London. Lord Fitzwilliam invited Bernard’s family to Wentworth Woodhouse for the duration of the war… they ended up staying there longer than the war lasted!

  7. M Weatherall Says:

    I recently visited Wentworth House and was amazed at the size of it. It looks wonderful and I have purchased the book ‘Black Diamonds’ to read of its history.
    I was informed it is now privately owned. I wonder who lives there now and how they came to own such a large impressive home. Anyone any info on the present owners?
    M Weatherall

  8. ruth robson Says:

    I visited Wentworth Woodhouse yesterday with a Leeds art group and were given a private tour of the ‘home’ by the current owner and one of his sons. He purchased the property at the age of 72 yrs 11 years ago. He has spent a fortune restoring a small part of it to a high standard during that time. Plenty of work remains to be done but the owner’s architectural interest and obvious ‘love’ for the great task he has undertaken will go a long way towards maintaining the stately home for the future. By the way, the intrically designed marble floor in the ‘marble saloon’ is in beautiful condition and all the plasterwork and other detail glitters in gold leaf. All thanks to Mr Newbold and family.

  9. Ismene Brown Says:

    Hello, perhaps Ruth Robson or someone else could tell me how to contact Mr Newbold. My mother, who is about to be 80, lived in Wentworth as a child – her father was the Wentworth Woodhouse chaplain then and she often stayed in the house. We would like to see if it’s possible for her to take a trip from her home in Hertfordshire to visit it again and refresh those long-ago memories. It sounds as if we could at least approach Mr Newbold to see if she could pay a brief visit. Could anyone kindly email me on ismo2@o2.co.uk with a contact?

  10. hayley comrie Says:

    Hello Ruth, how fascinating it must have been to have had a private tour around such a historic residence. I live at higher stubbin round the corner from wentworth where my husband is intrigued by the story of the house and the mystery that seems to surround it now-as no-one seems to know who lives there as no -one has seen them,. How did you arrange the private tour.

  11. Elisabeth Krueger Says:

    My grandmothers name is Sarah Edwards Wentworth and ever since I was a child I remember her telling us stories about how our family had a castle in England. I was so fascinated about it as a child and have become increasingly so as I have gotten older. My grandmother remembers as a child having a Wentworth coat of arms in a frame hanging up. She recently visited the town of Wentworth along with the castle and Woodhouse with my mother and uncle. I have done some research recently about the family tree. I heard statements when I was younger that we were related to Queen Anne Boleyn and in turn Elizabeth I. I found that there was a Marjory Wentworth (which amazingly enough is the name of my grandmother’s sister) that was the mother of Jane and Thomas Seymour. We know that Jane Seymour was one of the wives of Henry VIII, and also Thomas who went on to marry Catherine Parr after Henry’s death. Also that Marjory’s mother was a Howard, which leads us to the families of Anne Boleyn (mother was a Howard) and also Catherine Howard. Amazing!! Hopefully one day I will be lucky enough to visit!

  12. Chas Harrison Says:

    Love Wentworth and surrounding area, been there many times with a companion. Stayed over a few times as well – two good pubs!
    Been trying to get hold of a copy of ‘The Big House and The Little Village’ but with no success. Closest I got was borrowing a copy from local library who had to borrow it from another library. If anyone can point me to where I might find a copy I would be grateful.