Posts Tagged ‘watson’

Wentworth Woodhouse

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Wentworth Woodhouse

Wentworth Woodhouse is now offering house tours, please see their new web site at for further information.

A range of three tours is being made available initially, starting at £10 per person.

Wentworth Woodhouse on BBC TV

Antiques Roadshow will be visiting Wentworth Woodhouse on 19th September, more details on their web site here.


The East Front of Wentworth Woodhouse, visible from the public right of way through Wentworth Park, is a magnificent structure over 600 feet in length, famous as the longest frontage of any country house in England. Unfortunately this is all the public can see of the house as it is now privately owned, however for those walking past who want to know a bit more about the history of the place we present a brief history of the building and its owners through the years.

The Exterior

What we think of as Wentworth Woodhouse is actually two houses, both largely rebuilt in the 18th century. The East Front which we see from the Park entirely obscures the second house which faces West towards the village. The Western house is the older of the two, started in around 1725 to replace an even older structure. The West Front (or “Back Front” as it is sometimes known) is less formal than the grand East Front and is built largely in brick with Baroque stone facings.

Thomas Watson-Wentworth (later Earl of Malton and Marquis of Rockingham) who built most of the house we see today, evidently became dissatisified with the West Front whilst it was being built, for he commissioned Henry Flitcroft to start work on the East Front in around 1734, even before the other side of the house was finished.

It is thought that the decision to build the much larger East Front stemmed partly from a family feud with the Stainborough branch of the Wentworth family. They were at the time extending Wentworth Castle (which you can see to the West of the M1 just past Barnsley) and the Wentworth branch of the family did not to be outdone!

The only major change to exterior of the house since it was originally put up was the addition of an extra storey to each of the wings of the East Front in around 1782. Evidently the Fitzwilliam family of the time needed more bedroom space (150 just wasn’t enough!). Also around this time the Fitzwilliams engaged the landscape architect Humphrey Repton to create the parkland we still see to the East of the house; apparently one of Repton’s main changes was to remove a hill which had stood in front of the house because this obscured the view. I’d like to see the “Ground Force” team attempt that one!

The Interior

The house is not open to the public and so the interior is rarely seen, however as this is a Grade I listed building we assume that it has not altered significantly since 1959 when it was described in great detail by the eminent architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (see “The Buildings of England – Yorkshire, West Riding”).

The main entrance to the house is via the Pillared Hall, accessed from the East Front. This gives access to some of the ground floor rooms and, via a grand staircase, to the Marble Saloon, a 60 foot square room some 40 feet high which is the main reception room in the house.

South of here are two grand rooms named after the paintings that once hung in them: the Van Dyke room and the Whistlejacket room. Whistlejacket was the 2nd Marquis’s favourite racehorse and George Stubbs was commissioned to paint a huge portrait of the horse in 1759 (it can now be seen in the National Gallery in London); for those who can’t get see the picture you can look at Whistlejacket’s grave which is just off the path past the house near the stable block (see below).

To the north of the Marble Saloon lies another huge room, the Long Gallery. This is some 130 feet long and again once contained a huge collection of paintings and other artworks.

Stable Block

The stable block was built in 1768 by John Carr on a scale to match the house. This can easily be viewed from the public path through the park and, as you will see, the horses probably had a better standard of accommodation than most of the residents in the village at the time!

Pevsner tells us that the stables comprise 15 bays with a rusticated entrance with Tuscan columns, pediment and cupola. There is a large (no longer operational) fountain in the centre of the courtyard which can be glanced through the gates. Much of the Stable Block was used as a gymnasium when the house was used for educational purposes but now this huge building seems to be entirely unused (along with all the other more modern college buildings dotted around the park).

Lady Mabel College

From 1949 to 1974 the house was home to The Lady Mabel College of Physical Education. Named after Lady Mabel Smith (sister of the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam) the College trained female physical education teachers. The college later merged with Sheffield City Polytechnic.

Web Links

For an excellent collection of images of Wentworth Woodhouse visit the Country Life Library.

In “A Country House Revealed” Dan Cruickshank uncovers the secret history of six of Britain’s greatest private country houses, each never-before seen on television, and none open to the public – including Wentworth Woodhouse.

A book by Catherine Bailey about the history of the Fitzwilliam family and Wentworth Woodhouse is now available, & is summarised nicely in an article by The Times here. It can be purchased on line from – click the link below for details.

A Brief History of Wentworth

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

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 – click the link below for details.