The inhabitants of Wentworth Woodhouse and their relationship with the house is not unlike those of the previous case studies examined by Cruickshank. This is due greatly to the twentieth-century inhabitants experiencing problems of descent. However, punctuated with the usual financial fluctuations and difficulties in maintaining such a vast sprawl of building, Wentworth Woodhouse has survived almost intact. Upon the 1st Marquess’s death in 1750, the estate and title passed to Charles Watson-Wentworth, his fifth son and eighth child in a family of ten (the two older sons having died young). A man of a slight nervous disposition, Charles suffered from regular health problems and often sought advice from friends and his resident doctor. His wife Mary would send him supportive letters whilst he was away in London and also helped him with much of his administration, to which he called her his ‘Minerva at my side’. On Charles’s death in 1782 without male issue, his widow moved out to accommodate his nephew the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam and family.
The 8thEarl died prematurely in a flying accident in 1948 without male issue and although the
house passed separately to the heirs of later Earls, the contents were dispersed and the house became two separate living quarters. Parts of the west front accommodated the remaining family members until the death of the 10th Earl in 1979, whilst the east front experienced a mix of inhabitants. Most of that part of the house was let to the West Riding County Council in 1950 for use as a teaching-training college but by the 1970s with local government reorganisation the lease was assigned to Rotherham Metropolitan District Council which then became part of Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University). Eventually, with incredible running costs to meet, the Polytechnic were forced to surrender the lease in 1986. The daughter of the 10th Earl placed the house and 30 acres on the market in 1988, and a year later it was bought by Wensley Haydon-Baillie, a businessman who struggled to maintain the place, and it was repossessed. At some point plans to convert Wentworth Woodhouse into a hotel were granted but not implemented.
When Clifford Newbold bought the house for a mere £1.5million in 1999, the local community were especially intrigued to discover information on its new owner. By 2006 rumours had spread that the house was lived in by some mysterious solitary figure, who would sit at one window every evening and whose quarters would be lit by a single light. When The Sunday Times Magazine published an article on Catherine Bailey’s Black Diamonds in February 2007 residents of a nearby village were ready to comment on the reclusive nature of Wentworth Woodhouse’s inhabitant. For many it was pure curiosity, but for others the house represented agricultural and industrial communities which were once bound together through economic necessity. The owners of Wentworth Woodhouse provided employment on a large scale, both within and without its walls. Local village residents were therefore eager to know what impact the latest owner would have on their lives and cultural landscape. One resident said she had never seen him, adding that ‘no-one I know ever has’. This is about to change when Clifford Newbold shall appear on BBC2 in the company of Dan Cruickshank.
Cruickshank’s quest to uncover ‘our nation’s hidden history’ is set to be a challenge with his exploration of Wentworth Woodhouse. In revealing this country house, Cruickshank will have several tasks to complete. The first is undoubtedly aspects of the construction of the house as two almost separate buildings. Dedication to the topic of twentieth-century Wentworth Woodhouse should be shown, especially in terms of its socio-economic status as the home of mine owners and their relationship with the post-war Labour government. A third point (though not really a final point) should be to ‘out’ the current owner Clifford Newbold and allow him to demonstrate his plans of restoration and refurbishment. It will be interesting to see who else Dan Cruickshank calls on to help illustrate Wentworth Woodhouse’s past, as it is essential that the history of this house is given the limelight. The Country House Revealed at Wentworth Woodhouse will most certainly be multi-layered.
Elaine Chalus, ‘Elite Women, Social Politics, and the Political World of Late Eighteenth-Century England, The Historical Journal 43, 3(2000), pp.669-697
Tim Rayment, ‘The Mansion of Mystery and Malice’, Sunday Times Magazine, (11 February 2007), pp.16-25
Country Life articles:
Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited I’, (March 17 1983), pp.624-627
Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited II’, (March 24, 1983), pp.708-711
John Martin Robinson, ‘Realise the Worth of Wentworth Woodhouse’, (21 January 1999), pp.58-61
Marquess of Rockingham from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquess_of_Rockingham
The Earls Fitzwilliam from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Fitzwilliam, particularly the 4th Earl, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Fitzwilliam,_4th_Earl_Fitzwilliam
Regional newspaper, The Star on the current inhabitants of Wentworth Woodhouse, 21 May 2011, http://tiny.cc/v21wa
WentworthVillage local history and community pages, http://www.wentworthvillage.net/history/wentworth-woodhouse
Marjorie Bloy’s website dedicated to Charles Watson-Wentworth, http://www.historyhome.co.uk/pms/rocky.htm
The Wentworth Follies, http://www.inkamera.ukgo.com/wfolly/4rm0-0.htm (These are also discussed by Marcus Binney for Country Life, 24 January 1991)