I realise that I have already written a post on some aspect of Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, but there is something extremely attractive about this place. In anticipation of Dan Cruickshank’s The Country House Revealed episode on Wentworth Woodhouse, on 31st May (and because I might not have access to a television or computer next week) I wanted to jot down what I believe are crucial points relating to this specific house and its owners. These may be more amateurish in delivery than Cruickshank’s method, but my own studies on Wentworth Woodhouse have revealed some fantastic stories.
Wentworth Woodhouse (copyright Country Life Magazine, May 1946)
Currently the subject of a court hearing that must seem rather more contentious than others, Wentworth Woodhouse has played host to large elite families, politicians, teachers and students, a businessman, and a self-made architect. Unlike Dan Cruickshank’s previous case studies, Wentworth Woodhouse is better known thanks in the main to Catherine Bailey’s Black Diamonds which discusses the socio-economic circumstances of coal mining on the estate during the twentieth century. Most of Bailey’s book details the often strained relationships between the mine owners – the Earls Fitzwilliam – the local and governmental committees, and the local coal-mining families. Given that Black Diamonds has been well-received and is considered a good piece of scholarly reference, it’s high time the house itself received a bit more recognition.
I am reliant on several sources for Wentworth Woodhouse since no history of the house has been bound together in the same way a guidebook might present a single biography. This also means compromising on a lot of detail here. For greater discussion of the destructive mining processes and the social impact this had, then Black Diamonds is the best place to start. The focus here however, will be in two parts; the first on the house, and the second part on the families and owners of Wentworth Woodhouse.
Several authors including Marcus Binney have written articles on the house and its parkland for Country Life magazine. A few scholars have also produced comprehensive (yet unpublished) studies on the owners and their influences in political and socio-economic spheres (see references below). Arthur Young’s A Six Months Tour Through the North of England (1770) is also a fine contemporary source for eighteenth-century Wentworth Woodhouse relating the agricultural innovations on the estate.
Yet, in line with Dan Cruickshank’s programme, I would like to draw attention to John Martin Robinson’s article, ‘Realise the Worth of Wentworth Woodhouse’ for Country Life in 1999. Here, Robinson stated the key issues which have affected the house, and to some degree he offered remedies to the many constraints still attached to the house in 2011:
The failure of Wentworth Woodhouse to become a ‘stately home’ open to the public after the Second World War and thus to have secured its future … is an architectural tragedy. [However,] it is important to recognise that the value of the house and estate lies in more than its architecture. Wentworth Woodhouse represents as nowhere else the Whig synthesis of political liberty, scientific and economic development, patronage of the arts, landscape gardening, industrial and agricultural improvement.
John Martin Robinson’s reaction to Wentworth Woodhouse being placed on the open market in 1998 was characteristic of many individuals working in the heritage sector and academia. It is in the capable hands of self-made architect Clifford Newbold and his family these days who has long-term plans of restoration and refurbishment. This episode of the house’s history was the main focus for two editions of Country Life magazine published in February 2010. Whether Newbold’s plans will mean greater public access over the coming years is yet unclear.
This is what makes Wentworth Woodhouse so unique; people want to see it open and accessible for the very reasons John Martin Robinson states in his article. It is architecturally significant, but it should not be viewed as a shell to be filled with the appropriate chattels in the same way as South Wraxall, Kinross House and Easton Neston. Its foundations were laid as part of a spirited rivalry between family members in the early 1700s and grew in both size and reputation throughout the eighteenth century. Therefore, its ‘working’ history is also relevant as a home and administrative base for the Marquesses of Rockingham, and later the Earls Fitzwilliam. It is of national and regional significance, possibly international too, given the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham’s political role and connection with Colonial America.
Engraving of the west front by John Cole c.1728 (Bodleian Library)
Wentworth Woodhouse is a hybrid of Baroque and Palladianism with an east front longer than that of Buckingham Palace and stretching across 606ft of ground. Its greatest features are certainly its hall or saloon, the lower or pillared hall and Whistlejacket Room. Built for Thomas Wentworth (1693-1750), Lord Malton, later 1st Marquess of Rockingham in two phases, the house can be viewed as two distinct blocks united with courts and interlinked wings. The west front (garden front) was begun in 1725 (incorporating an older seventeenth century house later known as the Clifford Lodgings) in brick with stone dressings in the Baroque style. A neat engraving dating from c.1728 by John Cole shows the west front and its approach (as shown). The east front was underway before the west front was complete in 1734 which has raised questions about the drastic stylistic changes occurring within a continuous building programme. Marcus Binney suggests that the 1st Marquess may have ‘been forced into a stylistic about-turn under pressure from Lord Burlington, Sir Thomas Robinson and other Palladian apostles and converts among Yorkshire landowners.’ This development hid the west front behind a new façade and turned the approach through 180 degrees. No doubt Cruickshank will make this a key point in his episode on Wentworth Woodhouse.
The designer of the west front may still remain a mystery, but the east front was the product of designs made by R. Tunnicliffe and Henry Flitcroft and completed c.1750. Additions were made at later periods, especially to the Clifford Lodgings by John Carr in the 1760s, who also added an extra storey to parts of the east front, and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart who may have provided plans for some internal design work. The building of Wentworth Woodhouse provides many routes of enquiry for the architectural historian and it would be fantastic to see some of the anomalies pointed out by Dan Cruickshank. To ‘reveal’ the architectural and design details at this house would not only be necessary but a terrible misdemeanour if not explored deeply enough.
Marjorie Bloy, ‘Rockingham and Yorkshire: The Political, Economic and Social Role of Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Second Marquis of Rockingham’ (PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 1986)
Paul James Nunn, ‘The Management of Some South Yorkshire Landed Estates in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Linked with the Central Economic Development of the Area’ (PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 1985)
Country Life articles:
Unknown author, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse: the Seat of Earl Fitzwilliam’, May 10 1946, pp.854-857
Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited I’, (March 17 1983), pp.624-627
Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited II’, (March 24, 1983), pp.708-711
Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse,Yorkshire’, (January 24, 1991), pp.60-63
John Martin Robinson, ‘Realise the Worth of Wentworth Woodhouse’, (21 January 1999), pp.58-61
Also, Country Life produced articles with images from the years 1906, 1924 (5 articles that year), and 1934. See, http://www.countrylifeimages.co.uk/ or scroll to Learning Resources on your right in this blog.
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
Blog ‘The Country Seat’ entry on Wentworth Woodhouse, http://countryhouses.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/the-greatest-country-house-youve-never-heard-of-wentworth-woodhouse/
The Wikipedia entry (adapted from the DiCamillo Companion database entry) for Wentworth Woodhouse, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wentworth_Woodhouse
Dr Marjorie Bloy’s website dedicated to the politics of the second half of the eighteenth century including Charles Watson-Wentworth, http://www.historyhome.co.uk/pms/rocky.htm
Stories and Reminiscences: ‘Wentworth Woodhouse was My Home’, http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/sightseeing-national/wentworth-woodhouse-wentworth/1239735/