Tag Archives: Wentworth Woodhouse

Press release: Preservation trust to acquire Wentworth Woodhouse

The following is a Press Release made by Save Britain’s Heritage. This is fantastic news and totally tips the balance in favour of a more local, regional and national plan of action which benefits so many. As before, fingers crossed for the future! Many thanks to readers of this blog for highlighting the link especially (see below for the full link).

3 February 2016

Press release: Preservation trust to acquire Wentworth Woodhouse

SAVE is delighted to announce that agreement has been reached with the Newbold family on the purchase of one of the finest and grandest historic houses in Britain, Wentworth Woodhouse.

The property will be purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) and will continue to be open to the public.  The public opening of the property will be supported by the National Trust for the first five years. It is hoped completion of the sale will take place within two to three months.

The £7m pledged for the acquisition includes a £3.575m grant offer from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and grants from the Monument Trust, the Art Fund, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement and the John Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust. Pledges and donations have also been received from many individual members of the public. SAVE and the trustees of the WWPT extend their warmest thanks for all pledges and support received.

The long term strategy is for the public to visit and enjoy all the most interesting parts of the property while restoring the others for revenue-earning uses such as events and holiday lets with business units in the stables. Traditionally a historic house of this size would have required a vast endowment.  This business model will provide a substantial income stream intended to cover both running costs and periodic bouts of repair.

Extensive repairs will be phased over 10 to 15 years allowing time for funds to be raised and the work to be carried out in phases while the property is opened to the public.

The Trust will build on the pioneering work of the Newbold family in opening the house to pre-booked visitors for the first time on a regular basis.  An annual Clifford Newbold lecture will be held to mark the work of the Newbold family in opening the house to the public.

The trustees of the new WWPT are: The Duke of Devonshire, Lady Juliet Tadgell, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, Julie Kenny (Chair), Timothy Cooke, Martin Drury, and Merlin Waterson.

For more information please contact Marcus Binney or Mike Fox at SAVE on 0207 253 3500 or mike.fox@savebritainsheritage.org, or Julie Kenny, Chair of WWPT, on 01709 535218

 

Notes to Editors:

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust has been established to secure the long term future of Wentworth Woodhouse.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.

Press release issued by SAVE Britain’s Heritage

70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ

Registered Charity 269129

Tel. 020 7253 3500  Email office@savebritainsheritage.org

www.savebritainsheritage.org

Follow SAVE on Twitter: @SAVEBrit

Donate to SAVE via Justgiving

 

Full Press Release here:

http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/docs/articles/03.02_.16_Press_Release_-_Preservation_Trust_to_Acquire_WW_.pdf

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Filed under In the News, restoration, The Destruction of the Country House, The running of the country house

BBC News: Wentworth Woodhouse sold to Hong Kong investment company 

Wentworth WoodhouseImage copyright Dave Pickersgill

One of Europe’s biggest private stately homes is due to be sold to a Hong Kong based investment company.

The Grade I listed Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, is larger than Buckingham Palace. It was on the market since May with a price tag in excess of £8m.

Estate Agents Savills said it had agreed a sale with Lake House Group but would not disclose the selling price.

Lake House Group said it was “delighted to be involved with the purchase”.

“It is our hope that we can work with some of the organisations which have also shown an interest in the property in order to save and preserve this magnificent historic house”, the company added.

Savills said the buyer was due to exchange contracts and complete the purchase “shortly”.

Mining past

An estimated £42m is needed to spend on repairs, campaign group Save Britain’s Heritage says.

The Georgian mansion, which is open to the public, sits in 82 acres of grounds and the earliest wing of the house was started in 1725.

The Palladian-style east wing has a front that extends for 606ft (184m).

It was bought in 1999 by architect Clifford Newbold, who died in April. His family made the “reluctant decision” to sell the property after his death.

Restoration work was under way but it had been hampered by subsidence caused by mining, which was a key source of income to help with running costs for the house’s former owners.

The interiors of the house are the work of three patrons -– the First and Second Marquess of Rockingham and the Fourth Earl Fitzwilliam.

The history of Wentworth Woodhouse and the nearby village of Wentworth is linked with three aristocratic families, the Wentworths, Watsons and Fitzwilliams.

Original article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-34755590

And from a previous post regarding the ownership of British country houses https://countryhousereader.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/bbc-news-who-holds-the-keys-to-our-mansions-march-2015/

For updates on this, please see the comments below.

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The World Monuments Fund – Wentworth Woodhouse is back in the news

Country: United Kingdom Site: Wentworth Woodhouse Caption: The Palladian east front Image Date: 2010 Photographer: Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund Provenance: 2016 Watch Nomination Original: from Watch team

The Palladian east front, copyright, Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund

A few days ago the World Monuments Fund released its list of 50 Watch Sites for 2016 from across 36 countries. In line with their own statement these sites are ‘at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change’. Sites included are Rumiqolqa, Andahuaylillas, Peru, Boix House, Manila, Philippines, Petra Archaeological Site, Wadi Mousa, Jordan, National Art Schools, Havana, Cuba, and the Averly Foundry, Zaragoza, Spain. There are two British sites included – Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham and Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham.

I have written about Wentworth Woodhouse on several occasions, most notably here and here, and its social history here. That the site has been included by the WMF in their Watch List is merely a step further along an incredibly long journey towards its restoration and also recognition for its role in the cultural landscape of England as well as further afield.

Known as the largest privately owned house in the UK, its palatial frontage at 606 feet/180 metres ensures Wentworth Woodhouse’s visual impact is truly established. Yet, its struggle for attention has been a long time coming with one blog in 2011 describing it as ‘the greatest house you’ve never heard of’ due to a lack of high drama and a more northerly position compared to the likes of Petworth or Chatsworth. As far as the first is concerned, a lack of fuss and melodrama should be considered as natural a sentiment as the still waters that run deep since its present owners have invested a great deal of emotional effort and financial resources over the past 15 years to drag the house into a fit state for public tours. For the second,  Wentworth Woodhouse fell foul of a combination of sour attitudes towards the north and an industry which literally clawed away at the landscape. Uniting the two in the demise of its structure (both architecturally and socially) was the general disregard of Wentworth Woodhouse’s symbolism; its political and aesthetic investment made by several families for over 250 years. And while it was talked about in academic circles, the increasing lack of access rendered it underappreciated and understudied – something the WMF readily acknowledges.

Its palatial grandeur may very well jar with many as elite and pompous. There is too much of it for sure which is why there is difficulty in maintaining it in the present climate, but Wentworth Woodhouse is not without use. The plans of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust is to see the most significant interior spaces of the house opened to the public, while other areas would be turned into residential units, and other spaces to be used commercially as venues for hire.

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

There is business to be gained here and if done imaginatively, Wentworth Woodhouse can easily provide a great many with inspiration and an appetite for cultural learning. A troubling trend in under-funding of the arts in Britain continues especially where hard graft is necessary, but let’s not dismiss old practices as entirely elitist. There are stories to be told and worlds which are massively overdue attention from younger generations. There are skills which can be gained from research and practice and Wentworth Woodhouse can provide all this and more.

The List http://www.wmf.org.uk/wmf_watch/ and the project vision https://www.wmf.org/project/wentworth-woodhouse

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust including ways to pledge support and the proposed plans http://www.savewentworth.co.uk/

http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/news/campaign.php?id=327

Local reactions http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2012/02/news-2549-wentworth-woodhouse-coal.html and http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2015/10/news-5540-wentworth-woodhouse-on-world.html

http://blogs.artinfo.com/artintheair/2015/10/20/world-monuments-fund-announces-2016-watchlist/

The list as seen from across the Atlantic (spot the error in the name…!) http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/most-endangered-monuments-in-the-world/29/

And lastly, one to watch out for? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/downton-abbey/11819080/Black-Diamond-Downtons-real-life-rival.html

A must-read: Bailey, Catherine, Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty. (2008)

 

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, In the News, restoration, The Destruction of the Country House

Country House Amenities; Part IV, Cleaning.

Finally, and after several weeks of attending to the ‘day job’, here is the fourth and last installment of my peep into country house amenities.

This post is to do with the upkeep of interiors and the supplies and resources required for ordinary cleanliness. My concern here is the maintenance and cleanliness of the interiors rather than the hygiene of the occupants since connotations of civility and taste came with keeping the house clean, neat and orderly.

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The early nineteenth-century maid. By William Brocas (1762-1837), pencil drawing c.1800 (National Library of Ireland)

Cleanliness was part of household maintenance at any level of society, but in the country house it was detached and formed a part of mundane routine. The elite owner was the proprietor of the house, its collections and everyday objects, but it was the servants who touched, washed, dusted and repaired these things. Outside tradesmen and journeymen were often involved in the general upkeep of furniture, textiles and hardware too, and so the cleaning of the country house was a constant feature.

Those doing the cleaning varied due to the type of work involved. All types of general cleaning – dusting, sweeping, carpet beating, bed changing, scrubbing, and polishing were the domain of the housemaids. Under the watchful eye of the housekeeper, these chores were set to daily, monthly, biannual and annual routines. Linens went down to the laundry which was normally situated away from the main building due to the smelly and steamy processes and also offered access to easy open air drying. Here garments and bedding would be washed, bleached and boiled, mangled, dried, ironed and folded before being sent back to the house.

Silverware was the province of the butler, whilst the footmen took charge of miscellaneous chattels like candlesticks, lamps, some items of furniture and the occasional picture frame. Valets and personal servants like the groom of the chambers were responsible for the more intimate or expensive items of their master or mistress like clothing, ornaments and paintings. Whilst at the bottom of the servant hierarchy, the porter/hall boy and scullery maid had the delightful share of menial tasks which could involve anything from clearing out roof voids to scrubbing drains.

In getting the house clean, many relied upon bought goods and hardware; this is particularly true throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some tradesmen offered specific products and services for ridding the place of bugs, rat-catching and reducing general problem vermin. Patented goods might be used for cleaning fire grates, for polishing woods, and for sprucing up clothing accessories like hats and footwear. In other instances, the master or mistress depended on tried and tested recipes or old favourites. The most common practices in the country house were;

  • Floors to be scrubbed with water, soap and soda. Sand was also used to lift heavy soiling from wooden boards and show the grain. Mixed with soap and water, sand also removed scuffing from white painted wood.
  • Gum water (solution of gum arabic in water) for fire grates, and to be buffed with a dry leather, or emery paper for the bars.
  • Wainscoting (skirting boards) to be washed with soap and water, whilst white paintwork to be gently rubbed with fuller’s earth.
  • Hartshorn (the grated/powdered horn and hooves of the male red deer, used as a detergent because of its high ammonia content) for the plate (metal ware including silverware) and for stain removal in clothes and other textiles.
  • Used tea-leaves to be sprinkled on the carpet before sweeping. These gave a pleasant aroma, but also collected the dry dust particles.
  • Old silk cloths, flannels and old rags (Mrs Beeton recommended the tops of old cotton stockings) for polishing and dusting. A goose feather duster was the answer for those hard to reach places.
  • Turpentine, vinegar, linseed oil and beeswax were best for treating and removing stains from woods.
  • And freshly boiled water and pearl ash (potassium carbonate) were essential for clearing out sticky oil lamps.

Soaps.  At Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire there were five types of soap kept in the Housekeeper’s Store; Ball soap (lyes/ashes and fat rolled by hand into a ball, sometimes scented), Crown Kegs, Rosin, Blue Stone and Blue Powder. The Blues were crucial in ridding white clothes of yellow hues and sweaty stains. The blue ingredient came from indigo or smalt (ground glass originally coloured with cobalt). Crown Kegs could very well be Crown Soap which was used to clean leathers, and Rosin is a pine tree resin still used today and in the country house would have been a brown coloured soap used in washing clothes and maybe for more general cleaning due to its weaker affect as a detergent compared with hartshorn. Other soaps like yellow or purple took their names from the scented ingredients like lavender or thyme or simple dyes.

Yet, it is the ‘big clean’ which seems so peculiar to the country house. This cycle of immense cleaning is not a new

C.L. Marlatt’s article for the US Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin, 1915.

circumstance brought about through public visiting numbers or matters of conservation. The diversity of materials found in large establishments means they have always been invitations for all kinds of indelicate creatures and creeping organic matter.The Spring Clean.

One ugly tale I was told several years ago surrounded the remounting of some early nineteenth-century wallpaper. Upon removal several silverfish (fishmoths) fell to the floor (I’m not sure if some were still alive!) as staff cringed. These little bugs love the old glues and starches present in the substances holding the wallpapers up, and were clearly a recognised problem before the days of more academic conservation methods and theories (see right). Here, entomologist Charles Lester Marlatt noted this problem and quoted from Robert Hooke’s fantastic Micrographia of 1665 which described it as a silver-coloured book-worm ‘much conversant among Books and Papers’.

Bug debris and similar matter is symptomatic of the main problem in any large establishment – dust. Many bugs hide in dark corners or infest undisturbed areas like bookcases, pelmets, floor boards and wooden beams. But dust lingers and eventually rots away at whatever it has sat on for too long because it is not only abrasive but is able to chemically react with certain surfaces, especially woods and textiles. The complete removal of dust is impossible, and when cleaning a house interior it might feel like the dust is being swept from one area to another. To combat this in the country house, the Spring Clean helped to eliminate long-standing muck and grime.

The process would have taken about two weeks and involved everyone on site as well as extra staff hired from nearby villages. Many account books will reveal nameless entries (usually female) who helped at such busy periods in the house and laundry departments. Contemporary literature recommended the cleaning start at the top of the house with the removal of hangings, bedding, blankets, and carpets; all had to be brushed, washed and beaten. The housekeeper may have even ordered in extra pairs of hands from the garden and stable departments, so the heavy work could be undertaken by more burly staff.

The laundry at Castle Ward, County Down. (National Trust)

Other maintenance issues included whitewashing in the cellars and basements, chimney sweeping, drain clearing and window cleaning. Although local traders and journeymen attended to these on a regular basis, it was not uncommon for servants to get involved at some time in the biannual or annual ‘renewal’ of interiors in this way. As the cleaning process moved down the house, more specialist cleaning was required from the valet, the butler, footmen and groom of the chambers (often a gentleman from lower ranks of the social strata who had had training in upholstery and furniture care). Delicate items would be packed away for the summer, or simply cleaned and then covered to prevent fly damage. Some pieces of hardy furniture (most likely that from the servant rooms and utility rooms) were even dismantled and damp dusted.

Clearly, a good clean water supply was essential in getting and keeping the house in shape. Until the installation of plumbed waterworks, water would have been carried up and down staircases (many of which were small cramped spaces), and from interior or nearby wells. Country house ‘plumbing’ had only existed in piecemeal fashion until the nineteenth century by which time, and especially in Britain, it was still slow to catch on in large houses. Notions of plumbing were related to the treatment of waste until the eighteenth century, and so a pumped supply of clean water remained rather elusive. Laundries and kitchens had their own supplies – either from outside pumps and wells or from cisterns which caught rainwater as it fell off the roof. Conserving water was the norm until the arrival of electricity. Such a pattern in behaviour also highlights the seasonal influence of country house living, since with Spring comes the April showers, May blossoms and early Summer scents. All were vital ingredients in putting the house in order and readjusting it for the coming year.

In our modern homes there has been a resurgence of interest in more natural home remedy based cleaning. Fears over chemical cleaners have left many people seeking alternatives. And yet, in the present-day country house both methods are common. There are huge tomes which relate to matters of cleanliness and conservation, and are undoubtedly consulted everyday by staff up and down the employment hierarchy. Chemical cleaners may even be more prevalent than natural substances – though a bit of water and a duster will get you most of the way there! The cycle of cleaning and maintenance still exists today, but it is multi-layered in a way it had never been in the past. The old regimes are still there – washing, wiping, dusting, polishing, and buffing – but there are structured conservation teams with specialisms too. There is also more out-sourcing and therefore greater dependancy upon external agents and services who do not always have the same (or adequate) specialisms. Perhaps it is time to compromise and make a return to the profound tick-tock of the seasons? I would still keep the vacuum cleaner though …

Links:

Country House Technology project at the University of Leicester http://tiny.cc/0vrbhw

Dusting the Royal Historic Palaces http://www.hrp.org.uk/aboutus/whatwedo/collectionscare/monitoringdustlevels

Cleaning the house in eighteenth-century dress, Rhode Island Historical Society http://rihs.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/a-day-of-experimental-archaeology/ and http://rihs.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/all-cleaned-up/

Andrew Graham-Dixon and Petworth House, Sussex http://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/andrew-graham-dixon-mucking-in-at-petworth/

Conservation and Nostell Priory, Yorkshire http://nostellprioryconservation.wordpress.com/

17th-century cleaning for a ducal town house http://www.oldandinteresting.com/17th-century-washing.aspx and laundry bluing http://www.oldandinteresting.com/laundry-blue.aspx

The realities of cleaning and housework http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/housework.cfm

References and further reading:

Many contemporary pieces of literature can be found on Google Books in their full form (See especially S. and S. Adams The Complete Servant  and Beeton’s Book of Household Management). Others have been ‘transcribed’ or edited by individuals or through the UK National Trust which hinders their availability through modern-day copyright. British charity shops (as well as Ebay) often have these stashed on shelves, so for the curious these are a good purchase – keep your eyes peeled!

Samuel and Sarah Adams, The Complete Servant (1825)

Isabella Mary Beeton, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). My copy is an edited first edition facsimile from 1984.

Jessica Gerard, ‘Invisible Servants: The Country House and the Local Community’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, LVII, (1984), 178-188.

Mark Girouard, A Country House Companion. (1987)

Christina Hardyment, Home Comfort: A History of Domestic Arrangements (National Trust, 1992)

Joanna Martin, Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House (2004)

Pamela A. Sambrook, The Country House Servant. (National Trust, 2004 reprint)

Alison Sim, The Tudor Housewife (1996)

Amanda Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (2009)

Susanna Whatman, The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman (1776-1800). Introduced by Christina Hardyment (National Trust, 1997)

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Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited: 2011 (part 2)

         

Charles Watson-Wentworth as the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1766-8

           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

The 8th Earl Fitzwilliam (taken from http://www.thepeerage.com)

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.

References:

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

Links:        

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)

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Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited: 2011 (part 1)

          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.

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           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.
 

References: 

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.

Links:         

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/

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Review: The Country House Revealed

            So, I finally managed a moment of quiet in order to catch up with The Country House Revealed (BBC2 9pm, Tuesdays) and listen to the soft tones of Dan Cruickshank whilst he explored ‘our nation’s hidden history’.

            The first episode set out to establish several introductory points in relation to the chronology of the British country house and its owners against the cultural, socio-economic and political changes within the landscape of the nation. Against a soundtrack which mainly consisted of the Boards of Canada’s Dayvan Cowboy, came sweeping views of South Wraxall in Wiltshire, the first of Cruickshank’s studies. Here was, as Cruickshank suggested a fine example of sixteenth-century status architecture, and although he never uttered the phrase ‘power house’ it was clear that South Wraxall was chosen as an example of wealth; an emblem of authority and the physical base for establishing a dynasty.

South Wraxall (Bradford on Avon Museum image)

            Cruickshank deftly argued that the Long family of South Wraxall were fine examples of how money and the right connections could be beneficial for manipulating the physical environment. We were told of the Longs’ humble beginnings and shady practices of cattle stealing, and how such crooked dexterity gave them recognition as well as money. Through providential marriages the men of the Long family soon became what their last remaining descendant Sara Morrison called ‘efficient breeders and self-serving individuals’. For the sixteenth-century country house this was set in the very fabric of the building itself as Cruickshank returned time and again to the ever more elaborate fireplaces and mantelpieces throughout South Wraxall. The Long family had risen from their dark past with each successive male heir achieving status in the fields of law, politics and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, landownership. The country house was the cultural statement of this achievement and expressed the self-aggrandisement of its owner.
 
 
            These themes were a little more complex in Cruickshank’s second episode on Kinross in Scotland. Built by Palladian advocate Sir William Bruce in the 1680s, Kinross came almost 250 years later than South Wraxall. This was, in part due to the political landscape of England and Scotland between these two dates. South Wraxall had begun as parts rather than a whole working manor with outbuildings and a chapel. Extensions were made eventually uniting these parts to create a block of interlinked living spaces. Cruickshank neatly referred to computerised plans of this development on a couple of occasions.
 

            Yet, it was the style of building which marked the country house out from its predecessor the castle or fortified manor house. Gone were the battlements, towers and winding stairs, and moats. The owners of these new foundations were a part of a different and more stable backdrop. Anything similar in Scotland was delayed until the Restoration when civil war and struggles for outright independence from the English throne had impeded some aspects of cultural flourish. Kinross in this respect was something ‘shockingly new’ on the Scottish landscape and the first house to be inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture in Scotland. While Bruce’s neighbours were still adding to their country piles with turrets and crenellated wings, Kinross represented a side of Scotland’s character which was as Cruickshank exclaimed, eager to ‘shed its Medieval skin’.

Kinross House

          Symbolic of this change was the layout at Kinross inspired by growing needs for privacy and segregation between servants and masters. Cruickshank led us through several rooms, often quite dramatically, in order to demonstrate the route of status from the openly public and formal saloon to that of the intimate and informal chamber and closet. With more humbled gestures we saw him attempt to manoeuvre a water-filled chamber pot down incredibly cramped backstairs. It is difficult to imagine the coquettish Lucy Worsley doing such a thing in If Walls Could Talk, but Dan Cruickshank managed mixed expressions of gratitude and humility once he reached the service corridor below.

            The similarities to South Wraxall lay in Kinross’s purpose. It was a statement as a place for establishing a dynasty and as the cultural hive for the family. A descendant of Bruce, Charles Wemyss reiterates the same sentiments felt by the Long family descendant. Words like ‘opportunistic’, ‘avaricious’ and ‘irrepressible’ merely echo those made by Sara Morrison. Unlike South Wraxall however, Kinross was to prove a heavy drain on one man as Bruce struggled with bad experiences and great misfortune within his political career.

            This was rather more to do with the fickleness of royalty than anything Bruce had said or done but the funds ran out for his building and Kinross was left incomplete. It was at this moment in the episode that Cruickshank’s applied soft tones seemed so appropriate as he read a particularly poignant letter from Bruce’s wife stating her need for decent travelling clothes.

            At his conclusion to the second episode, Dan Cruickshank remarked upon the influence and weight of the past of Kinross upon its owners; a single statement which surely emphasised the reason for the choice of country houses throughout the series and Cruickshank’s book of the same title. The modern-day fate of both South Wraxall and Kinross are the same. They have proved difficult places to live in, they are time-consuming, both are financial drains and labour intensive. This is true of any large establishment (see the previous post here on Wentworth Woodhouse – another of Cruickshank’s later case studies). So how do Cruickshank’s choices differ from those of historians exploring the many country houses welcoming thousands of visitors to walk upon their trodden sacrificial carpets every year?

            Of course, every country house has a different story and it would be foolish to describe all the disadvantageous

Vogue image of Gela Nash-Taylor (second from right) with husband, son and friend Yasmin Le Bon

factors to which many may have succumbed. Yet, Cruickshank implies that there is a stimulus within some houses as well as external factors which impress upon the owner a desire to maintain their country house, perhaps dynastically or as an expression of eccentricity within a nouveau elite. Cruickshank does not use these terms, but none of his case studies remain in the ownership of their founders. South Wraxall is owned by Gela Nash-Taylor, co-founder of Juicy Couture and wife of John Taylor from Duran Duran.

          Kinross was sold at the end of 2010 with plans being made to convert much of it into a hotel. The ‘influence’ of these houses therefore rests with their power to deny absolute dominance. ‘Ownership’ is the title offered to the dweller – the shot of Gela Nash-Taylor shuffling through gravel in 4 inch heels was a delight to see, but does not suggest this family can ever be a part of the building’s fabric. The sheer generosity of the present owners however, has been made into a gift in the hands of Dan Cruickshank who has so far laid bare the vital ingredients of country house histories and their reflection of social and cultural change.

References: Dan Cruickshank, The Country House Revealed: A Secret History of the British Ancestral Home. (BBC books, 2011)

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. (Yale University Press, 1978)

Please also see the core reading list provided in this blog, many of these sources will provide further discussion on the building of the country house, including the social and cultural themes offered by Dan Cruickshank.

Links:

The Country House Revealed website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01186vq

Kinross: The DiCamillo country house database entry http://www.dicamillocompanion.com/Houses_detail.asp?ID=1181

Articles relating to the sale and plans for Kinross: http://www.perthshireadvertiser.co.uk/perthshire-news/local-news-perthshire/perthshire/2010/12/24/hotel-plans-for-kinross-house-73103-27877815/

http://www.countrylife.co.uk/news/article/386921/A-renaissance-masterpiece-in-Scotland.html

South Wraxall: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Wraxall_Manor

Full Vogue USA article 2009: http://www.duranasty.com/scans/vogue_usa_sept_09/vogue_sept_09_jt_gela.htm

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