Went­worth Wood­house

This England - - Contents - Kathryn Br­ere­ton

Just a few miles from Rother­ham, in the beau­ti­ful South York­shire coun­try­side, stands Went­worth Wood­house. Built in the 18th cen­tury on a breath­tak­ingly grand scale and ar­guably the widest coun­try house in Bri­tain, its 615foot East Front is twice the length of Buck­ing­ham Palace.

In its hey­day roy­alty, the rich and the pow­er­ful all stayed there; their ev­ery whim at­tended to by well over a hun­dred ser­vants. Guests were pre­sented with cas­kets of coloured con­fetti to sprin­kle along the miles of wind­ing cor­ri­dors to guide them back to their rooms. But un­til re­cently this mighty house had been largely for­got­ten, left to gen­tly crum­ble. The story be­hind both the con­struc­tion and the demise of Went­worth Wood­house is a po­tent cock­tail of wealth, pol­i­tics and bit­ter fam­ily feuds.

The vil­lage of Went­worth dates back to at least 1066. In the 13th cen­tury a fam­ily cleared some land there and built a house. Newly cleared land was called a “wood­house” so the fam­ily took this for their name. The Went­worth fam­ily was joined through mar­riage to the Wood­houses in around 1250.

In the 17th cen­tury Thomas Went­worth, the 1st Earl of Straf­ford, re­built the house. But when serv­ing as ad­vi­sor to King Charles I he was tried and be­headed for trea­son. His body is buried un­der the Old Church in Went­worth vil­lage. His heir, the child­less 2nd Earl of Straf­ford, flouted the tra­di­tional line of in­her­i­tance and left the fam­ily for­tune to his nephew Thomas Wat­son-went­worth. Lord Raby, who had ex­pected to in­herit, vented his bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment through what was to be­come a bizarre bat­tle of ar­chi­tec­ture. On high ground five miles west of Went­worth he built the grandiose, baroque Went­worth Castle, in­tend­ing through this show­piece to as­sert his dom­i­nance on the re­gion.

Wat­son-went­worth’s son and heir (even­tu­ally cre­ated 1st Mar­quess of Rock­ing­ham for loy­alty to the King in the Ja­co­bite re­bel­lion) took up the ar­chi­tec­tural gaunt­let in around 1724 and com­mis­sioned the con­struc­tion of a new house at Went­worth Wood­house. Built fac­ing west to di­rectly con­front Went­worth Castle, this was also baroque in style, in red brick with stone fac­ings. But be­fore this house was fin­ished, the Mar­quess made an in­cred­i­ble de­ci­sion. He started on another one. This hand­some Pal­la­dian style house faced east and was set back-to-back with the smaller west fac­ing one. So even­tu­ally Went­worth Castle was beaten

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