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