FOL­LIES, FEUDS AND EUROPE’S LONG­EST FA­CADE

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - NEWS -

Went­worth Wood­house is unique for hav­ing two fronts. One, com­pleted in 1734, is in the or­nate Baroque style and was al­ready re­garded as un­fash­ion­able and out-of date by the time it was com­pleted. So the Went­worth fam­ily de­cided to start again, this time in the 18th cen­tury Pal­la­dian style, with a new front fac­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. The East Front is now the long­est coun­try house fa­cade in Europe.

The house was the fam­ily seat of Charles Wat­sonWent­worth, the sec­ond Mar­quess of Rock­ing­ham, who was prime minister in the

1760s and again in the 1780s. Fol­lies were built around the vast grounds, in­clud­ing a pyra­mid, a Tus­can col­umn, a three- storey mau­soleum and a bear pit guarded by the stat­ues of Ro­man soldiers.

The house was passed through the PM’s sis­ter to the Fourth Earl Fitzwilliam in 1782, and re­mained in the fam­ily for two cen­turies. But gen­er­a­tions of the Fitzwilliams feuded against them­selves end­lessly. The Sixth Earl wanted his epilep­tic son to die with­out mar­ry­ing – in­stead, the boy grew up to be a fa­mous ex­plorer. By the time the Sixth Earl died, in 1902, his grand­son was the heir, and the house had be­come a sort of liv­ing grave: no heat­ing, no elec­tric lights, all but a hand­ful of rooms shut off. Yet the fam­ily for­tune was in­cal­cu­la­ble, worth bil­lions to­day, thanks to the coal fields owned by the Fitzwilliams.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the house be­came a head­quar­ters for in­tel­li­gence work. Later, the Labour Party wanted to take over the es­tate and mine the coal in what was seen as an act of class-war spite. Open-cast min­ing con­tin­ued al­most up to the house’s doors, and in­cluded the lawns, woods – and the drive­way. De­spite the harsh con­di­tions they had en­dured for decades, the min­ers protested against the de­struc­tion.

Af­ter the last Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1979, the house was briefly used as an ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre by Sh­effield Poly, and then sold to a busi­ness­man and then a Lon­don ar­chi­tect. It is now owned by a preser­va­tion trust, thanks to a stop­gap in­vest­ment of £7.6 mil­lion in 2016 by the Trea­sury, to stop the roof from col­laps­ing. Whether the house can ever re­gain its for­mer grandeur re­mains to be seen.

Above: a pyra­mid in the grounds. Left: the mau­soleum

The stun­ning Pal­la­dian East Front of Went­worth Wood­house

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