The £150M fixer-up­per

It will take 20 years (and more than a lick of paint) to re­store UK’s big­gest pri­vate home

Daily Mail - - News - THE STA­BLES By Chris Brooke

IT’S enough to make even the most ar­dent DIY devo­tees feel a lit­tle wob­bly. In fact, you could say it’s the ul­ti­mate home makeover – ex­pected to take 20 years and a stag­ger­ing £150mil­lion.

For large parts of Went­worth Wood­house, once a place of ma­jes­tic grandeur, are now a sprawl­ing, crum­bling, headache-in­duc­ing mess.

The 18th cen­tury prop­erty in South York­shire is the largest pri­vate home in Bri­tain, with around 350 rooms (no one has counted the ex­act num­ber) and five miles of cor­ri­dors. For gen­er­a­tions it be­longed to the Went­worth, Wat­son and Fitzwilliam fam­i­lies, the walls were lined with mas­ter­pieces by Raphael and Ti­tian and the vis­i­tor’s book in­cluded the sig­na­tures of King Ge­orge V. How times have changed. It re­cently stood in for Buck­ing­ham Palace in scenes for the Hol­ly­wood wartime block­buster Dark­est Hour. Parts were used in the Ti­mothy Spall movie Mr Turner, about Bri­tain’s cel­e­brated artist JMW Turner.

But much of it is no longer as pretty as a pic­ture. And yes­ter­day large sec­tions of this huge house cer­tainly looked like they had been bombed in the Blitz. The Mail was given a be­hindthe- scenes tour at the launch of a project that will at­tempt the Her­culean task of restor­ing the house.

More than 100 sur­veys have ex­posed the full hor­ror of its ‘crit­i­cal state of de­cay’ with en­demic dry rot, crum­bling stonework, col­lapsed drains and as­bestos con­tam­i­na­tion.

Some wings of this never-end­ing man­sion would have given any DIY en­thu­si­ast a heart at­tack. A cor­ri­dor used as ser­vants’ quar­ters 250 years ago is in a state of near col­lapse. Rub­ble from col­lapsed ceil­ings lit­ters the floor, along with roof in­su­la­tion, bro­ken sinks and rot­ting wood. The sta­ble block, once home to the race­horse Whistle­jacket – fa­mously de­picted in Ge­orge Stubbs’ paint­ing of the same name – once housed 84 horses. Now chick­ens roam the weeds and rub­ble. The court­yard, where car­riages once ar­rived, is lit­tered with bro­ken stone pil­lars. Even the statue in the wa­ter fea­ture of the nearby rose gar­den has been be­headed.

The Went­worth Wood­house Preser­va­tion Trust bought the house for £7mil­lion in 2017 af­ter Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond pledged £7.6mil­lion to fix the leak­ing roof – and ef­fec­tively save the prop­erty out­right. Al­though the restora­tion cost is dwarfed by the tax­payer-

funded £369mil­lion needed to re­fur­bish Buck­ing­ham Palace, Went­worth Wood­house is still a ma­jor cost.

Julie Kenny, chair­man of WWPT, is tasked with rais­ing the eye-wa­ter­ing sum re­quired to com­plete ‘the great­est restora­tion project for a gen­er­a­tion’. Sit­u­ated on a coal seam, the home’s aris­to­cratic own­ers be­came the equiv­a­lent of to­day’s bil­lion­aires dur­ing the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.

But the prop­erty fell into dis­re­pair af­ter the Sec­ond World War and re­cent wealthy own­ers have been un­able to tackle the huge ren­o­va­tion job. Con­cealed from the out­side world for decades, Mrs Kenny said it would now be open to the com­mu­nity.

Her team will tar­get grants and do­na­tions and trans­form the site into a prof­itable busi­ness. Am­bi­tious plans in­volve turn­ing it into a ma­jor vis­i­tor at­trac­tion, open­ing hol­i­day lets, of­fice space and ex­hi­bi­tion areas. De­spite its state of dis­re­pair, the new busi­ness is al­ready gen­er­at­ing a ‘healthy in­come’ from wed­dings and events and hir­ing the home out as a film lo­ca­tion.

There is also a shop and cafe on site. Fundrais­ing galas are al­ready in full swing, and the Na­tional Trust and Her­itage Lot­tery Fund have given cash to get the project off the ground. A num­ber of the mag­nif­i­cent re­cep­tion rooms, in­clud­ing the Whistle­jacket room, with a copy of the fa­mous paint­ing that once hung here, have al­ready been re­stored to give a glimpse of what this aris­to­cratic home once looked like.

The re­build­ing project be­gan last year with a sin­gle phone line and a vac­uum cleaner. There are now 19 full-time staff and 120 vol­un­teers. But many more work­ers are needed.

Mrs Kenny promised: ‘ We will do this, it’s just a ques­tion of how long it takes. How do you eat an ele­phant? It’s one bit at a time and that is what we will do here.’

Famed race­horse: Whistle­jacket was kept here

Faded grandeur: Went­worth Wood­house’s re­furb is ex­pected to take 20 years

For­lorn: A wa­ter fea­ture statue – miss­ing its head ROSE GAR­DEN

Rub­ble: The rot­ten ceil­ings have started to col­lapse SER­VANTS’ AREA

Un­kempt: Larder once used to store game OUT­BUILD­INGS

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