Went­worth Wood­house’s big break

Eleanor Doughty re­veals the mas­ter­plan to re­store Bri­tain’s big­gest stately home – and how much it’ll cost

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Heritage -

When the Gov­ern­ment pledged £7.6mil­lion two years ago to­wards the restora­tion of Went­worth Wood­house, the coun­try’s big­gest stately home, her­itage watch­ers cheered. At last, the great Pal­la­dian-baroque house, the for­mer home of the Earls Fitzwillia­m with its 606ft façade, would be saved.

As much as that sum sounded for an or­di­nary doer-up­per, it would barely touch the sides. This week, the ex­tent of the work re­quired on Went­worth Wood­house was re­vealed. On Mon­day, chief ex­ec­u­tive Sarah McLeod and Julie Kenny CBE, chair­man of the Went­worth Wood­house Preser­va­tion Trust (WWPT), went to Down­ing Street to present the mas­ter­plan to the Chan­cel­lor. In this was the rev­e­la­tion that the project will cost in the re­gion of £130mil­lion, al­though it could end up be­ing far higher.

In­di­vid­u­ally costed projects – the restora­tion of the house, which has more than 300 rooms, the sta­bles, and a con­ser­va­tory – will re­quire £79mil­lion, £39mil­lion, and £1.5mil­lion re­spec­tively. In the past, McLeod has sug­gested the fi­nal to­tal could nudge up to £200mil­lion. She ad­mits that she is go­ing to have to be imag­i­na­tive about rais­ing the money to pay for it all. For starters, she is open­ing up the state be­d­rooms as a b&b, so you, too, can spend the night among roy­alty.

Went­worth Wood­house isn’t any or­di­nary house. In fact, it’s two – one baroque, which faces west, and one Pal­la­dian, look­ing east. The baroque house near Rother­ham, South York­shire, was built in 1725 by Thomas Wat­son-Went­worth (later 1st Mar­quess of Rockingham). Within a decade, the baroque style had gone out of fash­ion, so in 1734, a trendier Pal­la­dian house, fac­ing the other way, was com­mis­sioned as an “ex­ten­sion”. The two make up Went­worth, with a chapel snug­gled in the mid­dle. Tra­di­tion­ally, the fam­ily lived in the back half of the house, with the front de­signed for show­ing off to vis­i­tors, which, with its 60ft Mar­ble Hall, is not hard to imag­ine. In 1782, the 4th Earl Fitzwillia­m in­her­ited the house, and for the next 200 years Went­worth was home to his fam­ily, landown­ers who ran lo­cal mines. Life at Went­worth was lav­ish (on New Year’s Eve 1931, a party was hosted for 40,000 peo­ple). But in April 1946 it came to an end when heavy plant ma­chin­ery ar­rived on site. This, on the or­ders of Labour min­is­ter Manny Shin­well, would carve up Went­worth’s lawn into the largest open-cast mine in Bri­tain. Min­ing, said Shin­well, was to take place up to the “bloody front door”. The Fitzwillia­ms were pow­er­less to do any­thing.

After the 8th Earl died in a plane crash in 1948, two fur­ther earls con­tin­ued the fam­ily line, nei­ther pro­duc­ing an heir. As such, in 1989, the house was sold for the first time, in 1998 for a sec­ond, and then in 2017 to WWPT.

Each part of the site will have a new lease of life when the project is com­plete in around 2043. As well as the man­sion, sta­bles and the con­ser­va­tory, Camel­lia House, which are the cur­rent pri­or­i­ties, there are 19 other in­di­vid­u­ally listed ob­jects on site, in­clud­ing an Ionic tem­ple, a pair of cast-iron urns and the rid­ing school.

The sta­bles will be con­verted into 15 self-con­tained hol­i­day apart­ments, an events space for wed­dings, and re­tail units. The Camel­lia House will com­prise a fur­ther events space for smaller gath­er­ings, and the main house will be­come a hive of ac­tiv­ity, with of­fices, vis­i­tor li­braries, com­mer­cial busi­ness units and vis­i­tor hos­pi­tal­ity. Parts will be made open to the pub­lic, both up­stairs and down­stairs. “It’s never go­ing to be 100 per cent grant-funded; it’s go­ing to rely on peo­ple with deep pock­ets,” says McLeod. The money from the Trea­sury, she adds, “was given to do the most ur­gent works to stop the de­cline, but the scope of the works changes con­stantly”.

The first work that needs do­ing is on the roof, which, in parts, has al­most en­tirely dis­in­te­grated. The worst of this is over the state rooms, where de­te­ri­o­ra­tion has been swift over the past few years, with wa­ter ingress to blame. “What starts as a trickle does so much dam­age if you don’t deal with it,” says McLeod, who is fac­ing the task of lay­ing 14,000 new roof slates. Along with the roof over the cen­tral block, the chapel roof also needs ur­gent help, as does the one over the for­mer bach­e­lor’s wing. This was mooted as a place for res­i­den­tial units, says McLeod, but now it will be turned into of­fices.

The project is mam­moth, but WWPT caught the house in the nick of time, says Kenny. “I used to go there for char­ity din­ners and watch what was hap­pen­ing there. I’d take pho­tographs of the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.” The in­ten­tions of past own­ers were good, says McLeod, but their ac­tions weren’t enough. “They did spo­radic re­pairs across the site – there has been some very fine wall­pa­per hung in the house, yet the roof is leak­ing. The Camel­lia House has seen some great stone re­pair work been done, but the rest is derelict.”

The pair have no plans to turn Went­worth into “Chatsworth 2” – the great stately home 30 miles away, which in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Lead­ing Vis­i­tor At­trac­tions, saw more than 636,000 vis­i­tors. The key to Went­worth is orig­i­nal­ity, says Kenny. “We haven’t got any fur­ni­ture, we haven’t got any money to buy any, so why try to com­pete and do a bad job? Let’s do some­thing dif­fer­ent, and be bold.”

The project will cost in the re­gion of £130m but could end up be­ing far higher

IM­POS­ING Went­worth Wood­house has a huge façade; Sarah McLeod, head of the trust, be­low

ROOM TO IM­PROVE In­side Went­worth Wood­house, which is in dire need of build­ing work

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