Wentworth Woodhouse is certainly one of the most awesome stately homes in Britain as well as one of the biggest. The building holds many records – it is the largest private property in the country, it has one of the longest facades in Europe, it has more than 300 rooms spread over 124,000 sq. ft.
The house is located in the village of Wentworth, between Rotherham and Barnsley. The village is served by bus 227 from Rotherham, and Elsecar train station is 2 mi away. The house can be visited during guided tours only. It is necessary to book ahead, by phone or on the website. Different tours are offered, and prices vary according to the length of the tour. As of 2019, there are the Wentworth and Clifford Tours at £22 both, while the Garden Tour is at £12. National Trust members receive 50% discount. The Wentworth Tour focuses on the stately rooms of the East facade, while the Clifford Tour is dedicated to the smaller rooms in the older western part.
Wentworth Woodhouse was first built in the 17th century, but only small parts of the original building survive and they were incorporated in the newer structures. From 1725 to 1734, the owner revamped this house and added a new Baroque facade, on the west front. The new facade was made of bricks, with decorative elements in stone.
The result was considered to be out of fashion as soon as the works were completed. The same owner thus decided in 1734 to build the gigantic other facade, on the eastern side. It is completely made of stone and it is Neoclassical instead of Baroque. The two facades are very different, and they can never be seen at the same time so it actually seems that there are two houses instead of one.
The monumental scale of the house results from a stubborn competition between two branches of the Wentworth family, which started around 1700. On one side were the Wentworth-Stainboroughs, who inherited the earldom of Wentworth but not the house at Wentworth Woodhouse. On the other side were the Wentworth-Watsons, who got the house but no title. The first branch decided to build a new house, Wentworth Castle, located 7 mi from Wentworth, but this triggered the Watsons to rebuild Wentworth Woodhouse in the Baroque style. Then the Stainboroughs added a new Neoclassical wing to Wentworth Castle, and the Watsons in turn added the huge eastern facade to Wentworth Woodhouse.
Wentworth Woodhouse passed to the Earls of Fitzwilliam in the 19th century. Because of exorbitant inheritance duties and maintenance costs, the family had to lease the eastern part (the biggest one) after the Second World War. It was first used by the army, and then by Lady Mabel College, a school for female physical education teachers. The school remained there until 1978, and the Fitzwilliams continued to live in the western part until 1989, when they sold the whole property. It was bought and resold several times before being acquired by a heritage organisation in 2016.
Unfortunately, most of the rooms are empty are their furniture was sold at diverse auctions. The current owner is trying to find it back to recreate the original interiors, but due to the size and the number of rooms, it may take a long time. During their tours, the guides show most of the state rooms which still have their fireplaces and some paintings hanging on the walls. The interiors all date back from the 18th century but they each present a different style, ranging from a Venetian or French influence to the simplicity of Palladianism. The highlight is the stunning Marble Saloon, which is located at the centre of the western facade. It is 40 ft high and it is adorned with columns and statues. The main staircase which leads to this room contains a wonderful Roman statue of Ceres found in Herculaneum.
The gardens were severely damaged because of coal extraction in the area after 1947. The land is still fragile and distorted. The walled garden was bought by the Wentworth Garden Centre which restored it to provide its customers with a lovely garden to wander around. There are a labyrinth, a rock garden and a lot of flower beds. Open daily, full price admission to the gardens £1.50, see website. The rest of the gardens together were sold with the house and they are managed by the same organisation as the house. It encompasses the orchard, a derelict camelia greenhouse, a large border and the South Terrace, which offers fine views on the countryside.
The rest of the estate, including the park and its follies, still belong to the Fitzwilliam family. As such it is managed differently from the house. There were around 20 follies built in the 18th century in the park. The estate was so big that most of them are located quite far from the house. Although two of them can be accessed by public footpaths, most of them lie on private property and as such cannot be approached by visitors.
The two follies that visitors can access are the Needles Eye and Hoober Stand, which are to be found on the other side of Cortworth Lane, north of the village. The Hoober Stand is open on Sundays in Summer, as is the Rockingham Monument (visible from the house, looking towards the East). A small admission charge apply, see website. A bear pit can also be seen in the Wentworth Garden Centre.
The village of Wentworth itself is a cute and typical English village. Being an estate village until the 20th century, it was carefuly looked after by the Fitzwilliams. The old medieval church which stands in the graveyard became redundant when the new church was built in 1877. It was however kept as a ruin. The chancel was preserved because it contains the tombs of several Lords. The Rockingham Arms, located on the main street, is a charming pub with a nice garden and very authentic interiors.
Around Wentworth Woodhouse: