New slates arrive to make their mark at Wentworth Woodhouse

2nd August 2018

Major roof repairs can now begin at Wentworth Woodhouse, ensuring the magnificent state rooms at the stately home in Rotherham are once again protected from the elements.

Slate hewn from the Lake District quarry which provided Wentworth’s original roof covering in the 18th century has now arrived on site.

The first batch of  pale green Westmorland slate made the 150-mile journey from Elterwater in rather less time than it would have done in the Georgian era, when it was transported by horse and cart.

Nevertheless, the team whose task it is to ensure each carefully matched piece is laid in place 75 feet above ground have had to show the patience of their forefathers 250 years ago.

“Sourcing traditional materials is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge for conservation architects and skilled craftsmen working on heritage properties. And this particular type of slate is now only available from a small number of quarries,” said Caroline Drake of Donald Insall Associates, conservation architects appointed by The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust and Historic England to oversee the roofing works.

The project team eventually managed to find the right slate at Burlington Stone’s Elterwater Quarry – and discovered it was the very place which had supplied the Marquess of Rockingham with Westmorland when Wentworth Woodhouse was built in the 1700s.

In addition to sourcing problems, though, the quarrying, splitting and cutting of slate can only be carried out in small batches and the process cannot be rushed. So all anyone could do was wait.

“We are so pleased to say that the first slates are now here, they were worth the wait and they are going straight onto the most vulnerable areas of the roof over the East Front. We have a team of experts guiding us in the process,” Sarah McLeod, CEO of Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, which took over the house in 2017 to restore it for the nation.

Donald Insall Associates are the architects behind the restoration of Windsor Castle after it was ravaged by fire in 1992, and recently restored the Temperate House at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London and are currently conservation architects for the refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament.

Aura Conservation, specialists in the conservation of historic and listed buildings, will be undertaking the roof repairs using the £7.6million of funding announced in the Chancellor’s 2016 budget. Over 100 tonnes of Westmorland slate will be needed to complete the Government-funded roof repairs.

As each new slate is laid, roofers will carefully lift and stack the old slate – as much as possible of this valuable material needs to be salvaged for re-use on other areas of the roof. Measuring 187m, the Grade I-listed house is one of the largest houses in Europe and huge areas of its 3,250m2 of roof is in desperate need of repair.

Historic England is administering the Government grant and supporting the Trust in their work.  Giles Proctor, Heritage At Risk Architect at Historic England, said: “The repairs are just in time and will help to secure the future of this wonderful house.  Wentworth Woodhouse has much to contribute towards the regeneration of the wider area.”

The Trust has high hopes that a vast number of the new pale green slates will have another very special feature linking back to the past…

It is asking supporters to join its Make Your Mark In History appeal and sponsor a slate destined for the roof.

For a minimum donation of £50 sponsors can have their slate etched with messages, names and even handprints. They will be following a tradition set by craftsmen who have secretly been leaving their mark in the roof for more than 200 years. Their messages, names and handprints were recently discovered and inspired the appeal, which could raise up to £200,000 towards the estimated £200 million needed to restore the house.

To support work to protect Wentworth Woodhouse, go to www.wentworthwoodhouse.co.uk