We were in the nick of time, says trust restoring Wentworth Woodhouse into ‘people’s palace’

18th October 2018

A trust fighting to save one of the UK’s most important stately homes from crumbling to ruin has revealed it took over ‘just in time’.

Wentworth Woodhouse, a Grade I listed Georgian masterpiece in Rotherham which once rivalled Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth House, is in a critical state, says the Preservation Trust which stumped up £7m to take it on in May 2017.

The woman who galvanised the trust revealed the crucial state of affairs to guests and Government ministers gathered at 11 Downing Street on Monday October 15 for the launch of plans to restore the house and protect its future by transforming it into a ‘people’s palace.’

WWPT’s 500-page Masterplan aims to awake the house from its slumber, make it as famous as in its 18th century heyday and put Rotherham on the map.

“We purchased the site just in time. Significant heritage features were at risk, “said chair Julie Kenny CBE.

“Over 100 structural surveys and commencement of capital repair works have shown us the extent of the damage, decay and loss caused over many decades.The site is in a very serious state,” added the tenacious Rotherham businesswoman who founded the trust in 2014 and fought for three years to purchase the house from private ownership.

“But we have a great team at the Big House, as it is known locally, and our Masterplan means we can set about putting right the wrongs of the past years for the future of our local people and communities, the region, and more importantly the nation.”

Urgent repairs to the badly leaking roof are already underway, thanks to the £7.6 million grant awarded in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn 2016 Statement.

But the trust now needs around £150million to develop the plan snd then focus on the visitor offer. We are appealing to people not only in Rotherham but across the world for support,” said Julie Kenny.

Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Newark Robert Jenrick, who forged the decisive meeting between Julie Kenny and Philip Hammond, was present at the event.

He commented: “Mr Hammond saw this as a project of national importance, which would benefit South Yorkshire. He also understood it was ‘now or never’; the building was up for sale and in a very poor state.

“The Chancellor and I are excited by the plans for the future and look forward to seeing them realised in the years ahead.”

With a frontage longer than that of Buckingham Palace Wentworth Woodhouse was a political powerhouse nationally renowned for its beauty and priceless art collection.

It was built for some of the wealthiest of English nobility, the Marquess of Rockingham and the Earls of Fitzwilliam.

But WWPT’s Masterplan will create a down-to-earth, community-focused stately home attraction which will boost the local economy and improve lives in Rotherham and South Yorkshire.

It will become a world-class visitor attraction with local heritage and culture exhibitions and a focus firmly on the restoration task – the biggest and most important in the UK.

Uniquely, visitors will be able take ‘hard hat and Hi Viz’ tours to witness work taking place and talk to restoration teams. The story of the house, told in engaging 21st century formats, will chronicle its days of grandeur, fall into decline and purchase by the trust for £7 million in May 2017.

A heritage construction skills training programme will create Wentworth’s own workforce, as it did for 200 years.

State rooms where nobility once slept will be rentable for the night, and holiday homes will be created in the house and stables.

In addition, office and craft spaces will be developed and new cafes and restaurants will be created. Wedding parties, TV and film crews will continue to bring income.

Said Ms Kenny: “In recent decades the house was fiercely guarded by recent occupants and concealed from the world. One of our priorities is to create a place where everybody feels welcome and can engage with this huge project. Wentworth Woodhouse belongs to us all.”

The Masterplan is the result of a year spent examining workable schemes and 1,500 local people took part in the consultation process.

Sarah McLeod, CEO of WWPT commented: “We will restore a national asset and regenerate a community. As this once great house rises again, it will be an economic driver improving the lives of people in Rotherham, one of the most socially-deprived areas of the UK.

“Visitors will bring income to the area and the very task of restoration will be a major draw and also a creator of jobs. We want to train the next generation in the skills their ancestors specialised in.”

Details of the Masterplan will be launched to the local community at an event at Wentworth Woodhouse on November 9 at 11am. To attend, email info@wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk

  • When WWPT took on the site in March 2017 it found the mansion, stables, riding school, camelia house and 83 acres in a critical state of decay – buildings riddled with asbestos, collapsed drains, endemic dry rot, leaking roofs, rotting timbers and deteriorating stonework.
  • With just one phone line, an intermittent internet connection, a handful of committed staff and a single vacuum cleaner, it began the task of raising the phoenix from the ashes.
  • Over 350 tonnes of rubbish has had to be removed.
  • WWPT now has 19 staff, 100 volunteers and has established a business now generating a healthy income from retail and catering, events and as a location for weddings, film and TV productions.