I have a well-established love for Wentworth Woodhouse, partly because of its past association with Sheffield Simplex cars, but mainly because it’s such a ridiculously extravagant property with a wonderfully complex history. Reputed to have longest façade of any country house in England, Wentworth Woodhouse was built for the 1st Marquess of Rockingham, with the work beginning in around 1735. Building continued for almost half a century, during which changing fashions resulted in the house having two ‘fronts’: one at the current front of the house and the other on the opposite side – as well as several differently constructed areas of roof. Over the past century, the house has seen several changes of owners and been used as a further education college before revering for a time to life as a family home. Repairs, however, have proved costly, and a combination of leaking roofs above, and subsidence below led to the house being in danger of becoming unusable.
Now in the care of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, who purchased the house in 2017 on behalf of the nation, Wentworth Woodhouse is seeing a distinct upturn in its fortunes once again. Restoration works are well underway, and the public is being granted access in a more extensive manner than usually happens on such occasions, with all money raised from innovations such as the Rooftop Tours being used to fund further restorative work.
My parents and I had been intrigued by the idea of seeing Wentworth Woodhouse and the land surrounding it, from the scaffolding erected to enable the roof repairs ever since the possibility was first announced, especially since the works had been planned in such a way as to make the tours accessible to all. A tour was duly booked for Saturday the 14th of September 2019, and plans put in place for us to travel there together.
The weather was just perfect for us: not to hot, but dry and bright enough for us to properly appreciate our surroundings, which we first did as we walked from the car park to the house, taking in the extent of the scaffolding visible at the front from ground level. We even had time for leisurely refreshments in the very fancy tea rooms before our tour was due to commence (I’m sure I remember a time, not so long ago, when tea and biscuits were provided by a couple of volunteers with a kettle or two).
Our tour commenced with an introduction to the house and the current state of affairs with regard to the ongoing works, all with a view through the window onto a courtyard filled with yet more scaffolding, as well as some of the items removed from the roofs, which were being stored for their eventual return to their rightful places. More items being stored and restored were viewed as we collected our high-vis jackets: a collection of urns, each weighing around one tonne, as well as stacks of very large slates.
Once at the scaffolding we had the choice of taking either the steps up to the first level, or the lift. I opted for the former, and was able to take photographs of the grounds and adjoining countryside – as well as various monuments erected by the Wentworth and Fitzwilliam families on lands that were once part of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate – while my parents went for the latter option. The roofs are viewed from two levels, again linked by both steps and the lift, with wider viewing areas at intervals around the walkways, where the standard scaffolding boards have been replaced by perspex to allow wheelchair users to get a proper look at their surroundings. The scaffolding boards themselves have been decorated by local schoolchildren and artists, with various interpretations of Wentworth Woodhouse’s history and significance.
While on our tour we were able to gaze directly into the attics – all the roofing materials having been removed, as well as gaining a view of the rooftop statues and other ornamental pieces that cannot be fully appreciated from ground level. One set of decorations that I particularly liked were the copper urns built to match the ones we had already been observed at ground level, which concealed some of the house’s chimneys and preserved the symmetrical look of its front. Our guide told us that they are yet to ascertain which chimney is connected to which of the house’s many fireplaces.
Following our tour we paid another visit to the tearooms and also called in at the shop. The tours will be running for at least another year, with work continuing all the time: we plan to go again at least once, so we can see how things progress.