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Michael Ford asks

What fate awaits Wentworth Woodhouse?

One of the great houses of England is up for sale (April 1999). It may not be in the public eye like Blenheim or Castle Howard but Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, is equally magnificent.

The house, built in the second quarter of the 18th century, is basically two houses joined back to back: with the approach from the East showing a Palladian front over 600ft in length, the longest in the country, whilst the West front is Baroque. The whole has 365 rooms with 1000 windows. The stable block can accommodate 100 horses. This is truly a palatial pile.

Wentworth Woodhouse was built for Thomas Wentworth, who became the first Marquis of Rockingham, as an architectural challenge to Wentworth Castle six miles away, near Barnsley. The house passed to the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam who embellished the building cumulating in the best Georgian interior in England centring on the magnificent great hall. Its surrounding park was also a gem until open-cast coal mining devastated it in the 1940s.

The tragedy of Wentworth Woodhouse is that it was never opened to the public after the Second World War as were most of the stately homes. The 8th Earl Fitzwilliam was killed in a flying accident in 1948 with no direct heir and this led to the sale of the contents and a split in the ownership. From 1950 a major part of the house was let to various councils as a training college with the Fitzwilliams still occupying the remainder until 1979 when the 10th and last Earl died. Sheffield Polytechnic surrendered their lease in 1986 because of local cutbacks. It was bought in 1988 with a view to restoration as a country house but the Julius Baer Bank took possession in 1998. It has now been offered for sale at a price around 1.5 million but it will require ten times that to restore. The need now is for this architectural masterpiece to be saved, hopefully with the aim of eventually giving access to the general public, and making it once again a stately home.

In Early May 1999, Wentworth Woodhouse was purchased for a figure substantially in excess of the guide of 1.5m. It is to become a private residence once more.

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