The owners of South Yorkshire’s Wentworth Woodhouse – one of Britain’s grandest stately homes – have lost a legal battle to have its £100million restoration paid for from the public purse.
The Grade 1-listed house, near Rotherham, former seat of the Earls Fitzwilliam, has a frontage 70 metres longer than Buckingham Palace and covers an area of over 2.5 acres.
The current owners are Marcus and Giles Newbold, whose architect father Clifford dedicated his life to campaigning for the restoration of Wentworth Woodhouse to its former splendour.
Clifford died last year, aged 88, having finally achieved his dream of opening the house to the public for the first time.
His sons say subsidence damage to the house caused by old mine workings – some dating back to the dawn of the industrial revolution – is still getting worse and claimed compensation from the Coal Authority.
Ruling on the dispute, tribunal judge Martin Rodger QC accepted the house had ‘experienced mining subsidence on a substantial scale’.
But that was long in the past and mining subsidence was not responsible for damage to the house in recent decades, he told the Upper Tribunal. He added: “All of the technical monitoring evidence available since 1995 suggests that, on the balance of probability, the house has been stable”.
The judge concluded that, in relation to four particular areas of serious damage, there had been no ‘second phase of subsidence damage after the 1980s’.
The Newbold brothers blamed ‘the great majority’ of the damage on mining subsidence and said their claim under the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991 was ‘likely to be in excess of £100m’.
The ‘primary trigger’ of the damage, they argued, was the collapse of old mine workings as a result of water inundation following the end of strategic pumping in the South Yorkshire coal field in the 1990s. The recovery of ground water levels in mine shafts had led to a ‘new phase’ of damage to the mansion’s structure long after active mining works in the area ended.
However, the Coal Authority insisted that any ground movement caused by mining ‘ended decades ago’ and that Wentworth Woodhouse is now ‘largely stable’. The visible damage to four of the house’s most seriously affected areas was ‘either historic or attributable to a variety of other causes, including neglect and decay’.