How one of South Yorkshire's finest stately homes at Wentworth Woodhouse is being brought back from deluge and decay

A daunting preservation project at one of England’s finest Georgian homes started with 180 rain-filled buckets which lined the decaying recesses of the halls.

By Ruby Kitchen
Friday, 8th October 2021, 2:28 pm
Updated Friday, 8th October 2021, 2:28 pm

Now, as Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, marks a major milestone following £5.5m in specialist roof repairs, preservation trust members have described the renovations as a mighty “triumph”, with artisan markers painstakingly restored.

The majority of the Grade One-listed mansion’s vast Palladian-style East Front has now been declared water-tight, following two years of urgent repairs which were described as a “colossal” undertaking.

Trust chief executive Sarah McLeod said: “The project has been one of the most exciting and challenging heritage projects of a generation.

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“We’ve had many challenges to go through. The scale of Wentworth Woodhouse and its sad state brought particular problems, which expertise and skill overcame.

“Then came the global pandemic. We overcame that too; the site was closed for just five weeks and supplies of materials were maintained.

“The project has been a triumph. The building is now protected for future generations to enjoy and the preservation trust can move on to other vital repair and restoration tasks.”

Wentworth Woodhouse was built for the 1st Marquess of Rockingham from 1725, with the longest façade of any country house in England.

Taken over by the preservation trust in 2017 with just six staff, one of their most crucial and backbreaking tasks had been in the daily mopping up of rainwater falling through holes in the roof.

Now, following two years of work, ancient guttering and drainpipes have been replaced or repaired, alongside artisan masons’ stonework first crafted 250 years ago, with emergency repairs carried out to the house’s endangered stables and riding school.

Both phases of repairs were funded under a £7.6m Treasury grant under former Chancellor Phillip Hammond, while in March further repairs began on the North Pavilion, part funded by an £811,000 lifeline grant through the Culture Recovery Fund.

Dame Julie Kenny, chair of the trustees, met with supporters and project contractors Robert Woodhead Ltd yesterday to see how years of neglect have been transformed under the project, standing in the same space where the rain buckets once stood.

Giles Proctor, Heritage At Risk architect for Historic England, who has been involved for close to a decade in supporting calls for works, said it wouldn’t have been possible with significant grants.

“It was very much just in time,” he said. “We have been roofing parts of the house which would be quite ruinous now, had we not started when we did.

“Wentworth Woodhouse is really up there as one of the most important houses in the country,” he added. “Apart from its artistic merit, its historical merit, one of the really important things is where it is.

“This is the most unspoilt landscape. It could be a real catalyst in repositioning the area in its recovery from industrial revolution, and creating a centre for excellence.”

Scaffolding that clad the mansion comprised some 700 tonnes of poles, to allow heritage craftsmen and conservators to carry out repairs, guided by Historic England, and with tours of the work led by 2,783 hours of volunteer time.

A Make Your Mark in History campaign gave people the opportunity to have names and tributes inscribed on slates going onto the roof, raising £50,000, while repairing the roofs over the East Front main block alone took 52,188 hours of work.

The wider project encompassed stonework, cornices, and even a centuries old weather vane, re-gilded in gold leaf, and the restoration of the tower clock’s mechanisms, with masonry repairs to 19 stone urns.