Wentworth Woodhouse: Land scarred as miners stopped digging yards from front door

Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham which is to undergo massive renovations in the near future
Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham which is to undergo massive renovations in the near future
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ON a warm July evening in 1972 a bonfire was lit in the grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse that would burn for three weeks non-stop.

It was an attempt by the tenth Earl Fitzwilliam - the last of the dynasty which had lived at the property for almost two centuries - to destroy the records of his entire family’s history.

On top were thrown an estimated 1.6 tonnes of documents and correspondence from the mansion’s archives. There were so many papers staff had to take them from the house in diggers.

It remains unclear what William Thomas Wentworth-Fitzwilliam was trying to cover up. But there is no doubt the family - and the house - had a troubled past.

Originally built over a 25-year period from 1724, the property was shrouded in controversy from its inception.

The original owner Thomas Watson-Wentworth, Marquess of Rockingham, was considered by many to be the wrongful heir of the Wentworth family fortune.

Six miles away at Wentworth Castle, Thomas Wentworth believed he should have inherited that fortune. The feud meant that for years each wing of the family would spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in a game of architectural one-upmanship, trying to make their’s the greater of the two homes.

The Earl Fitzwilliam’s, the family who took ownership through inheritance, were widely respected and loved by local villagers for the philanthropy they showed local miners.

Many protested when, in 1946, Manny Shinwell, the left wing minister for fuel and power, ordered the deep shaft mining of the surrounding park and gardens in the national interest.

As the eighth earl Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam looked on his land was all but destroyed. The miners stopped only 20 yards from the front door.

But Peter had other problems too. Notably, the married earl had fallen for Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy, the sister of future American president John.

Divided by marital and religious differences, the pair were running away together to start a new life in the south of France when their hired plane crashed i 1948 killng all on board.

Without Peter at the helm, the house looked in peril but was leased by the family to the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education.

The family kept only a small private suite until William Thomas Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, the last childless earl and the man who burned those millions of papers, died in 1978.

When the college’s lease ran out in 1988 the home was put on the market and bought by businessman Wensley Haydon-Baillie.

He who sold it ten years later to Clifford Newbold after going bankrupt.