Rotherham’s Lady Mabel gave women students a sporting chance at Wentworth Woodhouse

Rotherham stately home Wentworth Woodhouse has celebrated 70 years since it opened its doors to a group of sporty young women with their hearts set on teaching careers.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 10:00 am

The Lady Mabel College of Physical Education opened on January 17, 1950.

Peter, the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, agreed that a large portion of his family seat could be leased by West Riding County Council as a pioneering new college for women.

It was named after the woman who came up with the idea - Peter’s aunt, Lady Mabel Smith.

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She had grown up in the grandeur of the 'Big House’ but, having seen how modestly estate workers’ families lived, Lady Mabel had a strong social conscience and became a socialist politician.

She knew the house needed income and saw an opportunity to advance the lives of women.

The college enabled nearly 2,000 to take up PE careers before its closure in 1977 (it then continued until 1986 as Sheffield Polytechnic).

Students wore a cherry-red cloak as part of their uniform.

The preservation trust which now owns the house has hosted a week of events to welcome former students and enable others to explore the fascinating history of the college years.

Highlights of Lady Mabel Week included a display in the Pillared Hall and a lecture on Lady Mabel Smith by house volunteer and historian Julie Banham.

On Friday 17, trust chair Dame Julie Kenny hosted a celebratory luncheon.

Guest of honour was the first student across Wentworth’s threshold - Sybil Wilbraham, who was 19 that very day.

Her father paid for her to have her 21st birthday party at the house and she celebrated her 89th birthday in the Low Drawing Room, which was an early student dining room.

Monthly Lady Mabel Tours devised by former student Sue Gravil have been so popular they are to be extended.