Wentworth: The sought-after Yorkshire village with a history to rival a soap opera
However, it can be argued that family ownership of Wentworth, a picture postcard hamlet nestled between Barnsley and Rotherham, over the last 700 years has preserved the village from outside and modern influences.
It has quaint and traditional cottages (mainly built around the 1700s) and houses of architectural and historic interest in a tight-knit community which is steeped in the heritage of farming, coal-mining and working on the estate.
With around 1,300 residents, the village of Wentworth is one of the largest rural parishes in Rotherham and has its own school, two award-winning pubs, one of which is a sight to see in itself adorned in ivy, a restaurant, and The Mechanics Institute.
The Institute was built in 1822 by Viscount Milton (later Earl Fitzwilliam) as a place of learning for estate workers and remains the focal point of community activities in the village with coffee mornings, craft fairs, dance classes, group meetings and community events.
The parish council works to preserve the history and heritage that has made Wentworth so popular.
It has four follies and is home to one of England’s finest country homes, although that is quite a story in itself.
It has an “old” church that has medieval links and a “new” church that is only as old as the 1870s.
All together it makes Wentworth one of the most photographed and visited of South Yorkshire villages.
One particular favoured location is Paradise Square said to be one of the most picturesque locations in England and with its symmetrical stone cottages with hand-painted green doors and neat lawns that you could measure with a ruler it is hard to argue.
Subtle touches mean modern wires or satellite dishes are removed in favour of ironwork to retain the look.
Wentworth has origins that must be pre 1066 because it is mentioned in The Domesday Book and, according to a local history website, much of the land in the area was given to Adam de Newmarch and William le Flemming, before later passing to the Canons of Bolton Abbey.
The first mentions of the family names we know now of the village – Wentworth, Watson-Wentworth and Wentworth-Fitzwilliam – come around the mid 1200s.
In about 1250 Robert Wentworth married Emma Woodhouse, beginning the Wentworth-Woodhouse line.
Both families had take names from where they settled or lived and the family lived in the area for more than 450 years.
The lands then passed to the Watson family when William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford died without heir; the Watsons held the land until 1782.
The Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate – which oversees today’s portfolio of property including farms, houses, business premises, a coarse fishery and grouse moor – refers to “the most famous member of this family” as being Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford.
He was for a time chief minister of England and, although not guilty of any crime, was executed in the Tower of London in 1641.
His son, the 2nd Earl, had no children and the estates were inherited by a nephew, Thomas Watson Wentworth.
Thomas Watson-Wentworth commissioned the extravagant re-modelling and extension of Wentworth Woodhouse.
However he died before it was completed and it was left to his son, also Thomas, to continued the building program which produced the longest frontage of a private house in the country at more than 600 feet.
Thomas was created Marquis of Rockingham in 1746 and successive earls inherited Wentworth until the death of the 8th Earl in a plane crash in 1948 along with Kathleen Kennedy, the sister of John F. Kennedy.
The Fitwilliam reign continued until the death of the 10th Earl in 1979 and with the absence of male heirs, the estate eventually passed to Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland and Lady Juliet Tadgell, daughter of the 8th Earl who are at the helm today.
Over the passage of time, the Earls had operated coal mines which employed 2,000 men at their peak and the village land and buildings made Wentworth one of the most significant land assets in the country.
In the 1980s the house, Wentworth Woodhouse, became a teacher-training establishment under a lease agreement to the local authority and was twice sold privately but fell into a state of disrepair and there were subsequent failed attempts to restore it.
It is a far cry from the scenes in 1912 when King George V and Queen Mary visited South Yorkshire and stayed at Wentworth Woodhouse for four days joined by a large list of dignitaries that included the then-Archbishop of York; The 5th Earl of Harewood; The Marchioness of Londonderry; The 1st Marquess of Zetland; The 10th Earl of Scarborough; The 5th Earl of Rosse and Lord Helmsley among others.
On their final night at Wentworth Woodhouse, the Royals saw a crowd of 25,000 gathered on the lawn to catch a glimpse of them on the balcony.
In 2017, the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust bought the 300-roomed, grade I listed property and has set about a restoration and commercial programme to ensure a stable and sustainable future.
Meanwhile, The Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate today, through its property and assets, provides homes for more than 600 residents and 350 jobs from the post office to a stained glass manufacturer and employs 25 staff directly at the estate headquarters in roles from admin to maintenance and game-keeping.
It is a little like the heyday of the estate from its Royal visit and the years between the two world wars when estate life and village life were one and the same.