Wentworth Woodhouse's restored 'secret' gardens are now open to the public

Visitors to one of Yorkshire's most imposing stately homes can tour its beautiful gardens in the company of the man who cares for them.

The grounds are full of follies, temples and monuments
The grounds are full of follies, temples and monuments

Wentworth Woodhouse, the Grade I-listed ancestral seat of the Fitzwilliam family near Rotherham, was renowned in its heyday for its 37 acres of immaculately landscaped formal gardens.

After World War Two, the house began to fall into decline, and the West Front gardens were destroyed by open-cast coal mining ordered by the government. Excavations reached almost to the front door of the great mansion.

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Head gardener Scott Jamieson with his team of volunteers

After the Fitzwilliams sold Wentworth, the gardens have gradually been restored by private owners, and are now in the hands of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, who plan to open them daily to the public.

They hope to make the derelict Camellia House - once a menagerie for exotic creatures - a focal point of the gardens, with a cafe and visitor facilities. Its conversion will enable the public to continue to visit the grounds even when access to the mansion itself is limited during major renovation work planned for the next two decades.

Head gardener Scott Jamieson, who has worked at Wentworth for 15 years and was previously employed by former owners the Newbold family, is now leading tours of the 'secret' gardens, which are usually only seen by his staff and volunteers. His tours began in April and give visitors access to even more hidden areas of the grounds.

Scott worked on his own for many years, managing a site that at its peak would have been tended by 33 full-time gardeners. As a result, many areas were overgrown and neglected when the Trust took over and an army of volunteers known as the 'Welly Wangers' arrived to help him.

A volunteer tends the gardens

The parks at Wentworth Woodhouse were originally laid out by celebrated landscape designer Humphrey Repton in one of his most ambitious projects. The house once stood within vast pleasure gardens and monuments that still remain include an 18th-century Ionic temple, the Camellia House, and a 15ft decorative urn dating from 1837 called the Punch Bowl. The enclosed rose garden has fallen into disrepair, and the walled kitchen gardens are now the site of the Wentworth Garden Centre.

Open-air plays are also being staged in the pleasure grounds, with a production of the classic children's novel The Secret Garden a fitting choice for this summer's programme.

Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust chief executive Sarah McLeod said:

The derelict Camellia House is earmarked for conversion into a cafe

"Most of the rambling acres of gardens are still unknown to anyone other than the gardening teams who tend them. But that is changing fast...this is the year of the garden at Wentworth Woodhouse.

“More outdoor events than ever are being staged, fundraising is about to start for the restoration of the derelict Camellia House, which houses some of the rarest camellias in the UK, and our head gardener is now leading visitors on special tours of his domain.”

The next garden tours will run on Wednesday July 24, Thursday September 12 and Friday October 18. Tickets are £25.

The outdoor performance of The Secret Garden is on Tuesday July 16. Tickets are £16 for adults and £11 for children aged 5-16. Go to www.wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk/events to book.

The Trust, who bought Wentworth in 2017, have embarked upon a major programme of restoration of both the house and grounds that will be complete by 2040. Currently, limited areas of the house are open to visitors on pre-booked tours only, and there is also a small cafe and gift shop. Income from weddings, events and TV filming - the Marble Saloon appears in the trailer for the new Downton Abbey movie, and scenes from Gentleman Jack and Victoria were shot there - is partially funding the work.

The Victorian conservatory and gardens at Wentworth Castle in nearby Stainborough - built by a rival branch of the family - have also recently re-opened to the public after a two-year restoration.