Yorkshire country house reveals that kangaroos, moose, chimpanzees and bears were once kept in its grounds

The Grade I-listed Camellia House, which is derelict and currently being restored
The Grade I-listed Camellia House, which is derelict and currently being restored
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A talk about the history of a Yorkshire stately home's gardens will cover the exotic animals that were once housed there.

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, had a menagerie in its grounds for nearly 200 years, back when importing creatures from newly-discovered overseas territories was fashionable and socially acceptable.

Head gardener Scott Jamieson

Head gardener Scott Jamieson

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Among the animals kept in captivity at Wentworth - which was owned by the Wentworth-Fitzwilliam family until the 1980s - were a kangaroo and joey, an American moose, a brown bear, a chimpanzee and an orangutan, as well as exotic bird species.

The story of the private zoo will be told by local historian Mel Jones, who will be giving a talk about the estate grounds and pleasure gardens at the house, which is now owned by a preservation trust, on January 23.

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His presentation will include never-seen-before photos taken over a century ago that show features such as the glasshouse and walled kitchen gardens - which have all now vanished.

He will discuss numerous features of the grounds such as the lodges, temples, lakes, monuments, conservatories and Camellia House - a Grade I-listed building which was only recently found to still contain 200-year-old rare camellia specimens that had been shipped over from Asia in the 18th century.

The Wentworth Woodhouse gardens are full of temples and monuments

The Wentworth Woodhouse gardens are full of temples and monuments

Wentworth's parkland - most of which is open to the public - and gardens, which are currently being restored, were described as 'one of the most exquisite spots in the world' by the Georgian writer Arthur Young in 1770, when the great estate was owned by the Marquess of Rockingham.

It later became the ancestral seat of the Earls Fitzwilliam. Although the title is now extinct and the direct male line has died out, a branch of the family still own the estate village of Wentworth.

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust are currently hoping to raise awareness of the gardens' heritage and restoration needs with a series of lectures and talks about the landscapes around the mansion.

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“Just as in the past when it was owned by the Wentworth-Fitzwilliam family, visitors can still walk through the park on public footpaths and glimpse a herd of red deer grazing among the trees,” said Mel.

The 200ft glasshouse has now been demolished

The 200ft glasshouse has now been demolished

“But there is so much more for visitors to discover. For hundreds of years the park has also been adorned with magnificent monuments.

“Many locals already know the Doric temple, the mausoleum and Keppel’s Column. Until the 1960s, you could pay to climb the 217 steps to the top of Keppel’s Column to take in the views. When you came down the kids could have an ice cream and a donkey ride.”

He will also talk about the three lakes which combine to form a Serpentine - Morley Pond, Dog Kennel Pond and Mill Dam. They are now popular with anglers but were once used for ice skating during cold Victorian winters.

Wentworth Garden Centre was built on the site of much of the pleasure gardens, including the walled kitchen gardens. These were heated to enable the staff to grow exotic fruits such as pineapples, apricots and peaches. There was also an enormous glasshouse, which has since been demolished, a vinery and a Japanese teahouse.

North Lodge, one of the entrance lodges to the estate, in 1905

North Lodge, one of the entrance lodges to the estate, in 1905

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The Camellia House and ice-house - where ice for preserving meat was kept - remain under the trust's ownership.

Mel Jones's talk on the history of the gardens from the 16th century to the present day takes place at Wentworth Woodhouse on January 23 at 6pm. Tickets are £20.

The other lectures in the series are a presentation by Chatsworth House head gardener Steve Porter about the Devonshire family estate, and an evening with Wentworth's own head gardener Scott Jamieson about his plans for the future development of the grounds.

To book tickets email info@wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk.