Its 606ft facade is wider than Buckingham Palace and its roof alone extends to around four acres, yet there are young people growing up nearby who have never even heard of what used to be Britain’s largest private residence.
That is starting to change however, thanks to a group of trustees and their 19-strong full-time staff who are finding ways to immerse the community in the restoration of Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham, an enormous mansion on an 87-acre plot in the South Yorkshire countryside.
Since purchasing the Grade I-listed country house 18 months ago for £7m, the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust has removed more than 350 tonnes of rubbish from its interior, and a detailed masterplan for its renovation is set to be revealed for the first time next month.
While it will take years for the site’s buildings to be fully restored, the Trust is keen to involve the community along the way, as Sarah McCleod, the Trust’s chief executive explained.
“There are two elements of our work, one is the buildings and the other is the landscape,” she said. “And we feel very strongly that whatever we do with the site has to be very much about the community. They have to be able to enjoy it and see the benefits from us developing the site.”
Reviving Wentworth’s gardens - which are currently only open to visitors on pre-booked tours - is seen as a great way to immerse people in the project.
“It might take us 25 to 30 years to develop all the buildings but we want to get the gardens accessible as much as possible, as early as we can. We want to create an area where people can come and relax,” Ms McCleod said.
This summer, 30 teenagers have helped clear two overgrown features of the garden, through the National Citizen Service scheme run by Rotherham United’s Community Sports Trust.
Working alongside Wentworth’s two gardeners, young volunteers have dug out a sunken garden and have reorganised the flowers beds in the rose garden.
As one of the helpers admitted, the experience has been a revelation.
“I had no idea the house existed,” said 16-year-old Archie Wordsworth of Conisbrough. “It’s been really hard work but it’s great to feel you are doing something useful for such a beautiful place.”
As part of the new owners’ mission to involve the community, the public will soon be given the opportunity to inspect the restoration of the mansion’s expansive tiled roof, which had fallen into ruin before the Trust acquired the site last year.
The roof is being restored with the help of a £7.6m grant from the Treasury and by November the front of the building will be completely covered in scaffolding.
As the metalwork is installed, so too will a pair of lifts to take visitors to a gantry where they can observe the painstaking restoration work close up.
“Just about every traditional skill is needed for the work taking place at Wentworth Woodhouse and we want to be able to ensure that people get to see that and become part of it,” Ms McCleod said.
A VARIED BUT TROUBLED HISTORY
Wentworth Woodhouse was built for the 1st Marquess of Rockingham from around 1735, with the work lasting over four decades.
It later passed to the Fitzwilliam family, was used by the military as an intelligence base, was let to West Riding County Council and became a student campus.
But with 365 rooms and five miles of corridors, its maintenance costs became too much. Two subsequent buyers fell short in their intentions to restore it, a project that now falls to the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust which has acquired the house on behalf of the nation.