Wentworth Woodhouse: Camellias bloom bring sigh of relief as restoration continues

While for most gardeners seeing their camellias bloom is a welcome sign of the return of spring, for the team at Wentworth Woodhouse it has been a huge relief.

It means the prized blooms have not been harmed by major restoration work on their home in the grounds of the stately home near Rotherham.

For months the camellias - which include specimens going back to the early 1800s - were shrouded under thick plastic sheeting to protect them during work on the new tea house, due to open this summer.

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Its reopening will bring history full circle: in the 1800s the Camellia House was used as a tea house by Lady Rockingham, wife of the 2nd Marquess, to entertain guests with the most fashionable new drink of the day.

Inside the camelia house at Wentworth WoodhouseInside the camelia house at Wentworth Woodhouse
Inside the camelia house at Wentworth Woodhouse

Wentworth Woodhouse fell into decline from the late 1900s and when the Preservation Trust took over in 2017, the ruined and roofless building was on the Heritage At Risk Register. However despite years of neglect the long-forgotten camellias had flourished.

Head gardener Scott Jamieson, who checks in on the camellias daily, said there were plans to introduce seasonal highlights including the "wonderfully scented" Rhododendron Lady Alice Fitzwilliam, named after the daughter of the 6th Earl, and bred at a specialist nursery at Handsworth.

They also plan to grow Orchid Miltonia varieties, named after the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam.

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The camellias, meanwhile, aren't out of the woods just yet, with the next phase of restoration due to begin.

However a new glass roof has been winched into place. Mr Jamieson said: "l'm sure the plants appreciate the natural light which now streams into the building."

Specialist conservation architects Donald Insall Associates and York-based construction company William Birch & Sons Ltd are working on the project. Project architect Daniel Elkington said the Camellia House was like a "phoenix rising from the ashes".

Mr Elkington said the measures they'd taken to protect the plants had clearly worked, but added. "We are now moving into an equally difficult period where we are going to be plastering in and around them.

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"We still have the original Yorkstone flooring and also the sash windows to reinstate. They’ve been quite a challenge. They must be about 4m tall by 1.5m wide."

The Georgian underfloor heating has been replaced with a modern system and the new glass roof, while single glazed and historically designed, incorporates measures to mitigate against condensation.

He said: "It has been an unusual project in the sense of having these incredibly rare camellias - there's this pressure not to kill them. That's certainly been one of the key risks to this project.

"No one wants that to happen on their watch."