Huge Yorkshire stately home that inspired Jane Austen is saved ‘against all odds’

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham
Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham

A FIVE-YEAR bid to raise the funds to purchase and restore what is believed to be the largest house in Britain has paid off in South Yorkshire.

The future of Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham, has been secured in a £7m deal, amid grand plans for a glorious restoration before it is opened to the public.

Described as “exceptional” in both architecture and scale, the house was built by the Marquesses of Rockingham between 1725 and 1750 and it contains 365 rooms and five miles of corridors.

At 180 metres wide, its eastern front is believed to be the longest of any English country house. Behind it is a run of state rooms, centring on a spectacular, double-height marble salon which is considered to be one of the finest early 18th-century interiors in the country.

It is also said to contain England’s finest Georgian interiors.

The grade I-listed building is also said to have been the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

It has now been bought by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust and faces a £42 million restoration bill to return it to its former glory over the next two decades.

The mansion went up for sale in 2015 following the death of owner Clifford Newbold.

His family agreed to sell to an investment company but the deal fell through and the trust agreed the sale last year.

The £7 million cost has been partly funded by a £3.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, with the rest of the cash coming from a range of institutional and private donors.

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham

In the Autumn budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £7.6 million grant for urgent repairs to the house, which has been ravaged by problems relating to subsidence from coal mines.

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, which has supported the trust, said: “This is a triumph against all the odds.

“It is a deal which the lawyers advised was so complicated it could never normally be done.

“It has taken five years of sustained hard work to secure support but we have learnt over 40 years that, however hopeless or impossible the battle for a great historic building may seem, we should never give up.”

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE, added: “We are delighted that the sale of Wentworth Woodhouse is now complete - and that the next chapter of this magnificent house as a unique visitor attraction and cultural and employment hub can begin.”

The Newbold family ran small pre-booked tours around Wentworth Woodhouse but the trust is hoping to open large parts of the property up to the public, with the help of the National Trust, and convert other sections for residential and business development and an events venue.

Wentworth Woodhouse was the northern seat of the Fitzwilliam family - one of the richest and most powerful aristocratic dynasties in England at its height.

After the family moved out 40 years ago, the building was used as a teacher training college for a time before it moved into private ownership.

Open-cast mining close to the house led to structural damage, and the estate’s decline and eventual sale, and the Newbold family has been locked in a multimillion-pound legal battle with the Coal Authority over compensation for the subsidence.

Government heritage agency Historic England added the house to its heritage at risk register last year due to the growing need for restoration work.

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham

Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham

Many of its opulent rooms are now empty and most of its treasures - including the famous 18th Stubbs painting Whistlejacket - have been moved to new homes.