Wentworth Woodehouse sold for £7m

March 28 2017

Image of Wentworth Woodehouse sold for £7m

Picture: Guardian

One of Britain's most extraordinary and important stately homes has been bought by a charitable trust for £7m. The house had been on the market for some years, but no private buyers were willing to acquire the property and all its risks and responsibilities. The house was severely structurally damaged, and the park destroyed, by open cast coal mining after the war, at the direction of Labour politician Manny Shinwell. Shinwell declared war on the then owners of the house, the Fitzwilliam family, and directed that coal mining be taken 'up to the back door' (below). 1320,000 tons of coal were removed just from the garden. Such vandalism would not be permitted today.

The Trust will now restore the building, use part of it (the South Wing) for flats, part for events and catering, and open the remainder to the public. The bill for all this is expected to be in the tens of millions, and AHN wishes the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust the best of luck in achieving their laudable aims. (They have already been given a grant of £3.5m by the Nationa Heritage Memorial Fund, so well done them too.) May the house's prosperous future be the finest two fingers to Manny Shinwell that his barbarism deserves. 

Update - a reader sends this fascinating response:

Whilst I completely and utterly agree with you and the deplorable destruction of the grounds and gardens of this amazing estate, and freely admit that Manny Shinwell was an incompetent idiot, who should never have been allowed to be in the position he held,  I would like to offer, perhaps, a comment on his possible motives.

As MP for a Durham constituency he would have been familiar with the truly appalling conditions under which miners laboured in order to enrich the Fitzwilliams and their peers.   As the daughter of  Durham miner I know how safety regulations were ignored and how miners were forced to work in dangerous and lethal conditions.  Members of my father’s immediate family were killed, maimed and disabled by these conditions, but had no alternative but to continue to take what work was available. 

Housing conditions for miners and their families contrasted so greatly with those at Wentworth Woodehouse that they barely seem to exist in the same country.  My father was sent down the pit at fourteen years old.  He had little chance of an education or choice of career.  At sixteen he joined the regular army to escape from the almost certain death which awaited him in the mines, which had already claimed his cousins and older relatives.

The Fitzwilliam family seem to have had no such problems, and I think that Manny Shinwell, though clearly wrong, was in some way trying to redress a balance, to make life for the family as unpleasant as possible, so that they could experience the helplessness which comes with lack of power. 

I do not excuse him, the destruction was wrong.  I am as saddened as any other art historian by the loss of the beautiful grounds and the neglect of the building.  I hope that it can be restored, and that the public who paid for it can enjoy some use from it.  I would certainly love to visit and stay for a holiday if such a thing could be possible in the future.   It would be with some mixed feeling, however, knowing that the privileged lifestyle of the Fitzwilliam family was at the expense of the suffering of my own. 

I was fortunate to have a father who saw the value of education and social justice, and fought for it all his life, so that now I can enjoy the benefits; but I cannot forget how these things were achieved.

Another reader writes:

Not only did Manny Shinwell almost destroy the house with the opencast mining, the quality of the coal was very low grade and not worth extracting. The extreme vindictiveness of the urban labour government of the day not only caused the destruction of hundreds of country houses but also the destruction of country employment centres that forced thousands of the non urban working class into the cities looking for work.

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