Category Archives: Country Houses of South Yorkshire

The smartest Starbucks in Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield: Oak Room fireplace overmantel

Every old building needs to earn its keep.

It’s pointless to argue for the retention of a historic building, listed or not, without the means to maintain it into the future.

Seventeenth-century Carbrook Hall, for many years a pub in the heart of Sheffield’s industrial east end, closed in 2017, yet another casualty of the inexorable decline of the British public house, and a year later suffered an arson attack that was fortunately arrested before the entire building went up in smoke.

Local historians and CAMRA members hoped it would reopen as licensed premises, but its new owner, the property developer Sean Fogg, applied lateral thinking and leased it to the coffee chain, Starbucks.

Mr Fogg spent £700,000, assisted by Starbucks’ contribution of £400,000, to restore the remaining stone wing of what was a much larger house, enhancing its surroundings, replacing a nondescript twentieth-century service block with a tactful 21st-century drive-in facility, and bringing the three exceptional historic interiors to a high state of preservation.

Walking into the building is a time-warp, because the coffee-shop counter, located where the pub bar used to be, is an up-to-the-minute skinny-latte-and-panini experience.

Turn left and enter the Oak Room, though, and despite the bright lighting and modern furniture, you’re surrounded by high-quality panelled walls and a crisp plaster ceiling that witnessed the discussions about besieging Sheffield Castle during the Civil War nearly four centuries ago.

This was the home of the Puritan Bright family, in those days lost in the spacious meadowlands of the Lower Don Valley. It’s possible that their interior decorators were the craftsmen who worked on the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire.  It’s the oldest building in the valley and has seen no end of changes.

At the opposite end of the ground floor is an ancient kitchen with stone stoves and a bread oven.

A second panelled room upstairs is not yet completed, but will be dedicated to public use when fully restored.

The restoration is meticulous, though the conservationists were disturbed to find that the ancient oak had been peppered by stray darts around the site of the dart board:

The reopening of Carbrook Hall is a boost to public awareness of the area’s historic heritage.

I’m pleased that we can now end the heritage Bus Rides Round Attercliffe at the oldest building in the Lower Don Valley.

To find out about what’s happening at Carbrook Hall Starbucks, follow them on Facebook:

For details of the next public Bus Ride Round Attercliffe, please click here.

Following Pevsner’s footsteps

Wentworth Woodhouse, West Wing, Long Gallery

Wentworth Woodhouse, West Wing, Long Gallery

I’ve known Ruth Harman for a long time, ever since she worked in Sheffield Archives and patiently tutored me when I knew even less about historical research than I do now.

Latterly she went on to co-write, with John Minnis, the Pevsner City Guide for Sheffield (Yale University Press 2004):

In recent years I’ve occasionally encountered her, notepad in hand, investigating historic buildings across the former West Riding in preparation for her edition of Pevsner’s Buildings of England:  West Riding:  Sheffield and the South (Yale University Press 2017):

It’s apparent that you turn up all sorts of strange facts when you revise a Pevsner:  Ruth once proudly told me that she’d found a lighthouse in the landlocked West Riding:

I was privileged to attend the launch of Ruth’s book at Wentworth Woodhouse in September, and it was only when I handled a copy that I realised the scale of her achievement.  Sir Nikolaus Pevsner himself, in 1959, covered the whole of the West Riding in 610 pages;  a revision by Enid Radcliffe seven years later added forty-two more pages.

Ruth’s 841 pages cover, in much more detail, only the southern half of the old West Riding, from the southern boundary of Sheffield to the outskirts of York, and from Blackshaw Head near Todmorden in the west to Adlingfleet, beyond Goole in the east.

(The equivalent volume for the northern half of the West Riding was published in 2009:

The invitation to the book launch also gave me the opportunity of a conducted tour of Wentworth Woodhouse where, for the first time in all the years I’ve known the building, back to when it was a teacher-training college, I set foot in the formerly private West Wing, the so-called “Back Front”.

Wentworth Monuments: Needle’s Eye

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire:  Needle's Eye

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire: Needle’s Eye

The most enigmatic of the Wentworth Monuments is the Needle’s Eye.

It is simply 45ft-high ashlar pyramid penetrated by an ogee arch sitting at the topmost point of a ride that runs in a direct line from the home-park gate to the distant Lion Gate at Rainborough, which was described on a 1778 map as “the coach road from Wentworth House to Pontefract”.

It’s a distinctive eye-catcher with no discernible purpose.

The story universally but vaguely told is that it enabled the second Marquis to win a wager that he could drive a horse and carriage through the eye of a needle, contradicting Matthew 19:23-26 (and also Mark 10:24-25 and Luke 18:24-25).

The date of the wager, 1780, would associate the design with John Carr, who also designed Keppel’s Column (1773-80) and the Rockingham Mausoleum (1784-1788), but it appears on a bird’s-eye view dated 1728, and there is evidence of an “obelisk” on the site as early as 1722-3.

The nearest approach to firm corroboration of this likeable story is an account of the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam driving a gun carriage through the Eye at the time of the Great War.

If he did so he was probably also good at reverse parking.

Wentworth Monuments: Hoober Stand

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire:  Hoober Stand

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire: Hoober Stand

Hoober Stand is an intriguing building, whichever way you look at it.

It’s triangular in plan, pyramidal in profile, with a cupola at the top which always looks off-centre, though in fact it isn’t.

It ostensibly celebrates the victory of King George II at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, while also marking the elevation of the Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 1st Earl of Malton, to the superior title of 1st Marquis of Rockingham.

It was designed by Henry Flitcroft, “Burlington’s Harry”, the super-conventional Palladian designer of the east wing of Wentworth Woodhouse,– here allowed to go a little crazy at the crest of a hill to provide a grandstand view of the mansion and the park of Wentworth Woodhouse,

Like the later Rockingham Mausoleum, it is maintained the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust and opened to the public on Sunday afternoons in the summer:

98 feet high, it has 150 steps to the platform.  The view is spectacular.

Wentworth Monuments: Rockingham Mausoleum

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire:  Rockingham Mausoleum

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire: Rockingham Mausoleum

Charles, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham, who built Keppel’s Column, died unexpectedly in 1782, a few months after he became prime minister for the second time.

His nephew and heir, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, erected a great monument to him within sight of the front door of the mansion.

Designed, like Keppel’s Column and much else on the estate, by John Carr of York, the Rockingham Mausoleum isn’t actually a mausoleum.

Rockingham is buried in York Minster, so this memorial to the prime minister is in fact a cenotaph.

The three-stage structure contains a fine statue of the Marquis in his Garter robes by Joseph Nollekens, surrounded by niches containing busts of his political allies – Edmund Burke, Lord John Cavendish, Charles James Fox, Admiral Keppel, John Lee, Frederick Montagu, the 3rd Duke of Portland and Sir George Saville.

After years encased in steel to protect it from post-war mining, the Rockingham Mausoleum is now maintained the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust and opened to the public on Sunday afternoons in the summer:

Wentworth Monuments: Keppel’s Column

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire:  Keppel's Column,

Wentworth Woodhouse Estate, South Yorkshire: Keppel’s Column

The landscapes around the two great Strafford mansions of Wentworth Woodhouse and Wentworth Castle are dotted with towers, columns, obelisks and other structures, making statements about status and politics.

When I take people to explore the Wentworth Woodhouse estate I like to begin at Keppel’s Column, the column on the horizon marking the southern boundary of the estate.  From there you can see the mansion and all the most significant monuments dotted around the miles of parkland.

It was erected by Charles, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham to celebrate the acquittal of his friend, Admiral Viscount Keppel, who had been court-martialled for losing a naval engagement against the French.

Rockingham was at the time leader of the opposition between his two terms as prime minister, and made a point of celebrating Keppel’s political victory over the Tory court party of George III.

The column is not as the architect John Carr would have wished.  It was intended to be a 150ft rostral column (with ships’ prows projecting) surmounted by a 30ft-high statue of the admiral.

During construction the height was reduced to 115ft, which made the proportions unsatisfactory:  the entasis – the bulge which is necessary to make any classical column appear straight-sided – changes uncomfortably part way up.

There is a spiral staircase to the platform at the top of the Column, at present unsafe and inaccessible.  Keppel’s Column is now maintained by Rotherham Borough Council.

There are recent photographs of the view from the top – taken from a cherry-picker when the structure was last inspected.

None of these seem to have found their way on to the web, but Kenny Fox has a fine aerial view:

Barnsley’s stately home

Cannon Hall, South Yorkshire

Cannon Hall, South Yorkshire

Visiting Cannon Hall, at Cawthorne near Barnsley, is a game of two halves.

The extensive park, which includes a farm and a garden centre, is a magnet for visitors.  The house, which was the seat of the Spencer-Stanhope family until 1951, opened as Barnsley’s municipal museum six years later.

Barnsley Borough Council acquired a completely empty house:  the contents have been collected since 1957 and so the visitor sees an elegant eighteenth-century house, substantially as it was designed by John Carr of York, with a late-Victorian ballroom wing added, and elegant eighteenth-century furniture that doesn’t necessarily belong.

That needn’t detract from the enjoyment of the place.  It’s not a house-that-time-forgot, like nearby Brodsworth Hall, nor is it a fully displayed glass-case museum like the Doncaster museum at Cusworth Hall.

The best way to enjoy the country-house aspects of this particular country house is to join a guided tour, when curatorial staff can explain and explore the furniture and bring to life the lifestyle of the family of Walter Stanhope (1750-1821), who commissioned Carr, the plasterer James Henderson of York, and “the most eminent Cabinet Makers” whose original items have long since been scattered.

The other historical interest of Cannon Hall lies in the family associations with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The younger son of Walter Spencer-Stanhope’s heir John Spencer-Stanhope (1787-1873) was the artist John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope (1829-1908).  A dreamy video of his work can be seen at

Two of Roddam’s nieces were Gertrude Spencer-Stanhope (1857-1944) and Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919).  Three of Gertrude’s bronze sculptures belong to the Cannon Hall collection.

Many of Evelyn’s paintings belong to the De Morgan Foundation, a collection gathered by Evelyn’s sister Wilhelmina, the formidable Mrs A M W Stirling (1865-1965).  The De Morgan Centre is housed adjacent to Wandsworth Museum:

The biggest semi-detached house in Britain

Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire:  west front

Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire: west front

I wrote about the rivalry between the descendants of the 2nd Earl of Strafford that littered eighteenth-century South Yorkshire with mansions, temples, obelisks and columns in an article about Wentworth Castle.

The race to amass the most and best titles and houses was ultimately won by Thomas Watson-Wentworth (1693-1750) who became Baron Malton (1726), 1st Earl of Malton (1734) and then 1st Marquis of Rockingham (1746), and built not one but two magnificent houses, consecutively, back-to-back.

He began what is now the west wing of Wentworth Woodhouse, a fine but not entirely symmetrical baroque house in brick, in 1726.

The gentleman-architect, Sir Thomas Robinson, disciple of the pioneer of the Palladian style, Lord Burlington, thought little of it:  “…partly patchwork of the old house…little can be said in its praise…”

Even before this brick house was finished in 1734, Lord Malton turned his back on it and began the vast east wing, designed by Henry Flitcroft, “Burlington’s Harry.”

A plan dated 1725 proves that an east wing was always intended, but Flitcroft’s beautifully proportioned design was a gigantic version of the long-gone Wanstead House in Essex, stretched to 606 feet.

By this means Wentworth Woodhouse became the largest and grandest semi-detached house in Britain.

After the Second World War this vast place became impossible to maintain, especially when the Minister of Power, Emmanuel Shimwell, insisted on bringing opencast coal mining to within sixteen feet of the west wing.  The 8th Earl Fitzwilliam’s aunt, the Labour councillor Lady Mabel Smith, arranged for the East Wing to be leased to West Riding County Council as a teacher-training college.

After the death of the tenth and last Earl in 1979 and the closure of the college some years later the two houses were reunited and now belong to Mr Clifford Newbold who is gradually restoring the buildings and grounds.

At last it’s possible to visit Wentworth Woodhouse, and to marvel at the way it’s being brought back from the brink.

And wherever you step from the East Wing to the West Wing and back again, there are always a couple of steps, because the two parts of the house are on different levels.

Nabob’s retreat

Aston Hall, South Yorkshire

Aston Hall, South Yorkshire

There’s a setting for a novel around Aston Hall, in the south-east corner of South Yorkshire – a sort of Alan Hollinghurst meets Jane Austen, with more than a dash of Anthony Trollope.

The key character, probably the narrator like Mr Lockwood in Wuthering Heights, is the poet Rev William Mason (1724–1797), the Rector of Aston, whose Musaeus (1747), a monody on the death of Alexander Pope, and his historical tragedies Elfrida (1752) and Caractacus (1759) have hardly stood the test of time.

He’s better known as the editor of the poems of his friend Thomas Gray, whose ‘Elegy written in a country churchyard’ is one of the best-loved eighteenth-century poems in English.

Mason and Gray shared friendship with Horace Walpole, whose catty observations are so vivid you can almost hear his voice.  Walpole’s residence, Strawberry Hill was a gathering ground for some of the brightest and most sophisticated wits of the day.  Mason’s rectory was similarly a centre for creativity, conversation and cyncism.

He was rector of Aston from 1754 to 1797, and though he didn’t live there continually, he must have watched from the rectory the rebuilding of Aston Hall on the opposite side of the church after a fire in the 1760s. 

The owner, the fourth Earl of Holderness, had it rebuilt in the Palladian style by the ubiquitous, versatile and highly respected architect John Carr of York.

Once it was finished in 1772, Lord Holderness declined to move in:  Walpole declared this was “because it is too near the ducal seat at Kiveton”;  in other words, the earl didn’t want to be overshadowed by the Duke of Leeds at Kiveton Park.

After all, Robert Darcy, 4th Earl had been ambassador to Venice and The Hague, Secretary of State (then one of the great offices of state) and later became tutor to two of George III’s sons, in which capacity Walpole described him as “a solemn phantom”.

Lord Holderness let the house to Harry Verelst (1734-1785), whom Walpole described as “the Nabob” – the term for an opportunist who had made money in India.  He was Governor of Bengal from 1767 to 1769.

Verelst purchased Aston Hall in 1774-5 and employed the local architect John Platt to install a finer staircase and the west wing.  His descendants lived there until 1928.

Mason was distantly related to both Lord Holderness and Harry Verelst.  One may imagine the twitching of curtains at the rectory, and the comments of Rev Mason and his wife about the nabob’s taste. 

Sitting in the bar and lounge of the Aston Hall Hotel [], it’s possible to see Lord Holderness’ viewpoint.   Even though Carr’s rooms have been much carved about by institutional use it’s clear that they would hardly have been grand enough for an earl to entertain.

It’s more than comfortable for modern visitors, set in a quiet village literally within two minutes of Junction 31 of the M1.  It’s an interesting alternative to a comfort stop at Woodhall Services.

Cramped style

Cusworth Hall, South Yorkshire:  south front

Cusworth Hall, South Yorkshire: south front

Mrs Pearse, the last private owner of Cusworth Hall, didn’t make her land agent’s life at all easy.

After selling the contents of the house in 1952 to help pay her late brother’s death duties, she insisted that the sale of the Hall must not interfere with the use of the Chapel which, as Mother Mary Francis of the Order of St Hubert, she opened for worship in 1953.

She belonged to the Liberal Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Liberal Catholic Church International, the Liberal Catholic Church Grail Community, the Liberal Catholic Church Theosophia Synod, the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church or the Reformed Liberal Catholic Church []).

At one point there was a practical threat that Cusworth Hall would be purchased, compulsorily or otherwise, for use as a female Borstal.  Two separate occupiers moved in without legal contracts, and were removed with difficulty.  Doncaster Corporation considered turning the place into a zoo.

Eventually Doncaster Rural District Council – at the time the most prosperous rural-district authority in the country because of the wealth of coal-mining in its area – purchased it for £7,500 in 1961, first proposing to convert the Hall into a hospital.

In 1967 it opened to the public as an industrial museum and after transfer to the newly-formed Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in 1974 it became the Museum of South Yorkshire Life.

As such it presented a rich clutter of displays about every conceivable aspect of local life and culture – far more than could comfortably fit into the elegant ground-floor rooms and the bedrooms above.

In 2004-7, the council emptied the building and invested £7½ million in a superb restoration of the house and park.  And then they put all the stuff back inside.

The result is that the Georgian rooms, with the exception of James Paine’s superb chapel, are dominated by beautifully designed modern display cases which would fit well into a disused textile mill, a warehouse or a spacious church.  At Cusworth, you can’t see the room, and for that matter you can’t see the display case, though you can see the contents quite well.

It matters not, because the thorough restoration will last longer than any museum-display fashion.

Doncaster’s proud history needs much more space to celebrate the market-town, the agriculture and the mining industry, as well as the Great North Road, the Great Northern Railway and the racecourse, home of the St Leger.

The Borough of Wakefield has found means to move its art gallery out of a cramped Georgian terrace into Hepworth Wakefield [], a superlative new building by David Chipperfield.

Doncaster’s history deserves no less.  And Cusworth Hall would make a fine art gallery, like Tabley House in Cheshire [] or a beautiful hotel-restaurant, like Colwick Hall in Nottingham [].