Wentworth Woodhouse is but one of the great estates of South Yorkshire. Its literal neighbour, Wentworth Castle, is the result of a saga of gargantuan rivalry between distant relatives, expressed in grand architecture, extensive landscapes and demonstrative garden buildings.
Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739), Lord Raby, had what might now be called “issues” because he had expected to inherit the great estate of Wentworth Woodhouse from his cousin, the 2nd Earl of Strafford. James Lees-Milne pinned him down as “an unbending Tory, an arch snob…and remarkable for ‘excess of bloated pride’ in his own descent”.
Lord Strafford chose to bequeath Wentworth Woodhouse to his sister’s son, Mr Thomas Watson, who took the name Wentworth and liked to be known as “His Honour Wentworth”.
Lord Raby, who had other names for the man he regarded as the usurper of his birthright, bought the neighbouring estate of Stainborough in 1708, and built a baroque wing, designed by the Huguenot Jean de Bodt, on to the existing house (1710-20).
He also persuaded Queen Anne to revive the Earldom of Strafford for him in 1711, while “His Honour” remained a commoner.
Thomas Watson Wentworth’s son, also Thomas, accordingly built a brick baroque wing at Wentworth Woodhouse, the so-called “back front”, and in 1728 took the title Baron Malton.
Then, six years later, he began the huge Palladian east front of Wentworth Woodhouse, back to back with the baroque wing, designed by Henry Flitcroft. This huge project, later enlarged by John Carr of York, was still being completed at the start of the nineteenth century.
In 1746 Lord Malton became the first Marquess of Rockingham – in fact, the first marquess in the British peerage, and superior to an earl.
Quietly determined not to be outdone, William, 2nd Earl of Strafford of the 2nd creation, built the Palladian south wing at Wentworth Castle (1759-62).
And in between times this ludicrous competition in houses and titles was maintained by a descant of monuments – obelisks and columns, temples and follies.
The whole area is dotted with the mementoes of this rivalry, and there is much to see.
Wentworth Castle is now the Northern College, and though the tours of the house are available, the building is in active educational use throughout the year: http://www.northern.ac.uk. Wentworth Castle Gardens, however, are open to tourists almost every day of the year, and are well worth an extended visit: http://www.wentworthcastle.org/view.asp?id=145.
The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 tour Country Houses of South Yorkshire, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £7.50 including postage and packing. It includes chapters on Aston Hall, Brodsworth Hall, Cannon Hall, Cusworth Hall, Hickleton Hall, Renishaw Hall, Wentworth Castle, Wentworth Woodhouse and Wortley Hall. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.