In the uncertain times after the Second World War, when many country-house owners had to decide whether they could ever live in their big houses again, Wortley Hall, South Yorkshire became a socialist stately home, and for seventy years now has been a home for stately socialists.
In 1950 Archibald, 3rd Earl of Wharncliffe (1892-1953) leased the much-battered house to a consortium of Labour organisations under the leadership of Vin Williams, the South Yorkshire organiser for the National Council of Labour Colleges.
Trade union organisations have unusually good access to craftspeople, and in May 1951, powered by the efforts of a small army of volunteers, Wortley Hall opened as a conference centre under the title Wortley Hall (Labour’s Home). Even with masses of goodwill from the Labour movement, the initial conversion cost the then huge sum of around £10,000.
John Cornwell’s account, The Voices of Wortley Hall: the sixtieth anniversary history of Labour’s home, 1951-2011, tells this remarkable story in detail.
Ever since, Wortley Hall has grown and thrived, hosting groups from Britain and abroad, from the Workers Music Association Summer School to the Clarion Cycling Club, and providing an entertaining series of public events from car rallies to comedy nights. Friends of mine count themselves lucky if they are quick enough to book the Wortley Hall New Year’s Eve celebration.
Wortley Hall Ltd, as it’s now called, is a shining example of the spirit of co-operation which traces back directly to the Rochdale Pioneers.
It’s a very beautiful place – a Palladian show-house by John Platt of Rotherham on a more modest scale to the nearby Wentworth Castle and the gargantuan Wentworth Woodhouse, vigorously extended in Victorian times, and surrounded by elegant grounds with a panoramic view to the east across the Yorkshire countryside.
In the days when I ran senior-student training at Wortley Hall for a local comprehensive school, the younger kids aspired to become senior students so they could go to “that mansion”.
There is a detailed photograph-album of Wortley Hall at http://www.flickr.com/photos/59839574@N05/5981134438/in/photostream. The conference-centre website is at http://www.wortleyhall.org.uk/wortley-hall.
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.