Category Archives: Country Houses of South Yorkshire

Elsecar

Reform Row, Elsecar, South Yorkshire

The coal mining industry created many industrial settlements across Britain, simply because coal was often found in places where there were few inhabitants.

Few of them are as elegant as Elsecar, the mining village of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, which stands in an area where the Barnsley seam could be anything up to nine feet thick and below it the Silkstone seam, up to six feet thick. 

The “black diamonds” were mined on behalf of the Marquis of Rockingham from before 1750.

When the Dearne & Dove Canal was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1793 two branches, each leading to feeder reservoirs, were provided to Worsborough and Elsecar. 

Lord Rockingham’s successor, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, opened the Elsecar New Colliery in 1795, and the branch canal reached the colliery site shortly after 1799. 

The village was subsequently laid out as a model of good practice and enlightened self-interest by a dynasty of aristocratic coal-owners who, while very much of their time in their attitudes to – for instance – trade unionism, seem to have taken a sincere, paternalistic interest in their employees. 

The sturdy stone rows of cottages, Old Row (1798), Station Row (1800), Meadow Row (c1803), Reform Row (1837) and Cobcar Terrace (1860), are solidly constructed, functional and visually attractive.  Like many buildings of the period on the Wentworth Woodhouse estate the first two terraces in Elsecar were designed by John Carr of York. 

Vegetable gardens and pig-sties were standard, and at Cobcar Terrace separate wash-houses were provided.  Rents were slightly higher than in other nearby settlements, but there seems to have been little difficulty in attracting workers to this relatively isolated spot. 

In 1850 the fifth Earl opened the distinctive and attractive Model Boarding House to attract young single miners from neighbouring coalfields:  this building housed Elsecar’s first fitted bath and hot-water geyser.

Apart from coal-mining, Elsecar has had other industrial enterprises, none of them so consistently successful.  There were two ironworks, the Elsecar Ironworks (opened in 1795 with the New Colliery) and Milton Ironworks (1803), and a short-lived tar-manufactory which gave its name to Distillery Row

The Elsecar Workshops (1859) provided the ironworks and collieries with everything “…new as regards iron and woodwork and the greater proportion of the repairs required for coal and iron mines, and all machinery, iron and heavy woodwork on the whole Estate particularly steam engines…”.

The Fitzwilliam estate provided all the substantial public buildings in the village – the Church Day School (1836;  closed 1852 but still forming part of Distillery Side Cottages), the Elsecar Steam Flour Mill (1841-2), Holy Trinity Parish Church (1843), the Gas Works (1857, behind Old Row, now demolished except for the Manager’s House), and the Market Hall (1870, renamed Milton Hall after alterations, 1922).

The South Yorkshire Railway reached Elsecar in 1850, vastly widening the available markets. 

Amidst the rows of coal-wagons and the bustle of shunting, one strange feature underlined the intimate relationship between the colliery and its owners – Earl Fitzwilliam’s private railway-station (1870), which still stands in the middle of the village virtually next to the mine, from which would set forth the Earl, his family and guests in their special railway carriage, having travelled by horse-drawn coach from the Palladian splendours of Wentworth Woodhouse.

In the years since the mining industry went into decline, Elsecar has reinvented itself as a tourist site, based around the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which incorporates Earl Fitzwilliam’s private station, the Elsecar Heritage Railway and the only surviving in situ Newcomen pumping engine in the world.

Wentworth Village

Rockingham Arms, Wentworth, South Yorkshire

The estate village of Wentworth stretches west from the boundary wall of the park to beyond the two parish churches

Most of the buildings date from the time of the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (inherited 1782, died 1833) and his successors, but the site and the medieval church are ancient.  At least two of the structures in the village contain evidence of pre-eighteenth-century construction – the timber-framed Ivy Cottage (possibly late-sixteenth century) and West Hall Fold (possibly seventeenth-century). 

Most of the houses and cottages in the village are vernacular in style, sturdily built in the local sandstone.  Green paintwork remains the clearest sign still that the dwellings share a common owner.

The more distinctive buildings include the two public houses, one of them called the Rockingham Arms, the other – the George & Dragon – providing space for the market and the annual tenants’ “feast” or fair.  There is a group of almshouses which included the boys’ school (1716), a girls’ and infants’ school (1837) and a Mechanics’ Institute or Christian working-men’s club in castellated Gothic.

Until the 8th Earl vacated the Mansion in 1949, the village of Wentworth was entirely dependent on the Fitzwilliam Estate:  only one other freeholder, Mr Pole the grocer, built in the village, and he sold his three cottages to the Estate early in the twentieth century. 

In its heyday the Fitzwilliam Estate was the dominant employer, not only in Wentworth but also in the surrounding villages of Elsecar, Nether Haugh, Scholes and Thorpe Hesley. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the family are said to have employed roughly the same number of workers – about a hundred – in the mansion and home farm as they did in their coal mines.  Later their mineral interests became far more extensive, though up to the Second World War the house still needed sixty staff to operate.  The ancillary functions of the estate yard and timber yard continued into the 1970s.

The 10th Earl, knowing that the title would die with him for lack of a male heir, established the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust to take care of the village “for the benefit of the public, and in particular the inhabitants of the Parish” after his death in 1979.

By this means Wentworth remains an attractive place to visit, and an enviable place to live.

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: https://theworldnews.net/gb-news/historic-former-sheffield-pub-damaged-by-stray-darts.

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: https://www.facebook.com/StarbucksCarbrookHallSheffield.

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

The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2017 ‘Sheffield’s Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  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.

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):  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sheffield-Pevsner-City-Guides-Architectural/dp/0300105851/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509034870&sr=8-1&keywords=Pevsner+City+Guide+Sheffield.

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):  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yorkshire-West-Riding-Sheffield-Architectural/dp/0300224680/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509032022&sr=8-1&keywords=Pevsner+West+Riding+South.

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:  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1971566.

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:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yorkshire-West-Riding-Architectural-Buildings/dp/0300126654/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509032672&sr=1-1&keywords=Pevsner+West+Riding+North.)

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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:  http://www.wentworthvillage.net/monuments/hoober-stand.

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

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.

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:  http://www.wentworthvillage.net/monuments/the-mausoleum.

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.

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:  http://www.holisticfraternity.co.uk/Keppels.html.

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.

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQYZq3DCB2g&list=PLvIwNyf0RZgMPgydtjejzTLjQxZ62W3He&index=10.

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:  http://www.demorgan.org.uk.

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.

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.

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.