Turning back time at Wentworth Woodhouse

Time stood still for decades at Wentworth Woodhouse.

Once one of the greatest houses in England which hosted kings and queens, it fell into sad decline. But during 2019, huge strides were made to shore up the future of the Grade I listed Georgian stately home in Rotherham, now owned by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust. Emergency repairs to huge swathes of the roof were completed, protecting key areas of the mansion and it’s riding school against the elements.

It was also a year of growth for the Trust, which bought the mansion, its Stables, Riding School, Camellia House and 83 acres in March 2017 for £7million. Finding a critical state of decay, the Trust set to work with a handful of staff. There are now 52 employees – a total of 33 new jobs were created in 2019 over just nine months – and the Trust’s army of volunteer grew to 211. The 22,333 hours of unpaid support they gave equated to over £340,115.

Julie Kenny, Chair of the Trustees, paid tribute to the WWPT team: “When we look back on what has been achieved in what is only the second year as custodians, it is with pride and astonishment.”

“We are expanding rapidly in the activities we are delivering, the numbers visiting us and the jobs we are creating. It is a very exciting time and this progress has been made thanks to our small, dedicated team who respond to ever-changing challenges on a daily basis. The commitment they show is truly remarkable.”

The 20,000 visitors who took tours at Wentworth Woodhouse last year will have been in no doubt about the fact that the house is awakening from its slumber. Since last summer, over 700 tonnes of scaffolding have encased the mansion’s Palladian East Front and supported a vast temporary roof made of plastic.

The scaffolding – a feat of engineering involving enough poles to reach the top of Mount Everest five times-over – enabled roof repairs to be carried out under Phase One and Two of the Trust’s Emergency Works Programme.

Phase One’s contractors Aura Conservation ended their work in December, having completely removed and re-slated roofs on the riding school and the mansion’s chapel, restored the chapel’s ceiling and replaced roof slates and repaired roof timbers on the mansion’s Bedlam wing.

Heritage construction specialists Robert Woodhead Ltd have now been on site for a year, carrying out Phase Two work.
The largest phase of the Treasury-funded emergency works project, Phase Two includes the replacement of roofs, plus repairs to high-level stone work, Georgian roof statues and urns.

Many unforeseen challenges have had to be met by the architectural and construction teams.

“This was due to the significant decay encountered and the historical significance of the buildings,” commented a spokesperson for Donald Insall Associates, the country’s leading specialists in historical architects, who are employed on the project.

“Working closely with Historic England, we have tested our conservation and repair philosophy at every opportunity to ensure that the work we do now is appropriate and will last the tests of time.”

While construction specialists were surprised to find the roofs they were stripping were in a relatively good condition, a number of unforeseen issues were found with roof timbers. Structural support measures had to be introduced, explained senior site manager Andy Stamford, of Woodhead Group.
The North roof mainly required gutter repairs and replacement joints, the central roof required repairs and conservation of seven truss ends, replacement timber spas and new guttering. The South roof was also in reasonable condition, needing repairs to gutters and timber work.
In addition, a significant amount of stonework has been carried out on the roof.
Two of seven chimneys have been repaired. On the south roof, 60% of stonework tasks – indent repairs to the balusters on the parapet walls – have been completed.

The 10 life-sized roof statues have been protected and will be restored in situ in the spring, as warmer weather is more suited to stonework.
But a number of ornamental urns – each weighing 600kg – were in danger. Some were only being held by their own weight, as their timber pins had rotted. They were boxed in scaffold and lifted down by crane for restoration. Historic glass lanterns were also removed by crane.

With so much building work taking place, fire prevention has been a priority. Stringent rules are in place on site and WWPT has worked hand-in-hand with local and heritage Fire Brigade officers.

Restoration work planned for 2020:
In early 2020, slates will start to go back on the long gallery roof and the last five chimneys will be worked on.
Repairs to the roof urns will begin in spring.
In June, highly-detailed and intricate repairs to the stone cornice on the south and north of the building will begin.
Roof work over the East Front State Rooms, the most significant areas of Wentworth Woodhouse, is already underway and is due to be completed in May.