Work restarts on 350-room mansion that 'inspired Pride and Prejudice'

Work restarts on vital £5million roof repairs at 350-room Wentworth Woodhouse mansion that ‘inspired Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’

  • Work had stalled on the Grade I listed stately home in Rotherham due to the coronavirus crisis 
  • The project has now resumed with new safety measures to protect heritage stonemasons, joiners and roofers
  • In 2016, the then chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £7.6million handout for restoration works on Wentworth Woodhouse
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Work has restarted on a £5 million vital roof repair at a Grade I listed stately home in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Specialist contractors were replacing the six-tennis-court-sized roof of Wentworth Woodhouse in a project costing £30,000 each month, but were forced to pause on the work, because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The project is once again gaining momentum with a host of new safety measures to protect heritage stonemasons, joiners and roofers back on site.

Work has restarted on a £5 million vital roof repair at Grade I listed stately home Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham

The house is said to have been the inspiration for Mr Darcy’s house, Pemberley, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. 

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust bought the house in 2017 for £7 million and has been overseeing the project to regenerate the building, after Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged £7.6million to fix the leaking roof – and effectively save the property outright.

The mansion stopped tours, events and closed its doors to visitors on March 20 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

After this month’s Government guidance for the construction sector, the project is now gaining momentum again with a host of new safety measures to protect the heritage stonemasons, joiners and roofers back on site

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust bought the house in 2017 for £7 million and has been overseeing the project to regenerate the building

The Trust said in March that its 52 staff had been paid until the end of the month and its 212 volunteers, who gave more than 22,333 hours of unpaid support in 2019, had been stood down. 

Dame Julie Kenny, founder and chair of the Trust, said in March: ‘Wentworth Woodhouse will reopen in style as soon as the Covid-19 crisis is over and we want everyone back in force – all our staff, volunteers and loyal supporters.’

The building, which has a 606ft frontage wider than Buckingham Palace, was once Britain’s biggest private home but slid into neglect and disrepair during the second half of the 20th century. 

The 18th century property near Rotherham has around 350 rooms and five miles of corridors.   

For generations it belonged to the Wentworth, Watson and Fitzwilliam families, the walls were lined with masterpieces by Raphael and Titian and the visitor’s book included the signature of King George V. 

Specialist contractors are replacing the six-tennis-court-sized roof of Wentworth Woodhouse in a project costing £30,000 each month

The 18th century property near Rotherham has around 350 rooms and five miles of corridors

In 2016 the then chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £7.6million handout for restoration works on Wentworth Woodhouse (ictured a worker carries out the painstaking task to restore the original features)

The mansion has stood in for Buckingham Palace in the Hollywood wartime blockbuster Darkest Hour. Parts were used in the Timothy Spall movie Mr Turner, about Britain’s celebrated artist JMW Turner.

In 2018 it was revealed that more than 100 surveys had been carried out on the property, exposing the full horror of its ‘critical state of decay’ with endemic dry rot, crumbling stonework, collapsed drains and asbestos contamination. 

There is also a shop and cafe on site and the National Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund gave cash to further the project in 2018. 

A number of the magnificent reception rooms, including the Whistlejacket room, with a copy of the painting that once hung there, were restored a few years ago to give a glimpse of what the aristocratic home once looked like.

The building, which has a 606ft frontage wider than Buckingham Palace, was once Britain’s biggest private home but slid into neglect and disrepair during the second half of the 20th century 

 Pictured is the east end of the Long Gallery seen here with its polished wooden floor and ornate ceilings

Renovations on the property could take more than 20 years. Pictured: the marble saloon inside the mansion

Derelict servants quarters at Wentworth Woodhouse was overtaken by debris back in 2018

Headless statue in gardens in need of repair at Wentworth Woodhouse Estate pictured in 2018

Was Wentworth Woodhouse the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?

During his autumn statement speech in November 2016, Philip Hammond announced a £7.6million handout for restoration works on Wentworth Woodhouse. He told MPs: ‘It is said to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.’ This claim has since been disputed.

When Austen began writing Pride and Prejudice in 1797, the property was owned by the Fitzwilliams. Plenty of fans have noted that the main character in the romantic novel is called Fitzwilliam Darcy, and point to this as evidence the stately manor was the inspiration in the book.

Like Pemberley, it has a ten-mile long park wall, a hill topped with trees, and water features. But that is where the similarity ends, as there are no oaks or Spanish chestnuts which Austen spoke about in the book.

The claim Philip Hammond made about the Wentworth Woodhouse mansion being the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been disputed

As well as this, the vast property would have cost up to £100,000 a year to maintain – but Mr Darcy was only supposed to have an income of around £10,000 (£1million in today’s money).

The Jane Austen Society also disputed Mr Hammond’s claim at the time, telling the Guardian there was no evidence the renowned author had ever visited the mansion.

A spokesperson said: ‘There is absolutely no evidence that Jane Austen ever travelled further north than Lichfield in Staffordshire. There are other places such as Chatsworth, which lay claim to be the model for Pemberley.’

Historians have confirmed that Austen visited Chatsworth in Derbyshire two years before she published the book in 1813, so both Woodhouse and Chatsworth are front runners in the debate about which mansion inspired Austen.

The Duke of Devonshire told the Guardian: ‘Some people say Chatsworth is the inspiration for Pemberley and some people say its Wentworth Woodhouse – we’d have to ask Jane Austen for a definitive answer. 

‘Either way, as a member of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, I’m delighted with the news that the government is to step in with a grant for the preservation of this wonderful building.’

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