Wentworth Castle is a grade-1 listed country house, the former seat of the Earls of Strafford, at Stainborough, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, England. It is now home to the Northern College for Residential and Community Education. An older house existed on the estate, then called Stainborough, when it was purchased by Thomas Wentworth, Baron Raby (later Earl of Strafford), in 1708. It was still called Stainborough in Jan Kip's engraved bird's-eye view of parterres and avenues, 1714, and in the first edition of Vitruvius Britannicus, 1715. The name was changed in 1731. The original name survives in the form of Stainborough Castle, a sham ruin constructed as a garden folly on the estate.
*** – History – ***
The original house, known as the Cutler house, was constructed for Sir Gervase Cutler (born 1640) in 1670. Sir Gervase then sold the estate to Thomas Wentworth, later the 1st Earl of Strafford. The house was remodelled in two great campaigns, by two earls, in remarkably different styles, each time under unusual circumstances. The first building campaign to upgrade the original structure was initiated c.1711 by Thomas Wentworth, Baron Raby (1672-1739). The estate of Wentworth Woodhouse, which he believed was his birthright, was scarcely six miles distant and was a constant bitter sting, for the Strafford fortune had passed from William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford, the childless son of the great earl, to his wife's nephew, Thomas Watson; only the barony of Raby had gone to a blood-relation. M.J. Charlesworth surmises that it was a feeling that what by right should have been his that motivated Wentworth's purchase of Stainborough Castle nearby and that his efforts to surpass the Watsons at Wentworth Woodhouse in splendour and taste motivated the man whom Jonathan Swift called "proud as Hell". Wentworth had been a soldier in the service of William III, who made him a colonel of dragoons. He was sent by Queen Anne as ambassador to Prussia in 1706-11 and on his return to Britain, the earldom was revived when he was created Viscount Wentworth and Earl of Strafford in the Peerage of Great Britain. He was then sent as a representative in the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Utrecht. With the death of Queen Anne, he and the Tories were permanently out of power. Wentworth, representing a clannish old family of Yorkshire, required a grand house consonant with the revived Wentworth fortunes, he spent his years of retirement completing it and enriching his landscape.
Wentworth was in Italy in 1709, buying paintings for the future house: "I have great credit by my pictures," he reported with satisfaction: "They are all designed for Yorkshire, and I hope to have a better collection there than Mr. Watson." To display them a grand gallery would be required, for which James Gibbs must have provided the designs, since a contract for wainscoting "as desined by Mr Gibbs" survives among Wentworth papers in the British Library. The Gallery was completed in 1724. The gallery extends one hundred and eighty feet, twenty-four feet wide, and thirty high, screened into three divisions by veined marble Corinthian columns with gilded capitals, and with corresponding pilasters against projecting piers: in the intervening spaces four marble copies of Roman sculptures on block plinths survived until the twentieth century. Construction was sufficiently advanced by March–April 1714 that surviving correspondence between Strafford and William Thornton concerned the disposition of panes in the window sashes: the options were for windows four panes wide, as done in the best houses Thornton assured the earl, for which crown glass would do, or for larger panes, three panes across, which might requite plate glass: Strafford opted for the latter. The results, directed largely by letter from a distance, are unique in Britain. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner found the east range "of a palatial splendour uncommon in England.".
Strafford planted avenues of trees in great quantity in this open countryside, and the sham castle folly (built from 1726 and inscribed "Rebuilt in 1730", now more ruinous than it was at first) that he placed at the highest site, "like an endorsement from the past" and kept free of trees, missed by only a few years being the first sham castle in an English landscape garden. For its central court where the four original towers were named for his four children, the earl commissioned his portrait statue in 1730 from Michael Rysbrack, whom James Gibbs had been the first to employ when he came to England; the statue has been moved closer to the house. The first earl died in 1739 and his son succeeded him. William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford (1722-1791) married a daughter of the Duke of Argyll and spent a year on the Grand Tour to improve his taste; he eschewed political life. At Wentworth Castle he had John Platt (1728–1810) on the site as master mason and Charles Ross ( -1770/75) to draft the final drawings and act as "superintendent"; Ross was a carpenter and joiner of London who had worked under the Palladian architect and practiced architectural ammanuensis, Matthew Brettingham, at Strafford's London house. Ross's proven competency in London in London doubtless recommended him to the Earl for the building campaign in Yorkshire. At Wentworth Castle it was generally understood, as Lord Verulam remarked in 1768, "'Lord Strafford himself is his own architect and contriver in everything." Even in the London house, Walpole tells us, "he chose all the ornaments himself".
With the extinction of the earldom with the third earl in 1799, the huge family estates were divided into three, one third going to the descendants of each daughter of the 1st Earl. Wentworth Castle was left in trust for Lady Henrietta Vernon's grandson Frederick Vernon, (of Hilton Hall, Staffordshire) whose trustees were William, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, and Walter Spencer Stanhope. Frederick Vernon added Wentworth to his surname and took charge of the estate in 1816. Between 1820 and 1840 the old chapel of St. James was replaced with the current building and the windows of the Baroque Wing were lowered on either side of the entrance hall. Frederick Vernon Wentworth also amalgamated two ground floor rooms to make what is now the blue room. In July 1838 a freak hail storm badly damaged the cupola and windows of the house as well as all the greenhouses within the walled gardens, yet this pales into insignificance when compared with the nearby Huskar Colliery disaster where 26 child miners lost there lives due to flooding following the hail storm. In May 1853 a freak snow storm also caused severe damage, particularly to the mature trees within the gardens, some of them rare species from America planted by the 1st and 2nd earls. Frederick Vernon Wentworth was succeeded by his son Thomas in 1885 who added the iron framed Conservatory and electric lighting by March of the following year. The Victorian Wing also dates from this decade and its construction allowed the Vernon-Wentworths to entertain the young Duke of Clarence and his entourage during the winters of 1887 and 1889.
*** – Visiting – ***
House tours occur about once a month and have to be booked in advance. There are other events on as well. The Long Barn Visitor Centre is fully accessible. There are disabled toilet facilities on the lower and upper floors and a lift is available. The function and meeting spaces are fitted with an induction hearing loop. Registered assistance dogs are welcome in the Gardens. Please bring appropriate identification. The Trust has a golf buggy which may be pre-booked for the use of visitors who find the walk through the gardens difficult. There is a charge of £5 to hire a buggy to help cover the costs of maintenance. Users of the golf buggy need to be over 17 years and must pass a competence test before taking the buggy out. For more information or to reserve a buggy before your visit, please call (01226) 776040. Carer for Registered Disabled Person is free
Glorious gardens, woodland and parkland, created for the privileged few and preserved for everyone to enjoy Working together with Barnsley Council and Northern College, this estate, rooted in rivalry, will now provide a space to bring people together. Royal diplomat Thomas Wentworth was outraged when a cousin inherited his family home, Wentworth Woodhouse in 1695, and was determined to outdo him, creating this place once known as ‘the finest garden in England’. Today it is South Yorkshire’s only Grade I registered landscape, with acres of parkland and gardens to explore. There are surprises along every avenue, including a castle that is not what it seems.
*** – History – ***
At the heart of Wentworth Castle Gardens is a story of bitter family feud. The Wentworths were one of the most important families in Yorkshire. Long before the time of the English Civil War, members of the Wentworth family had held seats of power and influence in the area, building the imposing estate at Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire as their home. When William Wentworth, the 2nd Earl of Strafford (1626-1695) died childless, his nephew Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739) expected to inherit the family fortune and their grand home at Wentworth Woodhouse. However in 1695 his hopes were dashed when the fortune and Wentworth Woodhouse instead passed to his cousin, Thomas Watson.
Infuriated, Thomas Wentworth used his skills as a successful soldier and diplomat to plot revenge. Within a few years he had bought, extended and renamed his own house and estate, just six miles away from Wentworth Woodhouse, here at the estate we now know as Wentworth Castle. In 1711 he was even able to acquire the old family title, the Earldom of Strafford – all to outshine his “obnoxious relative”
The rivalry continued into the next generation, as Thomas Wentworth's son William continued to expand and develop the estate after his father's death. This estate, recognised today as one of the UK's greatest 18th century landscapes, was clearly a source of great pride for both father and son. The only Grade I listed parkland and gardens in South Yorkshire, Wentworth Castle Gardens is home to no fewer than 26 listed buildings and monuments, each of them with a different story to tell.
Everywhere you look at Wentworth Castle Gardens there are stories to tell. Stories of power and politics, family infighting, misery and hope are all around – you just need to know where to look. Sir Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739) created this estate to outshine his cousin, building a house and gardens that would rival the nearby Wentworth Woodhouse. This bold statement started centuries of work at Wentworth Castle Gardens, creating the stories hidden in monuments around the estate today.
It is also rumoured that the bronze disc which sits on top of the monument was angled to reflect the sunlight across to the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, in what must surely have been an annoying distraction on sunny days. Could this be another example of family rivalry on show?
Please click here for a complete list of things to do in PDF format.
*** – Facilities – ***
Location : Wentworth Castle Gardens, Park Drive, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S75 3EN
Transport: Dodworth (National Rail) then bus (1.5 miles) OR Barnsley Interchange then bus (3 miles). Bus Routes : 23A, 24, 24A and 410 stop nearby. There is a bus stop for Wentworth Castle Gardens on Gilroyd Lane near the Strafford Arms pub. This bus stop for Wentworth Castle Gardens is at the bottom of the hill. NOTE: There is no access to the site from the Northern College bus stop.
Opening Times Gardens: Weekdays from 10:00; Weekends from 10:00; See booking for limited time visits.
Tickets Gardens: Adults £5.00; Concessions £5.00; Children (5 - 16) £2.50
Tel: 01226 323070