Visit to Wentworth Castle

Posted on Monday 28th July 2014

Victorian Glasshouse

Our visit to Wentworth Woodhouse last autumn had made us eager to see the nearby estate of Wentworth Castle, and it was an enthusiastic group of members and friends who assembled on a rather unseasonably chilly June morning for the journey down the M1.

We were fortunate to have as our guide Patrick Eyres (Deputy Chairman of Leeds Art Fund and trustee of the Wentworth Castle Restoration Project), who informed us that the house, monuments, gardens and parkland had their origins in fierce family rivalry. Thomas Wentworth had been bitterly disappointed when Wentworth Woodhouse was left to a cousin rather than to him, and he became determined to create a house and estate to rival that of his neighbour. In 1708 he bought Stainborough Hall and set about adapting it to a home suitable for a man of his importance. By 1730 he had renamed it as Wentworth Castle.

Our initial view was of the unassuming north front of the house with its lingering traces of the original 17th century building, but turning the corner we were wowed by the Baroque east façade, now looking down over the M1, added by Thomas in the early 18th century and strongly influenced by his time as ambassador in Berlin. But this wasn’t all…around the next corner was another surprise – the classical Palladian south front, completed by Thomas’s son William in 1739. Not to be outdone the Victorian occupants left their mark in the form of a huge glasshouse. This rare surviving example was at the forefront of technology with electric lighting as early as 1886. By the 21st century it had fallen into a ruinous state and it is a testament to the vision and tenacity of the Wentworth Castle Heritage Trust that it is now pristine again and earning its keep as a sought-after venue for weddings. We hurried inside to escape the steady drizzle and to admire the interior, showcasing plants from the five continents.

After lunch and a welcome sit down it was time to see the interiors of the house, not usually open to the public. Now home to a college and somewhat institutionalised, glimpses of its former glory can be seen in the exquisite painted ceilings and plasterwork. The college library now occupies one of the finest rooms in the house – the first floor long gallery which runs the full length of the east front, each end culminating in elegant Venetian windows.

Patrick is justifiably proud of what has been achieved at Wentworth Castle, and his knowledgeable and pithy commentary greatly enhanced our enjoyment of the visit.