Wentworth Castle

Wentworth Castle

:"A similarly-named great house in Yorkshire is Wentworth Woodhouse."Wentworth Castle, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was the seat of the recreated Earls of Strafford. The house called Stainborough was renamed at some point by Thomas Wentworth, Lord Raby, created Earl of Strafford in 1711. It was still Stainborough in Jan Kip's engraved bird's-eye view of parterres and avenues, 1714, and in the first edition of "Vitruvius Britannicus", 1715 ("illustration, left"). The original name of Stainborough Hall remains now, in the form of Stainborough Castle, a sham ruin constructed as a garden folly ("illustration below").

The house was constructed in two great campaigns, by two earls, in remarkably different styles, each time under unusual circumstances, with handsome results.

The first building campaign

The first range was built by Thomas Wentworth, Lord Raby, who was the grandson of Sir William Wentworth, younger brother of that first Earl of Strafford who suffered during the reign of Charles I, who to appease Parliament permitted him to be executed (1641) and the title attainted.

The estate of Wentworth Woodhouse, scarcely six miles distant, provided a constant bitter sting, for the Strafford fortune had passed from the great earl's childless son to his wife's nephew, named Watson; only the barony of Raby went to a blood-relation. M.J. Charlesworth surmises that it was a feeling that what by rights 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". [Swift, "Journal to Stella", noted by M. J. Charlesworth, "The Wentworths: Family and Political Rivalry in the English Landscape Garden" "Garden History" 14.2 (Autumn 1986:120-137) p. 120.]

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, and was brought before a commission of Parliament in the aftermath. 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.

He had broken his tour of duty at Berlin to conclude the purchase of Stainborough in the summer of 1708, and returned to Berlin, armed with sufficient specifications of the site to engage the services of a military architect who had spent some years recently in England, Johann von Bodt. who provided the designs. [Howard Colvin, "A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects", 3rd ed. 1995 (Yale University Press) 1995. "s.v. "Bodt or Bott, Johannes von, (1670-1745)".] 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." [Letter quoted by Charlesworth 1986:123.] 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 (Add. Mss 22329, folio 128). The Gallery was completed in 1724. [Colvin 1995, "s.v." "Gibbs, James"; see Terry Friedman, "James Gibbs" (1984:123-25, 321f, and pl. 124).] There are designs, probably by Bodt, for an elevation and a section showing the gallery at Wentworth Castle in the Victoria and Albert Museum (E.307-1937), in an album of mixed drawings which belonged to William Talman's son John. [Lawrence Whistler, in "Country Life" 92 1952:1650, and John Harris, in "Architectural Review" July 1961, attributed the drawings, which had been annotated in a different ink "W.T. del. et inv." to William Talman. Margaret Whinney classed them among attributed designs for which there is not adequate evidence, and, finding them too competent and too French for Talman, ascribed them to Bodt (Whinney, "William Talman" "Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes" 18.1-2 [January 1955:123-139] p. 136f, figs. 39ab). Her attribution has been followed, e.g. by Terry Friedman, "The English Appreciation of Italian Decorations" "The Burlington Magazine" 117 No. 873, Special Issue Devoted to French Neo-Classicism (December 1975:841-847) p. 846 note 27.] 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. [Horace Walpole, who couldn't praise the house and grounds highly enough ("see below") dismissed the contents of the Gallery: "but four modern statues and some bad portraits" (quoted by Rosalys Coope, "The Gallery in England: Names and Meanings" "Architectural History" 27, Design and Practice in British Architecture: Studies in Architectural History Presented to Howard Colvin (1984:446-455) p. 450.] 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. [Remarked on by Hentie Louw and Robert Crayford, "A Constructional History of the Sash-Window, c. 1670-c. 1725 (Part 2)", "Architectural History" 42 (1999:173-239) p. 188.] The results, directed largely by letter from a distance, [Robert Benson, Lord Bingley, the Tory politician and amateur architect, may have "looked after" the project in some way (Colvin 1995 "s.v." "Benson, Robert, Lord Bingley").] are unique in Britain. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner found the east range "of a palatial splendour uncommon in England." [Pevsner,] The grand suite of parade rooms on the ground floor extended from the room at the north end with a ceiling allegory of "Plenty" to the south end, with one of a "Fame".

Bodt's use of a giant order of pilasters on the front and other features, suggested to John Harris that Bodt, who had been in England in the 1690s, had had access to drawings by William Talman. Talman was the architect of Chatsworth, considered to be England's first truly Baroque house. Indeed there are similarities of design between Wentworth's east front and Chatsworth. Both have a distinctly Continental Baroque frontage. Wentworth has been described as a "a remarkable and almost unique example of Franco-Prussian architecture in Georgian England". [Colvin 1995, "s.v." "Bodt or Bott, Johann von".] The east front was built upon a raised terrace that descended to sweeps of gravelled ramps that flanked a grotto and extended in an axial vista framed by double allées of trees to a formal wrought iron gate, all seen in Jan Kip's view of 1714, which if it is not more plan than reality, includes patterned parterres to the west of the house and an exedra on rising ground behind, all features that appear again in "Britannia Illustrata", (1730). [Noted by Kenneth Lemmon, "Wentworth Castle: A Forgotten Landscape" "Garden History" 3.3 (Summer 1975:50-57) p. 52.] An engraving by Thomas Badeslade, "ca" 1750, still shows the formal features centred on Bodt's façade, enclosed in gravel drives wide enough for a coach-and-four. The regular plantations of trees planted bosquet-fashion have matured: their edges are clipped, and straight rides pierce them. [Illustrated in Lemmon 1975 fig. p. 53.] All these were swept away by the second earl after mid-century, in favour of an open, rolling "naturalistic" landscape in the manner of Capability Brown. [Brown is not documented as working at Wentworth Castle.]

The first earl's landscape

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" [Charlesworth 1986:123.] and kept free of trees ("illustration, left") missed by only a few years being the first sham castle in an English landscape garden. [It was preceded Charlesworth noted, only by Sir John Vanbrugh's long bastion wall at Castle Howard and by Strafford's cousin Lord Bathurst's "Alfred's Tower" at Cirencester Park, which might have provided the inspiration.] 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; [M. I. Webb, "Michael Rysbrack" 1954:161f (dated "c. 1730"); Rupert Gunnis, "Dictionary of British Sculptors", rev. ed., "s.v.." "Michael Rysbrack".] the statue has been moved closer to the house.

A staunch Tory, [He was encumbered by James Stuart, the "Old Pretender", with the useless Jacobite title of "Duke of Strafford" in 1722.] Lord Strafford remained in political obscurity during Walpole's Whig supremacy, for the remainder of his life. An obelisk was erected to the memory of Queen Anne in 1736, and a sitting room in the house was named "Queen Anne's Sitting Room" until modern times. Other landscape features were added, one after the other, with the result that today there are twenty-six listed structures in what remains of the parkland.

The second earl at Wentworth Castle

The first earl died in 1739 and his son succeeded him. William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford (1722-1791) rates an entry in Colvin's "Biographical Dictionary of British Architects" as the designer of the fine neo-Palladian range, built in 1759-64 ("illustration, upper right"). He married a daughter of the Duke of Argyll [In 1740, Argyll retired from the political arena in disgust.] 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) [Platt, a master builder and statuary (he provided the sculptures in the pediment, 1762), was a member of a dynasty of masons with a stoneyard at Rotherham, South Yorkshire (Colvin 1995, "s.v." Platt").] 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, 5, St James's Square, in 1748-49. Ross's proven competency in London in London doubtless recommended him to the Earl for the building campaign in Yorkshire. [Colvin 1995, "s.v." "Ross, Charles".] At Wentworth Castle it was generally understood, as Lord Verulam remarked in 1768, "'Lord Strafford himself is his own architect and contriver in everything." [Colvin 1995, "s.v." Wentworth, William, 2nd Earl of Strafford" remarks that Walpole and William Bray ("Sketch of a Tour into Derbyshire and Yorkshire" 2nd ed. 1783:249 (noted in Colvin) confirm Strafford's responsibility.] Even in the London house, Walpole tells us, "he chose all the ornaments himself".

Horace Walpole singled out Wentworth Castle as a paragon for the perfect integration of the site, the landscape, even the harmony of the stone:

"If a model is sought of the most perfect taste in architecture, where grace softens dignity, and lightness attempers magnificence... where the position is the most happy, and even the colour of the stone the most harmonious; the virtuoso should be directed to the new front of Wentworth-castle: [Finished sixteen years previously, in 1764.] the result of the same judgement that had before distributed so many beauties over that domain and called from wood, water, hills, prospects, and buildings, a compendium of picturesque nature, improved by the chastity of art." [Walpole, "The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening" (1780).]

Later history

With the extinction of the earldom with the third earl in 1799, the house and all the Wentworth estates including Wentworth Woodhouse, passed to William FitzWilliam, 4th Earl FitzWilliam, then to members of the Vernon-Wentworth family. The paintings were sold by Captain Bruce Canning Vernon-Wentworth at Christie's, 13 November 1919. [Notably the "Young Knight" by Vittore Carpaccio, which had lurked largely unnoticed in the collection, with an attribution to Dürer (Alec Martin, "The Young Knight by Carpaccio" "The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs" 44 No. 251 (February 1924:56, 58-59).] At his death without direct heirs in 1948, Wentworth Castle was emptied at a house sale [Lancaster & Sons, June 1948.] sold to Barnsley Corporation, and the estate was divided up. The house was a teacher training college until 1978 and then was used by Northern College. [ [http://www.rotherhamweb.co.uk/gallery/wentworth1/ Quick overview of inheritance history of Wentworth Castle] ] It was featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibition "The Country House in Danger".The great landscape that Walpole praised in 1780 is now "disturbed and ruinous", the second earl's sinuous river excavated in the 1750s reduced to a series of silty ponds, [Charlesworth 1986:120, 129.] and the M1 Motorway passes within view.

Wentworth Castle was featured on the BBC TV show "Restoration" in 2003, when an attempt was made to restore the Grade 2 Listed Victorian Conservatory to its former glory. Unfortunately, the Conservatory [ [http://www.wentworthcastle.org/view.asp?id=235 (Wentworth Castle) Conservatory] ] did not win in the viewers' response; subsequently, the Wentworth Castle Trust took the decision in 2005 to support the fragile structure further with a scaffold. Unfortunately, the building is now in a perilous condition, and without urgent funding the structure will be lost forever. The restoration of the Conservatory will cost in the region of £2.5m.

Wentworth Castle is the only Grade 1 Listed Gardens and Parkland in South Yorkshire; it contains twenty-six individually listed structures. It opened fully to visitors in 2007, following the completion of the first phase of restoration, which cost £15.2m. [ [http://www.rotherhamweb.co.uk/gallery/wentworth1/ "Wentworth Castle Regeneration"] ]


External links

* [http://www.wentworthcastle.org/ Wentworth Castle official website]
* [http://www.rotherhamweb.co.uk/gallery/wentworth1/ "Wentworth Castle and Stainborough Park estate"]

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