Wentworth Woodhouse is an unsung marvel of English architecture, one of the largest and most impressive of all 18th-century country houses, the seat of a great political dynasty and the home of a Prime Minister. In size and splendour it matches Stowe, with an even more magnificent parade of state apartments and a landscape studded with temples, monuments and follies.
It is also the most important historic building at serious risk in Britain today.
A race is on to raise funds to preserve Wentworth Woodhouse by placing it in a new charitable trust which will open it to the public. So far £3.5m has been pledged towards an acquisition target of £7m. These pledges come from the Monument Trust, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement, the J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, and the Art Fund.
SAVE Britain’s Heritage is now urgently seeking a matching sum to enable the purchase to go ahead. Modest sums will show the numbers of people supporting our cause, and large sums will carry us towards our target.
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The campaign website can be found here: http://www.savewentworth.co.uk/
Full details of the proposed scheme and solution
The proposal is that the magnificent Baroque and Palladian mansion, which in many European countries would be called a palace, and the 83 acres which run with it, are placed in a new charitable trust. The purpose of the trust would be to give this great building a secure future with regular access to the public and viable uses for substantial parts of the building to contribute to the costs of repair and maintenance.
By agreement with the Newbold family, SAVE and its partners have helped initiate the new Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) to serve the following purposes:
To preserve the house and grounds on a long term sustainable basis with extensive public opening;
To find sustainable and sympathetic uses for those parts of the property not open to the public;
To raise funds both for acquisition and repairs and other essential works.
The SAVE plan has been drawn up by Marcus Binney, SAVE’s Executive President, with leading country house experts and entrepreneurs, including Mr Kit Martin, well known for his country house rescues and transformations, Roger Tempest who has pioneered the use of estate buildings for office purposes at Broughton Hall in North Yorkshire, Martin Drury former Director-General of the National Trust, and Merlin Waterson former Regional Director of the National Trust. Financial advice has come from Timothy Cooke, who is Co-Chairman of the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of Waterloo.
The National Trust has agreed to help the new WWPT by offering to take on responsibility for the public opening of the magnificent interiors of Wentworth Woodhouse as well as its gardens. A detailed business plan commissioned by the National Trust has shown projected income and expenditure for the WWPT over twenty years. This has been prepared by SQW Consultants and their forecasts show the WWPT will come into a surplus in the sixth year of operation.
Detailed figures for the cost of repairs and associated building works have been prepared with the help of architects Purcell Miller Tritton and Ian Rex Proctor and Partners, construction consultants. Detailed surveys of particular problem areas have also been carried out for English Heritage, notably the roof of the east portico and the ceiling of the Marble Saloon. These show that a sum of £42 million needs to be spent on the fabric of the house over the next twelve to fifteen years to meet the backlog of repairs and subsidence damage. While this is a large sum, it is comparable to the sums needed for other houses of this scale such as Stowe or for cathedral restorations.
The scheme for Wentworth Woodhouse proposed by the WWPT has four main elements:
Public opening of the main interiors and gardens, initially managed by the National Trust.
Catering and events. This would be situated in the north wing using the former student refectory as a dining hall/events venue. The associated catering kitchen would be brough back into use and the arcaded courtyard behind as a breakout space. This area has its own secluded access with parking for vans out of sight in a back courtyard.
Workspaces in the stables. The idea of offices for small businesses is based on the very successful model established by Roger Tempest at Broughton Hall in Yorkshire. The buildings around the stable court are one and two storeys and can be fitted out at relatively little cost. In the long term the office model could give way to using some of the space for arts, crafts, educational, community and voluntary uses, depending on the success of the office lets and the need for extra space for other activities. The office lets will nonetheless still provide a very useful income stream.
Residential. In all, some 15 residential units are proposed in the south wing, the upper floors of the main mansion and the side courtyards of the stable court. Undoubtedly all these units, which provide a very attractive and varied offering, would make for desirable places to live. The preferred model would be to let the various houses and apartments either as holiday lets of on shorthold leases to provide an income stream for the new Trust.
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