Friday, October 31, 2014

News: Trust aims to give Wentworth Woodhouse a secure future

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Details have been revealed of the new charitable trust that aims to acquire Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham, the largest privately-owned house in Europe, for £7m.

By agreement with the Newbold family, owners of the Grade I listed mansion house, the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) has begun fundraising and has already raised pledges of £3.4m and prepared detailed plans for the future of the property, which has been described as a "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."

Save Britain's Heritage has been working on the plans with leading country house experts and entrepreneurs that will see the preservation of the house and grounds on a long term basis and sustainable, sympathetic uses investigated for those parts of the property not open to the public. Further fundraising is also planned for the much-needed repairs.

The National Trust has agreed to help the trust by offering to take on responsibility for the public opening of the magnificent interiors, recently used during the filming of Mike Leigh's biopic of JMW Turner, 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. 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 that show that a sum of £42m 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.

Plans were unveiled in 2011 to create a combination of publicly accessible restored museum to the central and grandest rooms, as well as a 70 suite luxury hotel and spa to the remainder. The lengthy multimillion pound legal battle between the owners and the Coal Authority should come to a head in 2016. The claim for damages, for at least £100m, is in respect of the damage caused by deep and open cast mining and is being disputed.

The WWPT is chaired by Julie Kenny, chair and chief executive of Rotherham-based Pyronix Limited. She said: "Wentworth Woodhouse is a property of great national importance and its descendants have played such an important role in the history of the United Kingdom and South Yorkshire.

"It is vitally important that Wentworth Woodhouse is saved for the future. The proposed scheme is a viable plan that is intended to be sustainable in the long term and will play an important part in the regeneration of Rotherham, South Yorkshire and the North, promoting regeneration, tourism and community use."

Marcus Binney, executive president of Save Britain's Heritage, added: "At SAVE we have been involved with looking for a solution for Wentworth Woodhouse for 30 years. Undoubtedly this is the most important historic building at risk in Britain today.

"Our plans will open the house both to National Trust members and the general public. The scheme will also bring back all the listed buildings into regular use, for events of many kinds, with holiday lets and apartments for rent and the stables sensitively converted for use by enterprising businesses on the successful model of estate buildings at Broughton Hall. All these uses are to a tried and tested formula which has worked at other major historic houses, and are intended as a major new attraction to the 1.7m people living in the Sheffield region, providing jobs and access to the extensive gardens as well as the mansion."

Plans for the sustainable future of Wentworth Woodhouse include using the north wing and former student refectory as a dining hall/events venue; creating offices for small businesses in the impressive stable block; and around 15 residential units or holiday lets are proposed in the south wing, the upper floors of the main mansion and the side courtyards of the stable court.

Those working on the plans include 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. SQW Consultants worked on the business plan with detailed input from architects Purcell and Ian Rex Proctor and Partners, construction consultants.

Pledges so far have come from the Monument Trust, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement, the J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, and the Art Fund.

The trustees of the new WWPT are: The Duke of Devonshire, Lady Juliet Tadgell, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, Julie Kenny (Chair), Timothy Cooke, Martin Drury, and Merlin Waterson.

Wentworth Woodhouse website
Save Britain's heritage website

Images: Wentworth Woodhouse / Facebook / Save Britain's Heritage

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