Thursday, February 4, 2016

News: Wentworth Woodhouse sold to trust

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A multimillion pound deal to purchase Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham has been agreed that will save it for the nation.

The historic Grade I listed mansion house went on the market last year with an asking price of in excess of £8m after the Newbold family confirmed that they had decided to sell at the end of 2014.

The property - thought to be the largest privately-owned house in Europe - will now be purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) and will continue to be open to the public.

By agreement with the Newbold family, who bought the house for a reported £2m, the WWPT began fundraising in 2014 and raised pledges of £3.4m and prepared detailed plans for the future of the property. The trust aimed to acquire the property if it could raise £7m. A further £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.

Having now reached an agreement with the Newbold family on the purchase, it is hoped completion of the sale to the trust will take place within two to three months.

Agents, Savills confirmed in November that terms had been agreed for the largest privately-owned house in Europe with the Lake House Group, an investment company which has its headquarters in Hong Kong. With exchange and completion due to take place, by the end of the month, The Times reported that the Lake House Group has backed out of the deal due to the levels of subsidence at the property.

Having agreed the target purchase figure with the Newbold family, a final offer was submitted by the WWPT, but it was turned down by Savills in favour of the Lake House Group's offer.

The lengthy multimillion pound legal battle between the owners of Wentworth Woodhouse and the Coal Authority should come to a head in 2016. The claim for damages against the Coal Authority, for at least £100m, is in respect of the damage caused by deep and open cast mining and is being disputed.
Recently added to the 2016 World Monuments Watch, the East Front of the house measures 615 feet and its courts and buildings cover three acres or more of ground. It is thought to have 365 rooms but given its sheer size it is difficult to know what constitutes a corridor and what constitutes a room.

With a agreement with the WPPT, the National Trust has agreed to help 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 and the grand BBC drama, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. 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.

A statement from campaign group, SAVE Britain's Heritage, said: "Traditionally a historic house of this size would have required a vast endowment. This business model will provide a substantial income stream intended to cover both running costs and periodic bouts of repair.

"The long term strategy is for the public to visit and enjoy all the most interesting parts of the property while restoring the others for revenue-earning uses such as events and holiday lets with business units in the stables.

"The Trust will build on the pioneering work of the Newbold family in opening the house to pre-booked visitors for the first time on a regular basis. An annual Clifford Newbold lecture will be held to mark the work of the Newbold family in opening the house to the public."

Extensive repairs will be phased over ten to 15 years allowing time for funds to be raised and the work to be carried out in phases while the property is opened to the public.

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.

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. It exits 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; and to raise funds both for acquisition and repairs and other essential works.

The £7m pledged for the acquisition includes a £3.575m grant offer from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and grants from the Monument Trust, the Art Fund, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement and the John Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust. Pledges and donations have also been received from many individual members of the public.

Wentworth Woodhouse website
WWPT website

Images: Savills

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