From horses to catering courses…. work begins at Wentworth Woodhouse stables

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Restoration work is about to begin at Wentworth Woodhouse’s derelict Georgian stables, which were the biggest and costliest in England when they were built.

The work is being funded with £4.6 million of the Government’s £20 million Levelling Up investment in Rotherham, which was secured by Rotherham Council to help improve the town’s leisure economy and skills.

Historic England is providing £500,000 of partnership funding, bringing the total invested in this project at Wentworth Woodhouse to £5.1 million.

The huge Palladian-style complex, now Grade I Listed, was created for the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham by architect John Carr of York. It took 16 years to build and when completed in 1782, housed 84 hunting, riding and carriage horses and more than 30 stable boys, grooms and gardeners. It featured a riding school, a carriage house, a saddlery and an inner courtyard with a huge fountain. By the time Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust took over in 2017, along with the Palladian mansion The Stables were in a sorry state.

After spending six years on urgent repairs to the mansion, and most recently renovating a derelict Camellia House, the Trust is beginning the first stage of its ambitious plan to regenerate The Stables. The south-west corner of The Stables will in future become the main arrival point for Wentworth Woodhouse visitors – and as a result of this project, will house a production kitchen, with a new café and events space to follow.

The 197sq m kitchen will enable more catering outlets to be developed at what is fast becoming one of South Yorkshire’s most popular tourist destinations, and will be able to provide training for hospitality and catering skills, helping to address local skills shortages in the sector.

“This first stage of developing The Stables, part of a much wider regeneration programme we have planned for this enormous site, is only possible thanks to Rotherham Council’s determined and successful bid for Levelling Up investment, and the support of Historic England,” said Sarah McLeod, CEO of Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, which bought the site for £7 million in 2017 to restore and regenerate the South Yorkshire economy.

“It will help us to draw more visitors, which will further boost this region’s tourist economy and help us to employ more people. The kitchen will be a very valuable asset for delivering one of the Trust’s key aims – developing the skills of local people.”

Heritage construction specialist William Birch & Sons Ltd and heritage architects Donald Insall Associates, who recently restored the Grade II* listed Camellia House, have been appointed to The Stables kitchen and café project.

The complex consists of a carriage house, a riding school, Ostlers House and mews cottages, multiple stables and courtyards. From the late 1940s to the 1970s, areas were converted into classrooms and sports facilities for students of the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education, which opened in 1950.

William Birch’s team has overseen the demolition of the college buildings, which has revealed some hidden architectural features.

The original 18th Century yard which York architect John Carr created between the Carriage House and the Riding School has been exposed, uncovering areas finished with York stone flags, rather than the cobbles or gravel normally used.

Another surprise was the discovery of a well, which could have provided horses with fresh water, and the original doorway to the Riding School has been revealed intact. Along with other undamaged Georgian features, it proves the Lady Mabel College buildings were carefully constructed to cause minimal damage to original structures.

A freestanding scaffold and a temporary roof are now being constructed so that historic walls and decaying roof timbers can be repaired and roofs re-slated. Heritage craftsmen will be re-using original materials wherever possible.

Buildings that attach the Riding School to the main stable block will then be extended to accommodate the new kitchens. A photo from the past played an important part in architects Donald Insall Associates gaining planning permission for the extension.

The archive image, of the Earl Fitzwilliam’s chauffeur and car, was taken outside a garage which had been added to the Riding School and Stables – it was proof that the original footprint had previously been increased.

Work to create the kitchens is scheduled to be completed in 2024.

Leader of Rotherham Council, Councillor Chris Read said: “The Council aims to grow Rotherham’s leisure economy by making the most of our unique assets and green spaces and investing in training to support jobs in this sector.

“Wentworth Woodhouse is a local gem and these improvements will help in making it a spectacular visitor attraction to be enjoyed by locals and visitors for years to come.”

Other attractions also benefiting from the Levelling Up funding include Thrybergh Country Park, Rother Valley Country Park, Magna, Skills Street at Gulliver’s Valley and Maltby Learning Trust.

Pictured outside The Stables: Leader of Rotherham Council, Cllr Chris Read and Rotherham Council’s project manager Megan Hinchliff with Sarah McLeod, CEO of Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust.

Wentworth Woodhouse website

Published: 18th July 2023

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