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Forget gnomes, this is the last word in garden ornaments

Written by on 23/10/2020

For most householders the idea of garden ornamentation goes no further than a few gnomes or some hanging baskets.

But things were a little different at Wentworth Woodhouse, created in an era when outdoor fashion was influenced by the likes of Capability Brown rather than television makeover shows.

The stately home – with the longest frontage of any house in the country – was a byword for lavish oppulence when it was created by the Fitzwilliam family on the back of profits from coal mining in the 18th Century and was built in the Rotherham village of Wentworth.

And now it is undergoing the biggest current restoration project after the Houses of Parliament, details of the level of extravagance have emerged.

A year-long project to replace the roof has now come to an end and in addition to making the building watertight, it has involved restoring a series of 20 giant stone urns and imposing statues which decorate the roof.

The design of the building means they are out of bounds for close inspection and can be seen – at best – by staring skywards from the ground.

That did not stop the Fitzwilliams demanding the best, however, regardless of the engineering feats which must have been needed to hoist them into place.

Today, modern cranes have been employed to take the urns down for restoration but the statues are so large they were left in position as work was done to preserve them for the future.

Despite the challenges of replacing a stately home’s roof, the project was opened up for public viewings with walkways suitable for disabled access, which gave a rare glimpse of the house from a unique viewpoint.

The restoration is being conducted by the Wentworth Woodhouse Consveration Trust, which took over the house recently. It has been in private ownership for decades wit public access severely limited and was in a state of decay, needing a hugely expensive package of work, largely being financed by grants.

Woodhead Construction were called in for the roofing job, a project which quantity surveyor Amy Stamford does not expect to be bettered during her career.

Even constructing the scaffolding which allowed access to the roof, under a plastic tent, was a logistical challenge as it had to be a free-standing structure unsupported by the house.

Amy said: “The scaffolding was one of the biggest problems, just to make it work, because it is not tied into the building.

“The roof and structural repairs are one of the biggest risks because until we undid it, we did not know what it would be like.

“We thought it would be nasty, but in fact it was in good condition.

“Building sites are generally not open to the public, but then they came up with the public walkways and the guys on site have been able to show their families what we have done. That is something the don’t generally get to do,” she said.

The stone urns were pinned together and had deteriorated, with some needing total replacement.

It appears the house had been hit by lightning at some point, due to damage to two urns and a statue.

While the Fitzwilliams may have been sticklers for the finest in decorative terms, not everything was done to perfection.

Leaks in the roof were blamed on insufficent drainage capacity, leaving water standing for too long, rather than serious faults with the roof itself. That flaw has been corrected as part of the restoration.