The history of Wentworth Village is inextricably linked with the history of a great aristocratic family – the Wentworth’s, Watson’s and Fitzwilliam family – who lived at Wentworth Woodhouse for generations. Only recently, following the death of the 10th & last Earl Fitzwilliam in 1979 has the village started to lead a more independent existence.
The village itself dates back to at least 1066, when lands in the area were given to Adam de Newmarch and William le Flemming, later passing to the Canons of Bolton Abbey. It is not known how the Wentworth family came into the lands, but around 1250 they united by marriage with the Woodhouse family who lived outside the village on the site of what is now Wentworth Woodhouse. The Woodhouse lands were originally part of the manor of “frerehouse” which also included the sites of the modern Friars House, Friars Cottages and Boltons Yard. The combined Wentworth family went on to dominate the area for centuries, slowly acquiring more land, money and influence.
The first Wentworth family member to achieve national fame was Thomas Wentworth (b. 1593), 1st Earl of Strafford (left). He entered parliament and progressed rapidly through the ranks, becoming Lord President of the Council of the North (1628) and Lord Deputy of Ireland (1632), and no doubt acquiring a lot more land and money along the way. Unfortunately he must also have acquired a lot of enemies in the House of Commons because he was tried and beheaded for treason in 1641. His remains are buried under the Old Church in Wentworth.
On the death of the 2nd Earl of Strafford in 1695 the estate passed to the Watson (later Watson-Wentworth) family. It was the Watson-Wentworth’s (later Marquess’s of Rockingham) who were responsible for the building of what we know as Wentworth Woodhouse and the Hoober Stand and Keppel’s Column follies. They also gave the village some of its first public buildings such as the Barrow school and the former windmill on Clayfields Lane. The 2nd Marquess of Rockingham was twice Prime Minister of England.
The 4th Earl’s Fitzwilliam (or Wentworth-Fitzwilliam) inherited the estate in 1782 and was responsible for much of the early industrial development in the area, establishing numerous mines and factories in the surrounding towns and villages. This made the family even richer, and by the mid-nineteenth century they were thought to be the 6th wealthiest landowners in the country. They didn’t lose touch with the village though and gave money to establish the Mechanics Institute and the Girl’s School (now Wentworth C of E School) for the benefit of their tenants. They also built cottages for their workers in Wentworth and Elsecar, most of which exist to this day.
The 6th Earl built the magnificent Holy Trinity Church (the “new” church), the 7th Earl started a factory in Sheffield which produced one of the first motor cars (the Simplex), and the 8th Earl sadly died in a plane crash along with Kathleen Marchioness of Hartington, younger sister of J. F. Kennedy.
The Fitzwilliam’s ownership continued until the death of the 10th Earl in 1979. Since the death of the 10th Earl much of the property in the village has been owned and managed by the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust, which does an excellent job of preserving the character of the village and continues to make charitable donations for the benefit of residents. Wentworth Woodhouse has been under separate private ownership, and until recently was owned by the Newbold Family. The house has recently been purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust who will continue to look after and restore the house for the future. The rest of the Fitzwilliam (Wentworth) Estate, which still has significant land holdings in the area, is now under the stewardship of Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland.