At MORE than 120ft in the air, a breathtaking panorama of Yorkshire countryside, taking in rolling fields, rural villages, a country house and one of England’s biggest cities, stretches out for as far as the eye can see.
At one time, the view would have been seen from the top of a folly called Keppel’s Column, but because it has fallen into disrepair, a cherry-picker crane was required yesterday to recreate the impressive vista.
The machine was hired by Clifford Newbold, who owns nearby Wentworth Woodhouse, and his son Giles as part of their vision to restore and revive the house and park which was originally the home of the Fitzwilliam family.
The column, which is now the responsibility of Rotherham Council, once formed part of the estate, and Giles Newbold said it offered a “unique viewpoint” from which to document the landscape and understand how Wentworth was designed.
Mr Newbold and his father bought the crumbling house and parkland for just £1.5m in 1999, but have since spent tens of millions of pound researching its history and carrying out structural and engineering surveys to ascertain its condition.
The huge mansion, which is said to have 365 rooms, one for every day of the year, has had a chequered history since the Fitzwilliam family left in the 1950s, the National Coal Board opencasting the site for several years.
At present, the Newbold family are making a claim against the Coal Authority, which is now responsible for the after-effects of mining, and are arguing that both the opencast operations, and deep mining have affected the house.
Mr Newbold said the family had worked tirelessly in the last 12 years on the coal claim and on other plans to try and save Wentworth Woodhouse from complete dereliction, but added that it had required much work behind the scenes.
Now they have the support of English Heritage, and blueprints are being drawn up which could see the Grade-I listed house and its equally impressive stables and other buildings turned to a new modern use as offices and a luxury hotel.
Mr Newbold, a 36-year-old building surveyor said he, his 85-year-old father, an eminent London architect before his retirement, and his two brothers, were “absolutely committed” to ensuring that the estate had a “sustainable future”.
He added: “Over the last 10 years we have done a lot of research into the history of the estate but one thing we could not find were any pictures of it from the top of Keppel’s Column. So we hired the cherry-picker to see the view.
“Looking at the house and park from this angle allows us to see what survives of the original landscape and how the stripping out of the estate by the coal board, which went within a few feet of the house and 1,000 ft down, affected it.
“Being able to document the landscape will also help us to make an argument for the parkland and make sure it is protected in the same way as it is at country houses like Chatsworth and Castle Howard.
“There has been a school of thought that Wentworth isn’t worth saving, and charities like the National Trust would never have taken it on. But my father saw that it was worth saving and if it was lost it would be lost forever.
“The rest of the world absolutely craves our heritage and there is now a huge amount of interest in Wentworth Woodhouse, and we aim to ensure that it survives for centuries to come.”
The proposal for the mansion house is 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.
A Rotherham Council spokesman said yesterday morning’s event had been carried out in partnership with the Newbold family and allowed the authority’s officers to carry out a visual survey of Keppel’s Column and check its condition.
The spokesman said: “The survey was part of the authority’s ongoing care and maintenance of a number of heritage sites across the borough. It was a visual inspection and the findings will be reported back to members in due course.
“The operation also allowed the Mayor and Mayoress of Rotherham, Shaun and Lisa Wright, to take in some of the best views across Rotherham.”