Local News

New exhibition digs deep to tell the real story of Wentworth Woodhouse’s mining history


share close

It is known worldwide as the Black Diamonds house built on coal.

And while it’s true that a seam runs beneath Wentworth Woodhouse, Rotherham’s Grade I listed architectural masterpiece was actually built BEFORE the black stuff reaped gold for its noble owners.

The saying has now been debunked by a team of local history buffs responsible for the first exhibition exploring the mansion’s 200 year coal-mining history.

Wentworth’s Coal Story, which launches on July 9 and runs until October 6, explains how the fossil fuel industry affected the mansion’s rise and fall, with all information painstakingly collated by 15 of Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust’s team of research volunteers.

Staged in two of the mansion’s ground floor rooms, Wentworth’s Coal Story explores the stories of the men who worked underground on estate land and their relationships with their aristocratic employers.

One of the researchers, former teacher Joan Jones, commented: “We have been totally absorbed in the house’s mining history for months and found out many interesting things. What stood out for me was the fact that, when the First Marquess of Rockingham began building Wentworth Woodhouse in 1724, he had only one mine.

“It had opened in 1723 and employed just a handful of men. It certainly didn’t fund his architectural ambitions. Income from his vast estates paid for that.

“At the end of the 18th century the entrepreneurial 4th Earl Fitwilliam inherited just as mining techniques and transportation were improving and by the mid 1800s, his income from the mines rocketed.”

At the heart of the exhibition is a fascinating collection of cherished memorabilia and old photographs loaned by local people after an appeal from the Trust.

The Trust’s Head of Culture and Engagement, Victoria Ryves, explained: “The 40th anniversary year of the UK miners’ strike prompted us to examine our coal story.

“Over the years the Rockinghams and Fitzwilliams developed scores of pits, which brought them vast wealth, and they provided for the families of their colliers. All of this features in our exhibition, but we were determined to include the memories of people from these mining communities. We wanted to know how they lived and worked, about their hobbies and social lives.

“We were over the moon with the response we got after appealing for stories and memorabilia. People told us fascinating things and loaned us possessions handed down through generations. They tell another side of the story and it is really important social history.”

Over 30 exhibits will include a pair of rabbit skin gloves hand-made by a miner, a Fitzwilliam  Medal presented by Countess Maud Fitzwilliam in 1904 to a collier who displayed great kindness to a pit pony, numerous commemorative plates, miners’ lamps, photographs and never-before displayed items from Wentworth Woodhouse’s archive.

The exhibition will also feature a specially-written song called The Pony’s Tale and a short film about how coal is made.

Pit disasters, mining methods and safety developments and the impact  of mining on the landscape – not least the Government-ordered opencasting from 1943, which reached the lawns of the mansion’s West Front – are also told.

During its three-month run, there will be opportunities to find out more about miners’ lives.

‘Down The Pit’ on July 30 gives families with children over eight a chance to discover what working life was like underground, meet a former collier, make charcoal drawings and pack up a ‘miner’s snap tin’.

Former miners are being invited to talk over old times at coffee mornings on September 3 and October 1 and on September 19, a folk night is being staged at the house. Performed by Alan Wood and John Snook, Remember The Coal is described as a musical journey telling the story of the mining industry through original folk songs and spoken narrative.

Research team member and former nurse Valerie Hales commented: “It’s an unmissable local history event. Mining is deeply embedded in our region’s history and people who have a strong connection to our coal-mining past will find lots to reminisce over, but we also hope that new generations will come to discover how their ancestors lived and worked.”

[Queen Mary, pictured visiting a Fitzwilliam mine during the 1912 Royal visit]

Written by: Rother Radio

Search Rother Radio

About Us

Rother Radio – Love Local, Love Music! → Discover more