Tucked away amid the coalfields of South Yorkshire is the British aristocracy’s most notorious secret – a sort of Dark Downton Abbey.
Wentworth Woodhouse, once the grandest country pile in England and bigger than both Buckingham and Blenheim Palaces, is crumbling. And it’s taking its nefarious family history with it.
Three years ago the BBC announced plans to film some of Wentworth’s 250-year history as a shocking costume drama to rival ITV’s Downton Abbey. It would expose the sex scandals, reckless spending and eccentricities that the owners, the Earls Fitzwilliam, struggled for centuries to hush up.
The estate, near Rotherham, was a land with its own laws, where the earl could claim the right to bed the daughters of his working-class tenants, and servants lived almost like slaves.
But since the house’s last private owner died three years ago, Wentworth has fallen into disrepair. Last month, a Daily Mail investigation revealed it could cost $150m to restore the house, with its 365 rooms, to its former glory.
Plans for the BBC drama have caved in too, so would-be viewers must use their imaginations. And as author Catherine Bailey uncovers in her biography of the house, Black Diamonds, there’s enough wicked history to make the most vivid imagination boggle – as our riveting two-part adaptation reveals.
Read more starting at ‘History went up in flames, during three long weeks in July 1972, when the tenth and last Earl Fitzwilliam ordered the bulk of his family’s 20th-century records to be destroyed – in a maniacal attempt to hide three generations of secrets and scandal.’ at………
Secret scandals of a real Downton: It was our grandest country house, but the sexual proclivities, reckless spending and eccentricities of the family who owned Wentworth Woodhouse were mind-boggling