I have lost count of the number of times I have jogged past the East Front of Wentworth Woodhouse on one of my many dispiriting fitness attempts. I’ve just about managed to obtain access to the grounds when taking the kids to the classic car exhibits during recent years. But to live so close to the largest private home in the UK for over 30 years without recalling the opportunity to peer inside has become slightly irksome.
A troubled recent past for the house has included inconsistency of ownership, disputes with the coal board and varying degrees of disrepair both internally and externally. This has suggested that public tours of the vast building were more than likely not at the forefront of the proprietors thinking.
So, when the opportunity arose to drop in for a food and craft fair, organised by Gifts & Grub, on a beautiful summers day, where there was food, beer and gin amongst other things, I was hard-pressed not to go!
It must be said that first impressions of the event were little more than underwhelming. A small number of stalls were dotted outside the main house, their modesty exacerbated by the vast surroundings of the estate. This, coupled with the £5 entry fee led to a fair bit of consternation on whether this event would live up to the billing. However, we were assured by staff that there were further stalls and activities being held within the main house, so off we set with optimism rather than expectation.
Once down at stall level, the atmosphere was certainly more appealing. A half-moon of stalls mainly focused on food and drink with all their accompanying theatre and odours opened out into an eating area in front of the grand old building. All with a backdrop of the quintessentially British brass band sound, the scene was definitely set.
Swerving the gin stall for fear of not moving anywhere else (seriously, who puts a gin stall first?!), we were drawn to an Indian food stall by their wonderful aromas. Pavs Dhaba looked to specialise in Indian street food, with a selection of Thaali, Snack Boxes and Wraps filled with either a spicy, curried chicken or spicy, curried lentils. Opting for the chicken wrap, the fair whack of spicy chicken was the first flavour to hit, closely followed by the cooling salad and minted yoghurt. It was a flavourful snack which necessitated a visit to the next available beer tent to cool those taste buds down.
Fuggle Bunny were that next available beer tent. And a tastefully decorated tent it was too – the makeshift bar with its three available beer pumps surrounded by ornamental rabbits and pottery branded with the company name. We chose the amber ale over the two pale varieties simply for its smooth nature, the pale ales a little on the hoppier side for our tastes. Needless to say, it went down rather well and took the remainder of those chili embers with it.
Still excited about the inner workings of the big house, we made our way inside. Enormous pillars welcomed us into the entrance hall with its many array of human sculptures of what resembled alabaster. There was a huge variety of animal heads and hunting trophies adorning the walls – from buffalo to stags, ox to wolf. Their excellent taxidermy and eerie up lighting proving a little too much for our eldest child, who chose to only use the rooms without these decorations.
A larger number of stalls were contained within the house – dedicated more towards arts and crafts. Homemade children’s toys, gift ideas, artisanal French soaps and jewellery were all represented in some regard. However, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that we were taken by the stall with the chutney samples based upstairs. Pucketts Pickles based out of York had a fine array of standard chutneys such as caramelized onion and beetroot, however we were more taken by the unusual pickle combinations – cucumber & lemon and oriental carrots. Light and perfect for a summer salad, they were an unusual take on the tried and tested pickling technique.
A couple of home-made buns for the kids and our time at the fair was coming to a close. As we left down the main stairwell, the broad wooden stairs cascading round the outer edges of the circular room like an enormous bear-hug, we couldn’t fail to notice that we were the only people on the whole flight. With more history and grandeur to marvel at than anywhere else I would care to think of, it was both disappointing and indicative of the overall day that this was the case.
The setting for an event such as this was spectacular. Each room vastly different from the last – high ceilings, elaborate decor and old worldly charm. There was an excellent venue, some wonderful food, smooth ales, no shortage of crafts…but few punters. I hope however that this issue can be fixed and that this becomes a yearly event. Not only does Wentworth Woodhouse need events such as this for both upkeep and publicity but I think that Yorkshire deserves to have access to such a grand and beautiful building. Its looks can rival any other stately home in Britain, it just appears that metaphorical marketing lipstick and blusher are required to send it, and events such as this, to the heights it deserves.