Changing the legacy of Wentworth Castle Gardens
The house, gardens and parkland at Wentworth Castle were created as symbols of power, built from the profits of slavery and exploitation. Today they serve a very different purpose, providing fresh starts through education, and working to support people affected by trauma, addiction and modern slavery.
The estate in the 18th century
The 18th century statues and monuments we see all around at Wentworth Castle Gardens reflect a dramatic political era. For the privileged few, like Sir Thomas Wentworth, gardens like these could be used to make grand gestures, making their allegiances clear in turbulent political times.
There are some challenging truths to face in these gardens. Like many in the 18th century, Thomas Wentworth was proud to show his connections to the Atlantic slave trade. A soldier and diplomat, he played a key role in negotiating the Peace of Utrecht, an agreement that gave Britain a powerful monopoly on the Atlantic slave trade.
The estate in the 20th century
After the Wentworth family moved on, the Wentworth Castle Estate came to symbolise something entirely different.
In the years following the Second World War, the British government made a huge investment in improving education for all as part of the new welfare state. In 1948 Barnsley Council purchased the Wentworth Castle Estate, caring for this unwanted country house and giving it a new lease of life as a teacher training college.
Northern College at Wentworth Castle
In the 1970s, the teacher training college moved to Sheffield Polytechnic, and Northern College moved into Wentworth Castle.
Founded by the economist, activist and educator Michael Barratt Brown, Northern College was established to give individuals from working class backgrounds without formal qualifications new opportunities and offer fresh perspectives to education.
'The aim was to help… lay the foundations for building a better society for working people.'
- Michael Barratt-Brown, founder of Northern College
Along with many of its early tutors, the College had explicitly left-wing political aims, which won it both passionate supporters and bitter opponents through the 1980s. This reached a peak during the UK miners’ strike of 1984–85, in which many staff and students at the College were actively involved.
The college today
The Northern College has continued to evolve and still operates from the house at Wentworth Castle. The College has a proud 40-year legacy, having changed thousands of lives, including people recovering from trauma and addiction.
It recently launched a programme for people whose lives have been affected by modern day slavery, drawing upon the history of Wentworth Castle to inspire its work.
Find stories of wealth and politics, misery and hope in Wentworth Castle Gardens' history, including its important monuments and connections to slavery.
Discover the story of the woman commemorated by Wentworth Castle Gardens’ obelisk, which is among the oldest monuments in the UK dedicated to a woman based on personal achievements.
Discover the must-sees when visiting Wentworth Castle Gardens and exploring its centuries of history.