Skip to content

Changing the legacy of Wentworth Castle Gardens

Visitors walking near the 18th century Palladian mansion at Wentworth Castle Gardens, South Yorkshire on a sunny autumnal day
Walking at Wentworth Castle Gardens | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

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.

Two people and a dog are silhouetted standing next to the rotunda. The rotunda is a round brick building supported by six pillars surrounding it and has steps leading up to it.

Discover more at Wentworth Castle Gardens

Find out when Wentworth Castle Garden is open, how to get here, things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

View of the Sun Monument along the avenue at Wentworth Castle Gardens

The history of Wentworth Castle Gardens 

Find stories of wealth and politics, misery and hope in Wentworth Castle Gardens' history, including its important monuments and connections to slavery.

Painting of Lady Mary Pierrepont, later Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) by after Jonathan Richardson the younger. A three-quarter length portrait showing Lady Mary standing, wearing a black dress.

Who was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu? 

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.

Visitors strolling through Wentworth Castle Gardens, South Yorkshire

Things to see and do at Wentworth Castle Gardens 

Discover the must-sees when visiting Wentworth Castle Gardens and exploring its centuries of history.