A house of hope

Trainee teachers at Wentworth Castle enjoy their Christmas Ball, 1948

The house, gardens and parkland at Wentworth Castle were created as symbols of power, built from from the profits of slavery and exploitation. Today they serve a very different purpose.

The 18th century statues and monuments we see all around us at Wentworth Castle Gardens reflect a dramatic politcal 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 too. Like many in the 18th century, Thomas Wentworth was proud to show his connections to the Atlantic slave trade. A soldier and a diplomat, Thomas Wentworth played a key role in negotiating the Peace of Utrecht, an agreement that gave Britain a powerful monopoly on the Atlantic slave trade.

Sundial in the form of a kneeling man at Wentworth Castle Gardens

Political gardening at Wentworth Castle Gardens 

The gardens at Wentworth Castle are filled with symbolism. Some of the garden's monuments, like the Kneeling Slave statue in the Victorian Conservatory, are a reminder of the exploitation and suffering that helped put Thomas Wentworth in his position of power.

Giving something back

After the Wentworth family moved on, in the 20th and 21st centuries the Wentworth Castle estate has come 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.

Michael Barratt Brown, founding Principal of Northern College
Michael Barratt Brown, founding Principal of Northern College
Michael Barratt Brown, founding Principal of Northern College

After 30 years the teacher training college moved to Sheffield Polytechnic in the 1970s, and Northern College moved into Wentworth Castle. Founded by the economist, activist and educator Michael Barratt Brown, Northern College was established to give men and women from working class backgrounds without formal qualifications new opportunities and perspectives through 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 national miners’ strike of 1984-85, in which many staff and students at the College were actively involved.

The 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 a number of 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 today.