A tale of two Wentworths

Portrait of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (1672-1739)

At the heart of Wentworth Castle Gardens is a story of bitter family feud.

The Wentworths were one of the most important families in Yorkshire. Long before the time of the English Civil War (1642-1651), members of the Wentworth family had held seats of power and influence in the area, building the imposing estate at Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire as their home.

When William Wentworth, the 2nd Earl of Strafford (1626-1695) died childless, his nephew Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739) expected to inherit the family fortune and their grand home at Wentworth Woodhouse. However his hopes were dashed when the fortune and Wentworth Woodhouse instead passed to his cousin, Thomas Watson.

Infuriated, Thomas Wentworth used his skills as a soldier and diplomat to plot revenge. Within a few years he had bought, extended and renamed his own house and estate, just six miles away from Wentworth Woodhouse, here at the estate we now know as Wentworth Castle. In 1711 he was even able to acquire the old family title, the Earldom of Strafford – all to outshine his “obnoxious relative”.

The sun monument and Stainborough Castle at Wentworth Castle Gardens

Political gardening at Wentworth Castle Gardens

As you walk around this impressive landscape, you’re looking at centuries of drama and politics. But how do monuments, statues and buildings help us truly understand the history of this place?

Recognised as one of the UK's greatest 18th century landscaped estates, the house and gardens Thomas had built are also closely tied to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In 1713 Thomas Wentworth was instrumental in securing for Britain the lucrative monopoly to transport and sell enslaved Africans to the Spanish empire. The design of his grand house and garden was in part a celebration of his pride in this ‘achievement’. Thomas also made direct profit from the trade – partly from shares he owned and partly through his marriage to Anne Johnson (c.1684-1754), whose family were deeply involved in the slave trade through building ships for the East India Company and working for the Royal African Company.

The rivalry continued into the next generation, as Thomas Wentworth's son William (1722-91) continued to expand and develop the estate after his father's death. A source of great pride to both, the gardens are a celebration of wealth, created at a colossal human cost.

The only Grade I listed parkland and gardens in South Yorkshire, Wentworth Castle Gardens is home to no fewer than 26 listed buildings and monuments, each of them with a different story to tell.