Political gardening at Wentworth Castle Gardens

The sun monument and Stainborough Castle at Wentworth Castle Gardens

Stories of power, wealth and politics, family infighting, misery and hope can be found all around Wentworth Castle Gardens – you just need to know where to look.

Sir Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739) created this estate to outshine his cousin’s, building a house and gardens to rival nearby Wentworth Woodhouse. This bold statement started centuries of work at Wentworth Castle Gardens, creating the stories hidden in monuments around the estate today.


Queen Anne Monument

In 1714, the crown of England controversially passed from the Stuart royal line to the Hanoverians. This 1734 monument is dedicated to Anne, the last Stuart monarch, and is unique in an English garden. It’s an almost treasonous statement by Thomas Wentworth, and hints at what he thought of the regime change (particularly since this change caused him to lose both his power and influence).

Patriotism and planting in the Union Jack Garden
The Union Jack Garden at Wentworth Castle Gardens, Yorkshire
Patriotism and planting in the Union Jack Garden

Union Jack Garden

The geometric design of this maze-like garden was very fashionable when it was first created for Thomas Wentworth in 1713. But there’s a patriotic message here too – Thomas created the design to combine the crosses of St George and St Andrew, celebrating the union of Scotland and England in 1707. This union was a proud moment in Queen Anne’s reign, and so even after her death this garden stands as proof of his loyalty to her.


The Sundial

Like many of his contemporaries, Wentworth benefitted from the sale and labour of enslaved Africans. This human misery helped pay for the house and gardens he built.

In 1711, Wentworth was appointed joint negotiator of the Treaty of Utrecht. Two years later, as part of these negotiations, Britain gained exclusive rights to supply enslaved Africans to the Spanish colonies in the Americas, known as the ‘Asiento’. Wentworth was a shareholder in the South Sea Company, which managed this trade. He considered the treaty a crowning achievement in his diplomatic career and something to be proudly represented in his house and gardens. He installed this sundial, now in the conservatory, in the form of a kneeling African man – a legacy of the enslavement of Africans and the objectification of Black bodies in British and European art.

In the same year that he was appointed to work on the Treaty of Utrecht, Wentworth married Anne Johnson (c.1684-1754). Anne was the daughter Sir Henry Johnson (c. 1659-1719), an incredibly wealthy and influential man who profited from the slave trade. He owned the Blackwall shipyard in London, which built vessels for the East India Company and the Navy. In 1716, Johnson was appointed Governor of Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, West Africa by the Royal African Company. It was one of about forty prison fortresses in which enslaved men, women and children were held before being transported.

When Thomas and Anne married, she brought with her a huge dowry of about £60,000 (worth £6.2m today), paid for by her family’s business activities. When Johnson died, Thomas, Anne and their heirs were beneficiaries. They inherited Blackwall and sold it in 1724 for £2,800 (approximately £325,000 today).

The Kneeling African at Wentworth Castle Gardens, on loan from Barnsley Museums
Sundial in the form of a kneeling man at Wentworth Castle Gardens
The Kneeling African at Wentworth Castle Gardens, on loan from Barnsley Museums

Lady Mary Memorial (or the Sun Monument)

This monument is thought to be the oldest in the country dedicated to a (then) living non-royal woman. It is a tribute from William Wentworth, Thomas’ son, to Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu. A poet and letter-writer, Lady Mary made medical history by pioneering inoculation against smallpox in the 1720s, with William and his sisters all being treated to protect them from the disease. She is also well known for her travel writing, including vivid descriptions of Muslim women and their lives in the 18th century Ottoman Empire.

It is also rumoured that the bronze disc which sits on top of the monument was angled to reflect the sunlight across to the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, in what must surely have been an annoying distraction on sunny days. Could this be another example of family rivalry on show?

Argyll Column

In 1744, William Wentworth dedicated this grand column to his late father in law, the 2nd Duke of Argyll. But is this simply a touching family tribute, or could this also be a political statement? Shortly before his death, the Duke had been punished for opposing the government's harsh anti-Jacobite policies in Scotland. This column dedicated to his memory is topped with a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, who faces south to London. Was William making a subtle political comment with this monument?