People Places

An American tale

Photograph by The Telegraph

They say that American schoolchildren know more about Wentworth Woodhouse than their British counterparts. More astonishingly, there are far more people in Sheffield who have probably never heard of it.

Wentworth Woodhouse, just over the Sheffield border with Rotherham, is the result of building work carried out by Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693-1750), who built it between 1724 to 1749. It is remarkable for consisting of two houses built as one. The famous Palladian east front hides the grand Baroque west-wing behind.

His son, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (1730-1782), was a committed Whig and became Prime Minister of Great Britain on two occasions – between 1765-1766 and in 1782.

He spent most of his political career in opposition to George III’s Government, but Wentworth Woodhouse became a seat of political activity, where ‘The Rockingham Whigs’ including Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox and the Duke of Portland met to draft policies.

He argued consistently with reconciliation with America at a time when thirteen colonies were becoming increasingly at odds with Great Britain. However, he failed to convince most of the House of Commons and as a result there was the long and bloody American War of Independence (1775-1783).

When he took office again in 1782 it was on condition that George III recognise American Independence, but Wentworth died before terms of peace could be negotiated. As one historian says, he was “a champion of a lost cause.”

But don’t think that he was a radical, initially believing that America shouldn’t be given independence. “Our object has always been to try to preserve a friendly union between the colonies and the Mother Country.”

The American War of Independence ended a year later, marking the end of British rule and the formation of the United States of America.