Strong bonds forged with Wentworth Woodhouse in times gone by are supporting the house’s current fundraising campaign, Forge A Link.
The charitable trust regenerating the Rotherham stately home is giving supporters the chance to have their initials hand-stamped onto a 154 metres-long chain for the mansion’s famed East Front.
Donations have come from as far away as Australia – and many are being made in memory of family members who lived or worked at The Big House as far back as the 1800s.
The chain will replicate one which featured on the 606 feet-long facade for almost two centuries and will continue the restoration of original ironwork features on the East Front.
Blacksmiths at Ridgeway Forge in Attercliffe are hand-crafting 1,800 links using traditional methods and each one can be stamped with up to three initials in recognition of people who make donations of £50 or more.
“A number of links have been forged and stamped and are already in situ on the mansion’s Georgian portico,” said Mark Barthrop, the Preservation Trust’s Fundraising Officer.
“What’s really heartwarming for us is that each link is continuing an important connection people have with the house. Forge A Link supporters have proudly told us about their ancestors that worked here as servants, or in the Earls’ collieries. Some were students here in its Lady Mabel College of Physical Education era and others have grown up with the house on their landscape.”
Hoyland-born Jane Ainsworth reckons thousands of people could be connected via their relatives to the Earls Fitzwilliam.
“Hopefully they join the Forge a Link fundraiser as a permanent memorial to them,” said Jane, whose love affair with Wentworth Woodhouse began when she came back to her Barnsley roots 11 years ago.
She discovered that her mother’s great-great-aunt, Elizabeth Martha Horn, was a trusted servant to the Fitzwilliams.
“It was a lovely feeling to know that we had all these personal connections to the house,” said Jane.
Records show Elizabeth listed in 1861 as a 24-year-old spinster chambermaid, one of 35 servants at Wentworth Woodhouse.
Ten years later, she was a housemaid at the Fitzwilliams’ London home in Grosvenor Square.
By 1881, at 42 she was back at Wentworth Woodhouse and another 10 years later, and still unmarried, she was the housekeeper in charge of three staff at Grosvenor Square.
“She rose up the ranks to a very trusted role. She must have been in charge of the house, as the family were not occupants at the time,” said Jane.
Jane and her husband Paul are members of the Friends Of Wentworth Woodhouse scheme and are supporting the current Forge A Link campaign. The initials of Jane’s parents, Edith and John Charles Hardy, will be imprinted on two links of the hand-forged chain being created for the East Front.
“They were from Hoyland and Elsecar and their initials will represent their family connections to Wentworth Woodhouse. I think they would both be chuffed by that,” added Jane.
The Forge A Link campaign could bring in £40,000 before it closes at the end of the year.