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You can now buy the sprawling Mr Darcy estate that inspired Jane Austen's classic romantic hero in 'Pride and Prejudice'


As far as houses go, it's a pretty imposing prospect - with a rich, colourful and often scandalous history.

Britain's biggest private house and the place that inspired Jane Austen to create her dashing Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice has gone on sale for a cool £7 million.

Wentworth Woodhouse sadly doesn't come with a soggy-topped Colin Firth in tow (per the hit 1995 TV series), but the enormous Yorkshire mansion does boast 370 rooms, an exterior that's longer than Buckingham Palace (at 600 ft) and a series of splendid, if slightly worn, 18th century design details.

The striking chap who once inhabited the estate, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, was Jane Austen's muse for Darcy when she penned her classic novel in the early 19th Century.

He is said to have inspired her to create both her enigmatic fictional hero and his home, Pemberley Estate, which was based on Wentworth Woodhouse.

The 4th Earl Fitzwilliam

The 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, owner of Wentworth Woodhouse and the inspiration for Jane Austen's Mr Darcy

mr darcy

1995's Pride & Prejudice TV series, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth

Built by the First Marquess of Rockingham in 1725, Wentworth Woodhouse spans five miles of corridors, and has a room for every day of the year (this is a house you don't want to get lost in - you could spend all day finding your way back).

Back in the day, it was one of the grandest houses in Europe and guests were given baskets of confetti to create a trail from the dining room back to their quarters.

The level of luxury and excess was staggering - there was a room for almost everything you could think of, from lightbulbs to candles, and quarters for the in-house family barber.

In 1841 alone, over 1000 people were employed on the estate, in occupations ranging from carpenters, masons, joiners and labourers, to gardeners, housekeepers, servants and more unusual jobs such as "rat catcher" and "state bed maker".

The interiors were resplendent with magnificent Baroque and Palladian detail, from the giant marble saloon reception hall (where Anna Pavlova once danced for King George V) to the gilted Whistle Jacket room and an enormous statement chandelier in the Van Dyke room.

The outside space comprises 83 acres of landscaped gardens studded with temples, monuments and follies.

The grand estate fell into a state of decline in the 1950s, clocking up huge repair bills that ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds. And it was a turbulent few years for the family at that time as well; Peter, the 8th Earl of Fitzwilliam, fell passionately in love with "Kick" Kennedy, the sister of JFK - despite already being married.

The two embarked on an affair that ended in tragedy in 1948, when the private jet they were travelling on to France crashed during a thunderstorm. 

Six months after the Earl's death, the estate was sold to the Lady Mabel College of Further Education and the ornate marble hall became a gym. In the years to come it was also used by Sheffield Polytechnic. 

Architect Clifford Newbold brought the estate back as a private home 15 years ago and resolved to restore it to its former glory.

However, aged 89, it's thought he no longer has the energy to continue refurbishments on the mansion in Rotherham, South Yorkshire and is looking to sell to a charitable trust. 

"After such a ‘labour of love’ it is with great regret that we have made the difficult decision to move on," the family said in a statement.

"The most important thing is to see the house in safe hands and the preservation of the finest Georgian interiors in the country for future generations to enjoy."


A gorgeous exterior snap

Save Britain’s Heritage is backing an appeal to raise funds for the sale.

"The proposal is that the magnificent Baroque and Palladian mansion, which in many European countries would be called a palace, and the 83 acres which run with it, are placed in a new charitable trust," it says. "The purpose of the trust would be to give this great building a secure future with regular access to the public and viable uses for substantial parts of the building to contribute to the costs of repair and maintenance." 

It estimates a further £42 million will be needed in the next 15 years, for vital repairs and maintenance. 

"Wentworth Woodhouse is a property of great national importance and its descendants have played such an important role in the history of the United Kingdom and South Yorkshire," says Julie Kenny, chair of the Wentworth Woodhouse Presentation Trust. "It is vitally important that Wentworth Woodhouse is saved for the future." 


The imposing courtyard

Images: Rex Features and Dine



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