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If Walls Could Talk – History comes to life in new storytelling experience at Wentworth Woodhouse

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If These Walls Could Talk, a fascinating sound and vision experience, will take families back in time to hear the inside story of King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to Wentworth Woodhouse in 1912.

The King and Queen visited Rotherham as guests of Earl Fitzwilliam. Their stay, which included a visit to Cadeby Colliery, scene of a mining disaster, made many a headline.

The story was retold in the famous book about Wentworth Woodhouse, Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey, and in the recent blockbuster movie, Downton Abbey.

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Now it is being told from a new perspective. Housemaids and manservants, and even the characters of an oil painting from the 1600s, will be coming to life to talk to visitors.

Servants gossip as they work and the children of the 1st Earl of Strafford recall the visit they witnessed from their portrait by Van Dyck, which hung in the State Dining Room for centuries.

Their stories are full of true historical detail and are thanks to painstaking work by the research team at the Grade I listed mansion.

Scenes will be projected onto walls in the State Dining Room and onto gauze backdrops in other rooms and corridors. It will soon be on show in the famed Marble Saloon too.

The pilot project uses the latest technology and has been made possible with the support of a £40,000 Respond and Reimagine Grant from Art Fund, the UK’s national charity for art.

If it is a hit with visitors, the Preservation Trust regenerating the house hopes to do more If Walls Could Talk historic storytelling.

Visitor Operations Manager Jennifer Booth dreamed up the concept. “Children love to explore our big, empty rooms and corridors but many leave without knowing much of our history,” she explained.

“I set out to create a way of telling one of the mansion’s stories in a way that would surprise and delight families. Projection technology was the way for us to do it and it makes fabulous use of our stunning and spacious interiors.”

Award-winning Doncaster film-maker and multi-media specialist Wayne Sables captured the footage and employed Projection Mapping, a digital technique which utilises projected images, films and digital content.

West Yorkshire artists and drama practitioners Becky Newbould and Gemma Whelan, of the We Great Ladies, were involved from concept to creation and star in the footage.

They cast and co-ordinated the actors, who include West Yorkshire amateurs Stanley Hirst (11), Violet Hudson (10) and Tilly James (16) as the Earl’s children William Wentworth, Lady Anne and Lady Arabella.

Experienced scriptwriter Gemma wrote the script and Becky, whose background is in visual arts, embraced dipping back into history and consulting with Wentworth Woodhouse’s research team to ensure period detail and costumes were as accurate as possible.

Said Gemma: “We wanted to bring back to life the voices of the house that had stayed silent for many years and transport families back to a special time in history. The story is fun and engaging but also explains the huge class divide and empathises with the Cadeby mining tragedy, which brought the community together.”

The We Great Ladies will be present on the launch weekend of If These Walls Could Talk (August 7 and 8). The experience can be seen by visitors on house and gardens admission tickets every Wednesday to Sunday. Book at https://wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk/if-these-walls-could-talk-the-royal-visit/

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Tom Austen
Tom grew up in Aston, Rotherham and studied Human Geography at Nottingham Trent University before developing a passion for promoting Rotherham and a nose for a good story.

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