Memories and images of the derelict Camellia House in the grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham are being sought by specialists now steering plans for its restoration.
Redeveloping the Grade II* listed Camellia House into a daytime cafe and evening events venue is Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust’s first major project to bring a derelict building back into use.
The Trust, which bought the house in 2017, is taking the building back to its original use – in 1738 it was an orangery with a tea room created for Lady Rockingham, wife of the 1st Marquess, to entertain her guests.
It became home to camellias when the 2nd Marquess became one of the earliest English collectors of the rare blooms being brought from China and Japan in Georgian times.
Though now a shell, the building still houses some of the oldest and rarest camellias in the Western world. They will have pride of place in the new cafe and will be carefully protected during building work, which it is hoped will begin next year.
The project can now move on a-pace thanks to the recent appointment of architects, a project organiser and a quantity surveyor.
After a competitive tendering process, UK-wide architects Donald Insall Associates will be developing designs and applying to Rotherham Council for planning permission.
The award-winning practice recently worked on two phases of restoration work and emergency repairs at the mansion alongside quantity surveyors Rex Procter and Partners, of Leeds, and Project Organiser David Trevis-Smith, of Warwickshire-based DTS Solutions. Both firms have also successfully tendered for the Camellia House project.
Commented Mr Trevis-Smith: “We would love the public to share with us old photos and any memories they have of the Camellia House.
“As heritage specialists we constantly learn about the buildings as we work on them, but there are things we will never find out from examining bricks and mortar.
“Having more pieces of the jigsaw will help us greatly in the planning process. Local people whose ancestors worked in the house and gardens, or who visited decades ago could hold fascinating nuggets of information,” he added.
A National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £1.5m received in late 2019, is funding the three consultancy firms to develop plans for the Camellia House and also for three other beautiful and redundant 18th and 19th century buildings on the site.
Match funding is being provided by Historic England, Garfield Weston Foundation, Architectural Heritage Fund, Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust, Pilgrim Trust and Ian Addison Charitable Trust.
As revealed in the Trust’s 20-year Masterplan, the Riding School is earmarked as a major conference and events space, the South Range of the Stables for retail, events and cafe spaces and the Ostler’s House as overnight guest accommodation.
The Camellia House will have its own kitchens and will operate as a daytime cafe and a dining and events venue in the evenings.
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust CEO Sarah McLeod said: “Thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund we now have trusted and expert consultants onboard for this crucial first stage in our plans for the Camellia House.
“We hope to be able to tender for the construction work by the end of this year but first, substantial fundraising will need to be done. This will include a public appeal to raise around £500,000 towards this multi-million-pound scheme.”
Donald Insall Associates is known for conservation work at some of Britain’s most significant stately homes. “It has been an honour and privilege to work with a highly skilled team of conservation specialists at Wentworth Woodhouse and we are looking forward to working on the Camellia House,” said Dorian Proudfoot, Associate Director. “Its redevelopment is the next stage in securing a sustainable future for the magnificent stately home.”
Ian Tomlinson, a director of Rex Procter and Partners, commented: Our professional relationship with the property and its custodians started in 2009. We are excited by the vision for the Camellia House and Stable Block range, which will bring many new visitors, and look forward to working on what we are sure will be a challenging and ultimately rewarding series of projects.”
Images: WWPT / Alwin Greyson