Guest Blogger: Carla Stebbing explores a newly catalogued Barnsley Archives collection relating to Wentworth Castle College of Education.
Wentworth Castle Gardens is run as a unique partnership between Northern College, National Trust and Barnsley Museums. This grade-1 listed landscape is the only one in South Yorkshire, encompassing gardens, parkland, monuments and mansion house. For thirty years, from 1948-1978, the house was home to the Wentworth Castle College of Education. In 1978, when the College closed its doors for the final time, huge quantities of administrative records were carefully boxed up and sent to the South Yorkshire County Record Office in Sheffield – a decisive act to ensure that all that had been achieved by the College in its 30-years was on record for posterity. There were in excess of 120 boxes, filled to the brim with meeting minutes, all manner of student records, financial paperwork, architectural plans, photographs, commemorative items and some older items relating to the history of the house and estate. At that point in time, providing access to the collection was not a top priority as most of the records were relatively recent and/or confidential in nature. Fast forward three decades and the collection was to be found safely in the custody of Sheffield City Archives, the successor to the old South Yorkshire County Record Office. However, in 2010 the collection was eventually transferred into the custody of Barnsley Archives and Local Studies, the archive service responsible for preserving and providing access to the historic archives of the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley. The team in Barnsley immediately recognised the importance and potential of the collection. Such was the size of the collection though, that it would require dedicated resources and time to make it fully accessible. That opportunity came in 2022. Thanks to a partnership project between the National Trust and Barnsley Museums, I was given the opportunity to catalogue the collection, with the help and support of the team at Barnsley Archives
My first task was to understand more about the house, the estate and how it had been used over the centuries, including before and after it operated as the College of Education. It became apparent that very little was known of Wentworth Castle and its site before the seventeenth century. The Everingham family occupied the original Stainborough Hall which stood on the site. This was sold to the Cutler family during the 17th century, and they rebuilt it in the 1670s. However, Sir Gervase Cutler was said to be reckless and extravagant, and his son Henry was forced to sell the estate to the Wentworth family in 1708. Thomas Wentworth was the son of a member of the Wentworth family who were Yorkshire gentry, and also the great-nephew of his namesake, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, the great minister of King Charles I. The big family home was Wentworth Woodhouse, a few miles down the road, which Thomas expected to inherit, but instead it went to a cousin. That is when he purchased Stainborough Hall from the Cutlers in order to create a rival to Wentworth Woodhouse. Just a few years later, he renamed the estate ‘Wentworth Castle’ and even built a folly castle in the gardens.
When Thomas Wentworth died in 1739, his son William took over the large estate. He was a very cultured, travelled man, and knew influential figures like Mary Wortley, after whom he dedicated a monument in the grounds of the estate. The 18th century saw a huge programme of building work, to create the house as we see it today. Two new wings were added and Sir Nikolaus Pevsner later commented that the east range was “of a palatial splendour uncommon in England.” It became a stunning, magnificent house in a picturesque setting, with the gardens and parkland being laid out and substantially developed. Wentworth remained a private house until 1948, with the last member of the Wentworth family to occupy it being Captain Bruce Vernon-Wentworth. He agreed to sell Wentworth, along with other buildings and 60 acres of garden and parkland, to the Barnsley Corporation. His only condition was that it would be used for the public good.
Following the sale of Wentworth Castle to the Barnsley Corporation for £21,000, and the subsequent conversion work, Wentworth Castle Teacher Training College (later College of Education) opened its doors to trainee teachers in September 1948. It was to provide a vital function for the area and for the country by offering sound and practical training for women aiming to teach. It came in response to an appeal from the Ministry of Education to Local Authorities to establish colleges to surmount the post-war shortage of teachers. A further £28,000 was spent on the adaptation of the building, £27,000 on equipping it, and £7,000 on the purchase of the surrounding grounds. The first year saw an intake of sixty students with a staff of eight including the principal, Miss Jennie Richardson.
In the early years, annual recruitment remained at sixty. In 1957 the figure was increased to sixty-five and the introduction of a three-year course in 1960 brought the total number of students within the region of 200. By 1969 that figure had reached 302! The increase in the College population was met by the opening of a new lecture block containing two lecture rooms, two art rooms and a geography room, as well as tutorial and cloakroom accommodation. Later, a second lecture-block housed the Reading and the Community Education centres, as well as providing accommodation for Education and Mathematics.
However, the situation was to change quite quickly, and by the 1970s the teacher training crisis was over and questions were raised about the future of Wentworth Castle. It seemed likely that it would be replaced by an adult education college. This coincided with a need to update and renovate some of the internal fabric. Much work had been completed in the 1940s when the building was first converted into a College, but the need for a further programme of alterations was highlighted in order to bring facilities up to modern standards and also to correct some of the mistakes made in the 1940s. This new programme of restoration and renovation took place from 1977-78, by which time the decision to discontinue the College of Education had been taken. The staff of the College meticulously photographed the restoration work, as ceilings were removed, plaster replaced and electric cabling updated. The Dining Room was the focus of much of the work that was undertaken at that time.
Wentworth Castle College of Education finally closed its doors at the end of the summer term in 1978, on the direction of the Department of Education and Science, as one of the Government’s measures to reduce the number of teacher training places in line with the falling birth rate. Plans had been afoot for a replacement and the building was quickly reborn as Northern College, which opened for the autumn term the same year. Northern College was billed as the new Adult Education College for the North – the only such College between Birmingham and Scotland. The aim was to provide an opportunity for adults, who had been unable to continue their education, to pursue a course of study in a residential setting. The courses, varying in length from five weeks to two years, required few or no formal qualifications. Most of the financial backing for the new Northern College came from the four education authorities in South Yorkshire – Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. Further contributions came from the trade unions, the Workers’ Education Association, Sheffield University and Polytechnic, and South Yorkshire County Council. Northern College continues to this day, with that same ethos of helping adults back into education; of giving everybody that second chance.
Whilst working through the historic records of the College, the first and probably hardest task was to identify and organise the many series of records within the collection. They had not been boxed-up in any particular order, so it was necessary to do an initial trawl of every box. After that, I could start to group records. The College was affiliated to the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Education, so the first few series of records consisted of minutes and papers not only of the College but of the Institute too. Used together, they provide a very good history of the College and exactly how it was administered by the University of Sheffield.
Probably the largest single grouping of records related to the many students who had passed through the College during its 30-year history. For each student there are applications, admission files, progress records and photographs. Similarly, there are records of the many teaching and support staff who worked at the College. There are records of the site, the buildings and financial transactions. There are also very extensive records relating to teaching and the curriculum – the subjects that were studied and how the students were taught. The collection even includes the annual examination papers that the students sat.
The collection includes lots of ephemeral items which help to flesh out the story of the College. These include commemorative programmes, newspaper cuttings and prospectuses. The principal’s prompt cards from her closing speech survive, which highlight the achievements of the College, whilst thanking local dignitaries and supporters. There are also a number of more historical items relating to the estate when the Wentworth family were still in situ. These had been in the College library for many years and were simply boxed up with the rest of the administrative papers in 1978. And finally, the collection includes a very extensive series of photographs – of the Wentworth family, the house, the grounds, and the students. College staff were seemingly very keen for these to survive, and they were all delicately packed away in envelopes. As part of the project, these were all sorted, largely identified (with the help of Wentworth Castle volunteers), and digitised.
I am pleased to have been part of this project to open up this unique archive collection for the first time. The hope is that the records will be accessed, used and enjoyed by those who attended the College; their relatives; historians interested in the history of further education; and by those interested in the rich history of the wider Wentworth Castle estate. Even today, 45 years after the closure of the College, former students regularly make the pilgrimage to see the house and gardens. Did you train as a teacher at Wentworth? If so, get in touch with Barnsley Archives to share your story, access your student file, and see the photographs that you appear in. They can be telephoned on 01226 773950 or emailed at Archives@barnsley.gov.uk. The vast archive can be accessed in person at Barnsley Archives, based in Barnsley Town Hall, and the collection catalogue can be browsed here:
In addition, highlights of the collection are currently on display in the Long Barn Café at Wentworth Castle:
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