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A £15,000 fundraising campaign to restore the clock and bells on Wentworth Woodhouse’s spectacular East Front struck its target in just two weeks – thanks to a £10,000 donation to remember a much-loved son.

Brinsworth lorry driver, Lee Rollinson, died in 2021 and his 81-year-old mother has ensured his memory lives on through her generous gift to the Just In Time appeal.

Keen walker Lee Rollinson

Launched by Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust on 2nd February, the appeal aims to get the clock and bells on the mansion’s North Tower chiming again after remaining silent for over 60 years.

The campaign wasn’t due to close until 29th March, but just two weeks in, the trust’s fundraising team were stunned to receive a phone call pledging two thirds of the sum they needed.

Lee’s mum Patricia, 81, was the caller.

“I heard about the Just In Time appeal and rang up straight away. I said: I want to help you in my son’s name,” she explained.

“I love history and have always known about Wentworth Woodhouse. I’ve never been inside the mansion, but I have lots of books about it and follow the stories about the work the Trust is doing in the papers and on TV.

“I knew Lee would be really happy with my decision and for me, it will feel like the clock bells are chiming for him.”

Lee, a father of three, discovered the house later in life and loved walking his dog in the gardens and through the estate. He died suddenly at his home in Brinsworth in September 2021.

“I miss him very much,” said Patricia, who lives in Dinnington with her adopted 46-year-old son, also named Lee, who has Down’s Syndrome.

Patricia Rollinson with her adopted son, Lee

“Giving the money has already given me a lot of happiness, knowing it’s gone to a great cause, and will also give me a place to go where I can feel close to Lee. When the clock and bells have been fixed, I plan to go to Wentworth Woodhouse regularly, sit and listen to the bells and think of him.”

The North Tower, which sits at one end of the Mansion’s Palladian front, has two clock faces and a set of bells which rang out on the hour for over a century. They last chimed over 60 years ago when students of Lady Mabel College of Physical Education were in residence.

Lady Mabel College students practice a dance routine on the East Front lawn, with the North Tower in the background. Credit:  Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust Lady Mabel College Archive

The tower itself underwent extensive restoration in 2021. Roof, stonework, cornices and guttering repairs transformed the structure and the two clock faces and the golden weather vane on the roof were restored by conservationists.

A Barnsley clock restorer worked unpaid to get the clock mechanisms going again, but the result was temporary and further work was prevented by a dangerously unsafe floor in the room housing the clock mechanism. 

The Trust’s fundraising manager Carole Foster said: “We were amazed by Patricia’s incredibly generous donation and really touched to hear it was in memory of her son. 

The Trust’s Fundraising Manager Carole Foster, pictured at the North Tower

“Patricia’s gift was one of 223 we received. Many were made in memory of loved ones who had a connection to the house. Others came from as far away as Texas and from former Lady Mabel College students. Whether for £10 or £10,000, we are so grateful to every single person who helped us to achieve our goal.”

To thank Patricia, Lee’s initials will be included on the iron chain the Trust’s Forge A Link campaign is creating on the mansion’s East Front.

The Forge A Link campaign gives donors the chance to have their initials, or those of loved-ones, stamped onto 1,800 hand-made links on the chain. The original, installed by Flitcroft, is believed to have been smelted down to make ammunition in WW1.

A grant of £2,000 from the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers will also go towards the clock and bell repairs. The clock room floor and a beam beneath the mechanisms will be tackled first, so a specialist can work safely on the dial motion workings, fit new weight lines to the pendulum and re-connect the chiming hammers.