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Wentworth Woodhouse is widely known as the Black Diamonds House built on coal. And while it’s true that a seam runs beneath Wentworth Woodhouse, Rotherham’s Grade I listed architectural masterpiece was actually built before coal reaped gold for the owners.

The saying has now been debunked by a team of local history buffs who have contributed to the first exhibition that explores the mansion’s 200 year coal-mining history.

Wentworth’s Coal Story Exhibition, which launches on Tuesday 9th July and runs until Sunday 6th October, explains how the fossil fuel industry affected the mansion’s rise and fall, with all information painstakingly collated by 15 of Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust’s team of research volunteers.

WWPT Volunteer Research Team Choose Exhibits for Wentworth’s Coal Story. LtoR: Any Wallis, Ian Smith, Deborah Smith and Andy Smith

Showcased in two of the mansion’s ground floor rooms, Wentworth’s Coal Story Exhibition explores the stories of the men who worked underground on estate land and their relationships with their aristocratic employers. 

One of the researchers, former teacher Joan Jones, commented: “We have been totally absorbed in the house’s mining history for months and found out many interesting things. What stood out for me was the fact that, when the First Marquess of Rockingham began building Wentworth Woodhouse in 1724, he had only one mine.

“It had opened in 1723 and employed just a handful of men. It certainly didn’t fund his architectural ambitions. Income from his vast estates paid for that.

“At the end of the 18th century the entrepreneurial 4th Earl Fitwilliam inherited just as mining techniques and transportation were improving and by the mid 1800s, his income from the mines rocketed.”

At the heart of the exhibition is a fascinating collection of cherished memorabilia and old photographs loaned by local people after an appeal from the Trust.

The Trust’s Head of Culture and Engagement, Victoria Ryves, explained: “The 40th anniversary year of the UK miners’ strike prompted us to examine our coal story.

 “Over the years the Rockinghams and Fitzwilliams developed scores of pits, which brought them vast wealth, and they provided for the families of their colliers. All of this features in our exhibition, but we were determined to include the memories of people from these mining communities. We wanted to know how they lived and worked, about their hobbies and social lives.

“We were over the moon with the response we got after appealing for stories and memorabilia. People told us fascinating things and loaned us possessions handed down through generations. They tell another side of the story and it is really important social history.”

Over 30 exhibits will include a pair of rabbit skin gloves hand-made by a miner, a Fitzwilliam Medal presented by Countess Maud Fitzwilliam in 1904 to a collier who displayed great kindness to a pit pony, numerous commemorative plates, miners’ lamps, photographs and never-before displayed items from Wentworth Woodhouse’s archive.

The exhibition will also feature a specially-written song called The Pony’s Tale and a short film about how coal is made.

Pit disasters, mining methods and safety developments and the impact of mining on the landscape – not least the Government-ordered open-casting from 1943, which reached the lawns of the mansion’s West Front – are also told.

During its three-month run, there will be opportunities to find out more about miners’ lives. 

Down The Pit | Family Activities on Tuesday 30th July, gives families with children over eight years old, a chance to discover what working life was like underground, meet a former collier, make charcoal drawings and pack up a ‘miner’s snap tin’.

Former miners are being invited to talk over old times at coffee mornings on Tuesday 3rd September and Tuesday 1st October. On Thursday 19th September, a folk night is being staged at the house, Remember the Coal | Miners’ Folk Night – a performance by Alan Wood and John Snook, described as a musical journey telling the story of the mining industry through original folk songs and spoken narrative.

Research team member and former nurse Valerie Hales commented: “It’s an unmissable local history event. Mining is deeply embedded in our region’s history and people who have a strong connection to our coal-mining past will find lots to reminisce over, but we also hope that new generations will come to discover how their ancestors lived and worked.” 

If you’re interested in seeing the exhibition for yourself, book here.