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Rotherham Grammar School old boy Martin Rhodes became a captain of Royal Naval warships and was awarded an OBE. Who would have thought he was once a regular trespasser in the grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse?

Martin was just a boy at the time, living in 1950s Greasbrough. The bank manager’s son with an adventurous spirit had discovered that a nearby stream from Wentworth Woodhouse estate dams ran through a tunnel under the main road to Wentworth.

He and his dog Skipper would wade through the tunnel and arrive in the grounds of the stately home to spend the days roaming the park and meeting friends to fish for roach, perch and pike.

Martin, who has fond memories of those idyllic days, said: “Skipper was legal. He was on home turf – my father had got him as a puppy from the Head Gardener at Wentworth. But I was definitely trespassing.

However, we were never chased away by the gamekeeper; never even told off. Earl Fitzwilliam and his family were very easy-going about allowing local people to share the beauty of their park. 

“In return, we respected the Fitzwilliams’ privacy by keeping well clear of the house. There was no sneaking up to peep through the windows.”

Now 84 with an illustrious Naval career behind him and living in Hayling Island near Portsmouth, he has decided to mark those happy times of 70 years ago by making a donation to the Preservation Trust’s Forge A Link Campaign, the latest fundraising initiative from the charitable trust regenerating the Rotherham stately home.

Hand-forged chain links ready for stamping on a Ridgeway Forge anvil.

It gives supporters like Martin the chance to have their initials hand-stamped onto a 154 metres-long chain being hand-created especially for the mansion’s famed East Front by Ridgeway Forge in Attercliffe.

It will replicate one which featured on the 606 feet-long facade for almost two centuries and will continue the restoration of original ironwork features on the East Front. Around 1,800 links can be stamped with up to three initials in recognition of people who make donations of £50 or more. The Forge A Link campaign could bring in £40,000 before it closes at the end of the year. 

“My initials on a link will reflect my gratitude for the part Earl Fitzwilliam, Wentworth Woodhouse and its estate played in my earlier years,” said Martin, who served in the Royal Navy for 37 years, rising to command warships operating globally before taking up senior appointments ashore in London and with NATO in the USA. His last positions were as Queens Harbour Master and Captain of the Dockyard, first in Gibraltar and latterly in Plymouth.

He added: “I finally got to go inside the house I’d seen from afar in my childhood a couple of years ago. I was impressed at the work going on to restore it by the Preservation Trust. It is a magnificent house with a marvellous history, which now has a more certain future.”

Martin recently joined the Friends of Wentworth Woodhouse supporters’ club, which keeps him up to speed with events via a regular e-newsletter, and will visit the house again in October, when he returns for the next Rotherham Grammar School Old Boys’ Association annual dinner. 

For more information on the Forge a Link Campaign, click here.