THE newest tourist experience on the Rotherham scene requires a hard hat, a hi-vis vest and a head for heights.
Rooftop tours at Wentworth Woodhouse almost off and running, with four sections of public walkway 60 feet above ground waiting to welcome visitors.
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust has spent £1.2 million on a massive scaffolding network — think the largest Meccano set around — which will give restoration experts the platform to remove 200-year-old slates from the leaky roof over the mansion’s spectacular Marble Saloon and the surrounding rooms and replace them with near-identical replacements — expected to last another two centuries — freshly mined from the hills of the Lake District.
Amazing drone footage released by the trust shows the Big House from the air and a time-lapse of the scaffolding going up.
The trust decided to splash out a bit more cash to ensure that, from July 3 onwards, the public will be able to climb to the rooftop, watch conservationists in action and enjoy a fresh perspective on the landmark.
The stately home’s new metal cage will be topped with a temporary white plastic roof pegged two metres above the head of the statue of Concordia (below), which has stood looking out over the park below from the peak of the East Front roof for almost 300 years.
The special “wrap” enclosing the lofty work sitewill shield the exposed roof, tourists and the restoration team from the elements as 14,000 slates are replaced, while protective netting will cover the front of the house.
The restoration work has brought a few surprises, notably the discovery that the 4ft stone urns dotted around the edge of the roof — each weighing as much as a small car — were not actually fixed to their bases.
Several have been brought down from to a special compound in front of the house, where they will form an encore to the rooftop experience, but Concordia and her fellow goddesses Minerva (on the left) and Justice (right) will stay in situ.
Sarah McLeod, chief executive of the trust, said being up on the roof gave her a rare fresh perspective on the task before her and her team.
She is keen as ever to make the most of the money available while on the hunt for more cash to help bring the £150 million masterplan to life.
“The slates will be removed and sorted and those which are in good enough condition will be saved and used elsewhere on the site,” she said. “We like to recycle what we can.
“Bids are in to different funders, who will all look at supporting different aspects. Some are interested in the heritage side but others more in job creation.
“Public fundraising like our Make Your Mark slate appeal is really handy for filling in the gaps the bigger funders don’t.
“When we approach them, some potential funders are totally on board and can see the significance of what we’re trying to achieve. Others just can’t see it happening.
“Hopefully, once projects like the camelia house and the stable block are well on the way they won’t be saying it’s not possible.
“The place is buzzing. We have tours, the cafe and the new shop. We have hired 22 new tour guides for the roof tours and are recruiting both volunteers and full-time staff.
“If I could, I could find work to employ 100 people full-time but I would need to be able to pay them!”
Site manager Andy Stamford, of lead contractor Woodhead Group, revealed the scaffolding installation had not been without its challenges — one involved a 22-metre steel beam being cut in half and then welded back together on the rooftop because it was too heavy for a crane to lift.
The roof is in a state due to decades of neglect and an ancient drainage system which means in some areas water has been allowed for years to puddle on flat roofs and leak through into the house, ruining expensive decorative ceilings and walls.
Andy and his team — including his daughter Amy, the quantity surveyor keeping a close eye on the budget — are looking at how rainwater can be more efficiently directed in a way that is sympathetic to an 18th century building but also fit for the future.
It is evidently more than just a job, too.
“It’s a bit of a privilege if you can work on something like this when you know there will probably never be scaffolding like this here again,” he added.
“The trust has spent a bit more on the walkways to be able to do the rooftop tours because they want people to feel part of it.
“Something like this needs saving. You can’t just let it go, and if we put on a roof that they can get 200 years out of then that has to be value for money.”
Tours will take one hour and be available from Wednesday to Sunday, with spaces for 20 people per tour.
They will cost £12 for adults, £6 for children and be accessible to the disabled and those with pushchairs by lift, although everyone else will have to climb 135 steps.
Visit wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk to book.
Wentworth restoration by numbers:
The current project involves 700 tonnes of scaffolding including 6,000 planks and 50,000 metres of poles.
An area the same size as six tennis courts will be re-roofed with 65 tonnes of Westmorland green slate from the same area as the original roof slates.
Up to 30 people will work on the site at a height of up to 30 metres.
Scaffolders built the big rig with a Spierings SK1262-AT6 tower crane standing 67 metres tall — just shy of the wingspan of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
Six core structural steel beams will support the temporary roof — each weighing in at 9.3 tonnes.