But Philip Hammond’s commitment in this week’s Autumn Statement to spend £7.6m on restoring Wentworth Woodhouse, England’s largest private home, also had a little-known beneficiary: the house happens to be ancestral home of the mother-in-law of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP who is among the chancellor’s noisiest critics.
Mr Rees-Mogg said he had no involvement in the campaign to save Wentworth Woodhouse. But after hearing the Autumn Statement in which the funding was announced, he for once dropped his criticism of Mr Hammond and described his overall budget as “excellent”.
“I liked the fact that there was only one gimmick. The fact that the gimmick was Wentworth Woodhouse I liked more,” said the backbencher, one of whose children has Wentworth as a middle name.
The house is renowned as the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Pemberley, possibly erroneously given that there is no evidence that the author visited the estate. Its ill-repair dates from the post-war Labour government’s decision to allow coal mining in the gardens after the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1945. Mr Rees-Mogg described the move as “the most outrageous act of socialist envy”, although the Fitzwilliam family, the owners, had built their vast fortune from mining on their lands.
The Fitzwilliams moved out in 1946 and the house was put into a family trust. Lady Juliet Tadgell, the only child of the earl and now Mr Rees-Mogg’s mother-in-law, inherited the family fortune but not the home. She is one of the trustees of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, which has raised £7m to acquire the house.
Politicians involved with the campaign to save the stately home say they had no idea of Mr Rees-Mogg’s personal attachment to the property. “I am not sure he’s ever been to Rotherham but we’d be glad to see him here,” said John Healey, the local Labour MP. Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP and heritage specialist, said Mr Rees-Mogg had “played no part in our lobbying of the chancellor”.
Located in south Yorkshire, Wentworth Woodhouse is not very well known, reflecting its limited opening to the public as well as its unglamorous location near the M1, among the area’s former mines.
The government funding, which will be used to address subsidence caused by the coal mining, is expected to create jobs in the surrounding area, which includes the town of Rotherham. “The factor that really secured the funding was making a major investment in a very deprived community,” said Mr Jenrick. The Fitzwilliam family continue to own much of the surrounding estate and have invested in restoring it.
Mr Healey said there was some irony in Mr Hammond’s rescue as the government had fought a long and finally successful battle in the courts to resist demands for £100m in compensation for the subsidence caused by the mining. The case failed in June.
Mr Rees-Mogg said he had “deliberately played no role in the campaign”. Nor had he been asked to contribute financially to the project: a recent report of his net worth being up to £150m was “not faintly true”.
The Trust expects to complete the acquisition of Wentworth Woodhouse early next year. It estimates that at least £35m more investment is needed over 15 years to make the house self-reliant, including the conversion of some areas into apartments and business units.
Mr Rees-Mogg said he had visited the house a couple of years ago at the invitation of the then owners, the Newbolds. The public will be able to visit from next spring.