Builders’ banter from 1830 uncovered during mansion’s roof restoration
A search is on for the descendants of three builders whose 190-year-old banter has been found in the roof of a stately home.
The hidden wisecracks were found during the £5 million roof repairs ongoing at Wentworth Woodhouse, the massive country house near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, which was once Britain’s largest private house.
They were written on a roof timber in 1830 by three craftsmen repairing the area over the gilded state room where the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam kept his paintings by Flemish artist, Anthony van Dyck.
Jack Falding, Jack Vickers and Jack Wragg had worked through a March cold snap and decided to boast about their drinking and poke fun at their boss, William Peak.
The inscription on the wood (with some faded parts which are illegible) reads:
“This roof repaired March 1830
when it was cold and frosty
Jack Falding Jack Vickers Jack Wragg
They all liked drink but none to be had
The … name was William Peak
And he had a belley like a … ”
The trust, which now owns the Grade I listed mansion, are searching for men’s descendants.
Facilities manager Julie Readman said: “We think the three Jacks and William were carpenters and probably local.
“Since the 1700s many skilled trades people from South Yorkshire worked here.”
Ms Readman said: “Many secretly left their mark in similar style. Since we began major roof repairs in 2018 we’ve found numerous messages and even handprints dating back to 1806. It’s really an old form of graffiti.
“It’s fascinating and is enabling us to piece together stories of the people whose skills built and maintained this place.
“We would love to hear from Falding, Vickers, Wragg and Peak families who think they may be descendants. Plus, there are a few vital words we can’t make out in the text. Maybe our supporters have some suggestions.”
Wentworth Woodhouse was built between 1725 and 1750 and its 600ft long Palladian East Front is wider than Buckingham Palace.
It was bought for £7 million in March 2017 by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust.
The trust is now renovating the structure in a huge project which could cost £200 million.
The roof, which is the size of six tennis courts, is the current focus with stonework and timbers being repaired and 14,000 slates due to be laid by the end of November.
The inscription was discovered by joiners Joe Hutchinson and Jack Richmond of Jericho Joinery, of Newark.
“They were excited to find a message from people who had done exactly the same job almost 200 years before,” said senior site manager Andy Stamford, of Woodhead Group, the main roof contractor.
“We had to stop work for a few months during the pandemic but are now in the final stretch and I think Wentworth Woodhouse will have a few more examples of craftsmen’s graffiti hidden in the roof structures by the time the scaffolding comes down and we depart,” Mr Stamford said.
The house remains closed to visitors due to the coronavirus crisis but the gardens re-opened on July 4 with online ticketed admission.
– If you think you might be a descendant of the carpenters who inscribed the timber, contact Info@Wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk