Wortley Hall: the poor fight back
When we arrived, we were understandably impressed by its exterior, its landscaped gardens, its dominant location overlooking the South Yorkshire countryside. When we entered and climbed the stairs to our room, we could see that the grandeur was significantly diluted by its fading elegance. Paintwork and wallpaper were in much need of attention, corridors were pokey, lighting did little to lift the mood of rooms.
But it was only when we read of the Hall’s history that we began to understand a little of its circumstances. It was built as a stately home by Sir Richard Wortley back in 1586, reflecting the wealth of its succession of owners who, in the 19th century, made their money largely from coal mining, like many rich families in the area.
The two world wars saw mansions like Wortley Hall being used for military and medical purposes, and after WW2, many were sold by their impoverished owners because they had lost the source of their income, the mining industry having been nationalized by the post-war Labour Party.
The Labour Unions saw the Hall as a prime location for taking ownership of a property that had been financed by the sweat and suffering of the poor. They acquired it and turned it into a holiday hotel for trade unionists, and also used it as a training centre and location for union meetings.
As you enter the Hall, you can’t help but notice the literature and leaflets displayed by the trades unions, and it’s not often you walk into an impressive ‘country pile’ like this and see a copy of the Morning Star in the reception lobby. I was amazed that it still seems to be thriving daily newspaper.