I went to a trade union organising school at Wortley Hall last weekend, a manor house just north of Sheffield.
I arrived at Sheffield station in the sun.
Here’s the hall itself.
It’s one of a few country houses which are owned or used by the trade union movement. I think Wortley Hall is the most famous, the others I know of are:
- The NUT owned Stoke Rochford Hall from 1978 to 2016, and previously owned Toddington Manor from 1939-43.
- GFTU owns Quorn Grange Hotel, just north of Leicester (I’m definitely going to visit this).
- Unite owns a large seafront hotel in Eastbourne called The View.
- Unison owns the Croyde Bay Holiday Resort in Devon.
A few other large estates which have been handed over to the YHA, or local authorities, or the National Trust. Some country houses were taken over by the military, they got turned into research institutes, or ended up as guerilla training camps.
I once heard that the reason there were so many of these estates in public hands was because so much of the British aristocracy constituted a fifth column during the Second World War. Churchill (an aristocrat himself) drove a wedge through the pro-Nazi sections of the aristocracy, and anyone who was too untrustworthy was quietly cut off from power and forced to give up their estate. I don’t know how much truth there is in that. There are other reasons: postwar inheritance tax, the growing cost of maintainance and upkeep, enterprise culture.
In any case, Wortley Hall now belongs to a workers’ co-operative.
There’s a ‘peace walk’ which runs through the grounds.
This goes past some examples of diversification. There’s a camping/caravan site, and behind a wall there are polytunnels and vegetable plots. On the entrance road there’s a row of what I think are holiday cottages.
All of these are hidden in various ways by the design of the landscape. It pushes you to explore, and makes for some curious features, like this locked door.
Could it lead into a secret garden?
No, there’s nothing interesting behind it, but you don’t know that.
The peace walk leads to a duck pond, and a large oak tree. One of the guys from Derby was complaining about the ducks, on a few occasions they tried to fly in through the windows of the hall.
These parts of the grounds are designed to look natural and forested.
By contrast, the space in front of the hall is a formal garden.
It’s got everything you want from a classic garden, there’s a fountain with an armless naked man statue.
Bright flowers in grecian urns.
The entrance chamber is appropriately fancy.
This entrance hall features a painting of Raymond Williams.
There was other decorations around too, such as these panels commemorating miners’ organisations.
There’s also a ballroom, in case you need to do some dancing.
We didn’t do any dancing, but there was music.
Otherwise, the hall was calm at night.
The following day the gathering broke up in the early afternoon. People started filtering out to go home, I’d booked my train for 8pm, and there’s not much you can see in Sheffield after about 4pm on a Sunday, so I found a pub and sat in there with my laptop for several hours.
Here’s the ‘Women of Steel’ statue outside Sheffield City Hall.
Ours is a unity that threats could never breach, ours an education which those schools could never teach. Here we go, here we go, for the women of the working class.