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Joiners at Rotherham stately home discover builders’ banter from 1830

Building site banter from 190 years ago has been found in the roof at stately home Wentworth Woodhouse during £5 million of roof repairs.

A chirpy ditty was inked onto a roof timber in 1830 by three craftsmen repairing the area over a gilded state room where the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam kept his paintings by Antony Van Dyck, a favourite of England’s Royal courts.

Jack Falding,Jack Vickers and Jack Wragg had worked through a March cold snap and decided to leave their mark at the Big House for posterity.

The three Jacks used the opportunity to boast about their drinking – and like many a building site worker today, poked fun at their boss, one William Peake.

Now historians at the Grade I listed mansion in Rotherham, one of England’s greatest historic structures, are searching for descendants of the men.

“We think the three Jacks and William were carpenters and probably local. Since the 1700s many skilled trades people from South Yorkshire worked here,” said facilities manager Julie Readman, from the Preservation Trust which owns and is regenerating the mansion.

“Many secretly left their mark in similar style. Since we began major roof repairs in 2018 we’ve found numerous messages and even hand-prints 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 Peake 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.”

The inscription was discovered by joiners Joe Hutchinson and Jack Richmond of Jericho Joinery, of Newark, above the Van Dyck room on the Palladian East Front of the house.

“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 contractors for the renovation of a roof the size of six tennis courts.

Stonework and timbers are being repaired and 14,000 slates are being laid in the £5million roof repair, which is due to end in November.

“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,” said Andy.

“It has been a privilege to work on a house as magnificent as this. Incredible skill went into its creation in the 1700s; we are proud to have done our bit to ensure it survives for centuries more.”