Bretton Hall is a country house on the north slope of the valley of the River Dearne in West Bretton near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England. It replaced an earlier house that has been demolished. The West Riding County Council bought the house in 1947, and it was converted for use as Bretton Hall College of Education from 1949 until 2001 and was a campus of the University of Leeds from 2001 until 2007. The hall is a Grade II* listed building, and several structures in the surrounding parkland are also listed.
In the 14th century the Bretton estate was owned by the Dronsfields. It passed by marriage to the Wentworths in 1407. King Henry VIII spent three nights at the old hall; furnishings, draperies and panelling from the bedroom he used were moved to the new hall. The old hall is marked on Christopher Saxton’sChristopher Saxton (c. 1542 – c. 1610) was an English cartographer who produced the first county maps of England and Wales. 1577 map of Yorkshire.
The replacement for the old hall was designed and built around 1720 on a different south-facing site by its owner, Sir William Wentworth assisted by James Moyser. Sir Thomas Wentworth changed his name to Blackett when he inherited his uncle’s estates at Bretton and in Northumberland in 1777. His illegitimate daughter, DianaDiana Beaumont (1765–1831) née Wentworth was the eldest illegitimate daughter of Sir Thomas Wentworth of Bretton Hall near Wakefield in Yorkshire. , married Colonel Thomas Beaumont, and in 1792 the Beaumonts, (who became the Barons and Viscounts Allendale) inherited the Bretton estate. The Beaumonts spent lavishly, employing William Atkinson to improve and greatly extend the house. Monumental stables designed by George Basevi were built between 1842 and 1852.
The hall was sold to the West Riding County Council in 1947, and accommodation for students and teaching was built close to the hall by the West Riding County Architects Department. Before the sale the panelling from the “Henry VIII parlour”, which had been preserved from the old hall, was donated to Leeds City Council and moved to Temple Newsam. The hall housed Bretton Hall College, which opened as a teacher training college in 1949. In 2001 the college merged into Leeds University, but the campus closed in 2007.
Plans to convert the hall into a hotel and offices were approved in April 2013. Most of the college buildings were demolished in 2017 while conversion to a hotel was being undertaken by DLA Architects. West Yorkshire Sculpture Park has occupied part of the parkland since it opened in 1977.
The oldest part of the house, the south range dates from about 1720. It was designed by the estate’s owner, Sir William Wentworth and Colonel James Moyser. The house was enlarged when the north range was added in the 1780s by William Lindley of Doncaster. A bow window and portico were added to the south range and the block linking the two ranges was remodelled between 1811–1814 by Jeffrey Wyatt for Colonel Thomas and Diana Beaumont. Around 1852 Thomas Richardson added the projecting dining room on the house’s east front for Thomas Blackett Beaumont.
The house is built of sandstone ashlar and its roof is hidden behind a balustraded parapet. It has tall ornamental chimney stacks and the Wentworth shield decorates two ornamental rainwater heads. The main range is of three storeys, nine-bays by five-bays, and the rest is two storeys high.The south range’s symmetrical facade has a central Doric portico. The ground and first-floor windows have 12-pane sashes with triangular pediments to the ground floor and cornices to the first. The shorter second-floor windows have casements that were added later. The south front has a three-bay bow window and tall ground-floor windows. The centre window was originally a doorway accessed by a flight of four steps.
The seven-bay north range has a symmetrical facade and its three centre bays have giant pilasters supporting a pediment. Either side of the central double door are twelve-pane sash windows. Its first floor has nine-pane sash windows. A three-bay link block joins the ranges and terminates in the orangery which is built on a two-step podium. Its seven bays are divided by square Tuscan piers supporting the frieze, cornice and blocking course.
The entrance hall to the south range has a groin vaulted passage with three arches and piers and its walls are decorated with grisaille paintings. Its main staircase has a wrought iron handrail. On either side of the entrance hall, the old billiard room and former breakfast room have Adam style ceilings from about 1770.
The link range has an entrance vestibule with four piers supporting a glazed dome on pendentives. On the first floor the vestibule opens onto the half-landing of the south range’s main staircase. The old drawing room has a Baroque ceiling with pendant bosses. The former library and music room were in the Regency style of the 1811–1814 extensions. The library had an apse where there was once an organ, a coved ceiling with rinceau decoration, and a marble fireplace. The dining room was decorated in the Rococo style in about 1852. It has an elaborate marble fireplace and frieze and its ceiling is decorated with musical instruments.
Park and gardens
The pleasure grounds and parkland around the hall were the work of landscape gardener Richard Woods in the 18th century, and Robert Marnock, the estate’s head gardener, in the 1820s and ’30s. The hall overlooks the River Dearne, which flows in an easterly direction through the parkland. It is dammed to form two lakes. Oxley Bank, a linear earthwork forms the park’s eastern boundary.
Within and around the Grade II listed parkland and pleasure grounds are several historic structures. Four lodges stand at the estate’s main entrances. North Lodge and the grade II listed Haigh Lodge were probably designed by Jeffrey Wyattville at the same time as his 1811–14 extensions at the hall. Archway Lodge, a grade II* listed building by William Atkinson in 1805 takes the form of a giant archway with fluted columns. The extensively altered Hoyland Lodge is on Litherop Lane to the south. The redundant Grade II* listed St Bartholomew’s Chapel, West Bretton built for William Wentworth in 1744 has been restored as gallery space.
The parkland has been the home of the 224-acre (91 ha) Yorkshire Sculpture Park since 1977 as well as the 100-acre (40 ha) Bretton Country Park, which has been a designated Local Nature Reserve since 1994.