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500 acres of fields, hills, woodland, lakes and formal gardens combine to create a beautiful landscape and stunning setting for Yorkshire Sculpture Park. But this landscape is not entirely natural. In fact it has been altered a lot in the last few hundred years, mainly for the families that have lived here since the land was listed as 'waste' in the Domesday Book.

Over this time many buildings have been built on site and many taken down. The landscape has been carefully designed and meticulously managed to look 'natural'. Many of the top architects of their day have been involved in creating mansions, lodges, glass houses and follies here, including John Carr, Jeffry Wyatt (later Sir Jeffry Wyatville), William Atkinson and George Basevi Jnr. Landscape designers and gardeners, such as Richard Woods and Robert Marnock, have also had a lot of influence on what we see here today.

A number of characters stand out in the history of the Bretton Estate as being of particular interest. In the 16th century Sir Thomas Wentworth had a beautiful bed and furniture designed for Henry VIII in case he ever visited Bretton. In 1720 Sir William Wentworth built the Palladian mansion that forms the centre of today's Bretton Hall. Sir William's son, Sir Thomas Wentworth, created a lot of the parks and gardens around his father's mansion, including having the River Dearne dammed and the lakes dug out. He is said to have been quite eccentric and often entertained guests on and around his lakes with firework displays, mock naval battles and plenty of alcohol. His illegitimate daughter, Diana Beaumont, more than doubled the size of the mansion in the early 19th century and had many glass houses and conservatories built, including what became known as the 'Far Famed Dome Conservatory', considered to be the largest of its kind in the world. Diana was a very domineering woman who fell out with almost everybody that she met, including her son Thomas Wentworth Beaumont who, on inheriting the estate, auctioned off everything that reminded him of his mother.

In 1948 Wentworth Henry Canning Beaumont sold much of the estate to West Riding County Council and a year later the mansion became a training college for teachers of art, music and drama, which later became part of the University of Leeds.

Bretton Hall College was founded in 1949 by Sir Alec Clegg, Chief Education Officer for the West Riding. Clegg had established the West Riding as a pioneering and innovative authority for education, and the college became renowned for outstanding courses in the arts and education.

The College grew from the original 56 pupils to over 2000 in 2007. Many students have gone on to exciting careers in the arts and education, and some have become household names such as Sir Ken Robinson, Mark Thomas, Richard O’Brian and John Godber.

The main focus of the College was the mansion house that is at the centre of the Estate. The creation of the College opened this beautiful house to students who were able to draw inspiration from the historic buildings and landscape that surrounded it.

In 1977 Bretton Hall College lecturer Peter Murray proposed siting sculpture in the Estate, opening the landscape to the public for the first time and providing artists with the opportunity to explore sculptural issues in the open-air. And so, out of Bretton Hall, Yorkshire Sculpture Park evolved. YSP is committed to keeping the educational ethos of Bretton alive via its support of emerging artists and the learning programme that see’s thousands of people involved in participatory workshops and events every year.

When the College closed in 2007, the buildings were sold to Wakefield Council and YSP took over the management of the whole 500-acre landscape. The Hall is now leased and managed by Rushbond Plc who are working to transform it into a luxury hotel.

Download the History of Bretton Estate Leaflet

Heritage Events



Art & Landscape Tour

9 Jul and 10 Jul 2022

Join our knowledgeable volunteers for a guided walk and talk exploring sculpture in the landscape at YSP every weekend. Dates 2 Apr–30 Oct 2022, 11.00–12.00 Tickets Book via...


An Introduction to the Bretton Estate: Walk and Talk

9 Jul–22 Oct 2022

Find out about the fascinating historical aspects of YSP’s grounds, once the location of a vibrant country estate. This hour-long walk introduces the features and characters associated with the...


An Afternoon with Diana Beaumont

23 Jul 2022

Enjoy a walk around YSP’s historic lakes discussing the remarkable legacy of Diana Beaumont followed by tea and cakes. Diana Beaumont was an important figure in the history of the Bretton...


From Chapel to Chapel – The Families of Bretton

17 Sep 2022

Take a short trip to Bretton Chapel, in the South Aisle of All Saints’ Church, Silkstone to learn about the Wentworth family, who used the chapel before their own – St Bartholomew's...