Skilled hands


light work

A former motor mechanic from Rotherham has finally found his true forte - at the age of 73.

David Johnson, from Kimberworth, is the unofficial Mr Fix-it of Wentworth Woodhouse. After his first-ever visit to the house back in 2017, he decided to become a volunteer at South Yorkshire’s Grade I listed gem.

During his visit, he happened to notice that

a stair-rod on the grand Georgian staircase had come loose and offered to come back and repair it.

His good deed turned into a mammoth labour of love, repairing all 84 pairs of the stair-rod brackets made by expert craftsmen 250 years ago. It took him over a year but it seems there is no end to his talents or his dedication. The Preservation Trust then asked if he would tackle another task - restoring the huge Victorian brass chandelier which once hung in the

‘‘His restoration work totalled some 400 hours and saw David at ‘The Big House’ up to six days a week. But he says it’s been an illuminating experience’’

mansion’s private chapel.

“I was presented with a long wooden box containing around 40 pieces of brass-work wrapped in an old curtain. They were so badly tarnished they were almost black. It was hard to tell what they had been,” said David. The chandelier, believed to date from the 1840s, was originally candle-lit, then later wired for electricity. It had been taken down and dismantled years ago when it was feared the chapel ceiling was unsafe.

Unphased, David stripped down the central brass body corroded to dark green by water staining, taking photos at each stage so he knew how to put it together again. Painstakingly, he made scores of tiny brass parts to replace damaged fittings on the central column and 15 ornate arms. Each piece had to be an exact replica of the original and was made on a lathe and milling machine.

The next task was to gently polish away over 170 years of grime on his buffing machine. “I had no idea how it would come up. But it’s top quality brass and turned to a gorgeous shine again. Then I had to rebuild it, which was like doing a jigsaw; every piece had its place,” David said. His restoration work totalled some 400 hours and saw David at ‘The Big House’ up to six days a week. But he says it’s been an illuminating experience for him.

“I learned so much about how the chandelier was made and the skills of the people who crafted it. Each lighting branch only fits in one place and the craftsmen numbered each one. Intriguingly though there is no number nine - I guess it was so they didn’t get parts six and nine mixed up,” added David.

David has made his own mark, to leave a lasting legacy of his dedication. A small brass disc engraved with his name and the dates of his restoration work is there to be found by future restorers.

The chandelier is on display to visitors in the State Corridor until repairs to the chapel are completed.

David’s work is far from done, though. He 28 Before and after

intends to carry on working four days a week as a highly valued volunteer.

“There’s too much to do for me to stop! My aim is to still be here, being useful, at 103 and I shall love every moment,” said David, who left school at 15 to become a motor mechanic. He added: “I wish more people from the trades - engineers, mechanics, steelworkers - would come and join me at the house - their skills would be so useful.”

Sarah McLeod, CEO of Wentworth Woodhouse, said: “We owe so much to David’s time and expertise. He does a wonderful job of everything he turns his hand to. We have over 100 volunteers, each bringing their own unique skills to Wentworth Woodhouse and would love to hear from more.” Like David, each volunteer has their own reasons for offering their time - most often it is a way of giving something back to the community, and the satisfaction of knowing that they have contributed towards the house and its preservation for future generations.

To find out more about becoming a volunteer at Wentworth Woodhouse contact Alison Constantine, Volunteer Coordinator by telephone on 01226 351161or email

David Johnson with the finished Chandelier

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