Woodend and The Sitwell Family

History

Woodend is a distinctive Grade II listed marine villa, built in 1835 for the civil engineer, George Knowles. The house overlooks the Valley Gardens which lead towards Scarborough South Bay and the foreshore. 

Lady Louisa Sitwell bought Wood End (as it was then called) in 1879. She added a splendid double height conservatory where she housed many tropical plants and birds. A few years later, her son, Sir George Sitwell, added a new wing with a library, modeled on his family home Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire – the family seat since 1620. Today, the conservatory at Woodend is now known as Woodend Gallery, the exhibition space. 

The ‘folly’ tower in the garden, was most likely built with the original house. Lady Louisa had ovens installed there, so that it could be used as a pottery. 

Sir George was Scarborough’s MP (1892 – 1895) having earlier been the youngest MP in the house when elected for the conservatives for the period 1885 – 1886.

The Sitwells at Wood End 1870 - 1934

Sir George, fourth Baronet of Renishaw and his wife, Lady Ida, had a family of three children – Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell – all three of whom would become renowned in their own rights for their literary achievements. 

Born at Woodend on 7th September 1887, their first child, Edith, was a great disappointment to her parents. Not only was she a girl (not the expected heir of the Sitwell title), but she was not pretty like her beautiful mother, Lady Ida. 

All her life, Edith would suffer from the double rejection from her parents, the wrong gender and her apparent hideous looks. Edith once described herself as an ‘unpopular electric eel set in a pond of catfish’. Despite this self depreciation, many people admired her striking looks and in later life, the photographer, Cecil Beaton, was much taken with her appearance and remarked on her most attractive voice. 

Great joy was forthcoming for Sir George and Lady Ida on 7th December 1892 when Osbert Sitwell was born. Like his elder sister Edith, he never married and in 1930, Osbert began traveling with David Horner, his companion for 40 years. 

The durability of the Sitwell title was further sustained when their third and last child was born. Sacheverell Sitwell was educated at Eton College, served in the First World War and is well remembered for writing travel books and poetry. 

All three siblings formed an identifiable literary and artistic clique around themselves in London, from roughly 1916 – 1930. This was marked by some well publicised events, the most prominent of which was probably Edith’s façade with music by William Walton, it debuted publicly in 1923. 

The trio wrote; for a while their circle was considered by some to rival Bloomsbury, although critics dismissed them as attention seekers rather than serious artists. 

The Sitwell ownership of Woodend ended in 1934 (although the family had vacated the house soon after the First World War). When Sir George disposed of the house to Scarborough Borough Council, they converted the building into a museum and it operated as the Wood End Museum of Natural History until 2006. 

In 2006, the building was completely redeveloped and refurbished into Woodend Gallery and Studios, formerly Woodend Creative Workspace, which opened in April 2008.

Take a trip to a Sitwell home

Plan a visit to Woodend