Club profile: Wellingborough Golf Club

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 18, 2017 07:01 Updated

The Northamptonshire club discovered that old statues it acquired were made for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey – and has since sold them for millions

Golf club managers wondering where they will find the funds for the next major project will look on in envy at Wellingborough Golf Club that recently enjoyed extraordinary fortune of epic proportions.

In a story that is almost too good to be true, the club was the recipient of a £2.5m windfall thanks to the chance discovery of a national treasure that had been lying unnoticed in the clubhouse grounds for centuries.

One of the angel statues. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The tale begins when the club acquired the Grade I listed Harrowden Hall in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside as its clubhouse in 1975 and set about building a championship standard course in its grounds.

Built originally in the 1500s and reconstructed in the early 18th century, the Hall is of national interest, being the home to generations of English aristocrats who over the centuries entertained royalty, including the kings Henry VIII and Charles I.

When the club acquired the property, saving it from probable demolition, nobody paid any attention to four small statues of angels atop of two pairs of gateposts, weathered by time and seemingly of little significance, until two were stolen in 1988.

The theft seemed of minor consequence, yet it started a chain of events that eventually led the club to amassing the £2.5 million windfall. At the time nobody realised the statues were 16th century bronzes made by an Italian master sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano for the tomb of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, once the most powerful man in Europe and chief political advisor to Henry VIII.

Wolsey died before his tomb was completed. At the time of his death he had fallen out of the king’s favour and the angels and other artifacts were seized by the crown.

Henry VIII planned to have angels used as part of his own tomb, but on his death his ambitions were never realised, and the angels were lost during the Civil War. Nobody knows how or when they ended up at Harrowden Hall.

Today the four statues are reunited and part of the collection of national treasures owned by London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum.

The angels’ road from obscurity at Wellingborough to national significance began when the theft prompted the club to move the other pair inside for safekeeping. Someone suggested they might be of some value, so the following year the club put the remaining pair up for sale at auction, receiving a healthy £10,200 for what was believed at the time to be 19th century figures of unknown origin.

However English Heritage objected and insisted they were bought back and returned to the hall, much to the disappointment of the club.

In 1994 the stolen pair was bought in good faith by a Parisian antique dealer who put them up for auction. It was only then that their true provenance began to be unraveled.

By chance, a visitor to the club noticed the other pair and wondered if they were connected with those at auction and the reunification of Wolsey’s treasures took shape. The club loaned theirs to the V&A, which eventually raised the £5m to buy all four for the nation in 2015.

Wellingborough managing director David Waite recalled: “After the theft of the first pair the others were placed in the clubhouse and people used to hang their coats on them. They were weathered and rather unattractive and nobody really though much about them.

“When a visitor saw them on a golf day after the rediscovery of the stolen pair, he put two and two together. To say we were amazed is an understatement.”

When the four were reunited at the V&A Dr Paul Williamson, chief curator of sculpture said: “It is an astonishing discovery. Nobody imagined these things had survived. And if the two angels hadn’t been stolen, they would still be on the gateposts and nobody would know what they were.”

Wellingborough GC was formed in 1893 on land near to the Hall, and in huge contrast, its first clubhouse was a railway carriage. It moved to its present location in 1975 when the Hall was acquired and a new course constructed in 160 acres of parkland.

The Hall and grounds provide the perfect backdrop for hosting conferences, seminars and a variety of functions, including weddings and anniversary parties.

Looking after a clubhouse with Grade I listed status and its elaborate grounds is a time consuming and costly business, so the discovery of the missing angels has provided a much-deserved windfall.

David Waite said: “The sale has been great news for the club. We have been able to put money into reserves for the future of the club and use some for improvements.

“The gents’ changing rooms have been completely upgraded recently by Craftsman Lockers and we are very happy with them. In the autumn we will commence a major refurbishment of the bunkers.”

The lockers were manufactured from solid oak in a traditional fielded panel style and the units included a combination of single golf, single golf with holdalls above, open wardrobes with hanging space, carpet covered bench seating, towel dispense and disposal units and dry vanities.

Following completion David Waite stated that the committee and members were delighted with their new lockers for a club that now has the facilities to host year-round golf on greens that meet USGA standards.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Ian and the installation team from Craftsman Lockers, nothing was too much trouble, with the project delivered to a very high standard. I would thoroughly recommend to any leisure facility.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 18, 2017 07:01 Updated
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