A vast mansion which was once Britain's biggest private home has been encased in scaffolding as specialist contractors begin the task of replacing its six-tennis-court-sized main roof.

The emergency repairs at Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire, are the first phase of a £130 million programme to save the building, whose 606ft frontage is wider than Buckingham Palace.

Since Christmas, teams of contractors have used 700 tonnes of scaffolding, including 50km of poles, to wrap the East Front of the house in a 30m (98ft) high metal case.

Work has already begun on emergency stone repairs, including removing 19 urns from the edge of the roof, each weighing in at 600kg, the size of an adult polar bear.

Scaffolding around Wentworth Woodhouse Credit: ITV Yorkshire

Wentworth Woodhouse was one of great mansions of Georgian England and is also featured in the upcoming Downton Abbey film. However, the building slid into neglect and disrepair during the second half of the 20th century.

Now the team from contractors Woodhead are preparing to work on some of the building's 4.2 acres of worn out roofs which will involve 65 tonnes of new Westmoreland green slates over the main state rooms.

Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust chief executive Sarah McLeod said the public will be allowed on the roof scaffolding from next month, once the final protective canopy has been completed.

  • Reporter Adam Fowler speaks to Sarah McLeod and has more on this story below: