Report - - Welbeck estate, Nottinghamshire - 2015 | Underground Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Welbeck estate, Nottinghamshire - 2015

Bent Nails

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce his Grace, the 5th Duke of Portland.


Born William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck or Lord John Bentinck in 1800 in London, he was educated at home and became an ensign (banner bearer) in the army at 18 and progressed to rank of captain.

He became an MP (styled Marquess of Titchfield) in 1824 for two years before surrendering his seat to his uncle due to ill health - his Wikipedia article suggests he suffered from "lethargy due to delicate health" in the army.

From 1824 to 1834 he held a sinecure army position (paid for doing nothing) as the regiment had disbanded.

As for his private life, The History of Parliament Online says "Titchfield travelled extensively on the continent, where he indulged his passion for opera." He died childless and unmarried - "the opera singer Adelaide Kemble, to whom he was devoted, had rejected him as a suitor."

In 1854 he succeeded his brother and inherited the seat of the Duke of Portland at Welbeck Abbey. This gave him a seat in the House of Lords, though it seems he rarely attended nor took an active interest in politics.

What did occupy his time was carrying out sophisticated building projects like a towered stables (the Nottingham Post reports the family had amassed £30m in today's money in horse winnings by the 1880s), a Gothic village, vast kitchen gardens with recesses for braziers for ripening fruit, follies, a skating rink, tens of beautiful stone lodges surrounding the estate:




...and a massive underground labyrinth.

A tunnel portal in the village:

The Welbeck estate covers one of the four former dukal estates in North Nottinghamshire (others being Clumber Park, Thoresby Hall and Worksop Manor), part of Sherwood Forest known as the Dukeries, a land full of woods, streams, lakes, meadows and parkland.

Monument of the 4th Duke (his brother) erected by the 6th (his cousin)

It's the most seismically active area in the British Isles, blamed on mining at the nearby now closed Thoresby Colliery.

On the estate is a very nice garden centre and rustic supermarket on the site of the kitchen gardens, the Harley Gallery (which used to be the gasworks, built in 1860 to provide light) housing the Portland Collection of 'internationally important' art, plus there's a fine stables and riding school.

Riding school




The Abbey, a large 17thC stately home built on the site of an actual abbey is still owned by the family and was used by the army at various points including as a training centre until 2005. It was during this tenure that travel writer Bill Bryson blundered into the grounds and was quickly ejected - I read his Notes from a Small Island many years ago and was captivated by the story of the Duke and his tunnels.

Around 12 miles worth were built (by the 'cut and cover' technique) over 18 years at a cost of £2 million (Look and Learn) and ran from the house to the riding school, between chambers and to the many lodges surrounding the estate. One of them was used for exercising horses then later ammunition storage.

The section is 900 yards long - turning off the torch gives full darkness:


The signs relate to 20thC stored ammunition.



Skylight seems to have kept its original glass.


Blocked off.


Not all are underground - here the roof seems to have collapsed, nature taking over.


Underground rooms at the Abbey included a 2000 capacity ballroom with a painting on the ceiling of a giant sunset, a billiard room, an observatory, libraries and this grotto:



Large spaces to live and entertainment, yet apparently visitors were banned. Furniture was stripped out of the house and all the walls were painted pink. A toilet was installed in each of the empty rooms.

Wikipedia paints the Duke as a recluse and an eccentric, travelling underground where possible, mainly at night, a lady servant walking 40 yards in front with a lantern.

He employed up to 15,000 workers and though treated well (given a donkey to share and an umbrella on their start) were not allowed to address him. Real life contact was largely with his valet - correspondence including with his wide ranging family and friend network was done by letter.

...even with his hidden roads, the Fifth Duke was not content. From time to time he found it necessary to go to London. He would enter his carriage, a “dismal hearse-like vehicle,” we are told, and be driven from his home along the underground road to where it emerged into the open at the frontier of his estate. So that no one could see him, the curtains of the carriage were always drawn, the carriage itself being drawn by six ponies driven by “lads” from the stables. At Worksop railway station, the Duke’s carriage was hoisted on to a railway truck, but where he went to or what he did in London is a mystery that has died with him. (Look & Learn)

An illustration of how it might have looked as a carriage came through:


The route away to Worksop.


The Shady Old Lady's Guide to London tells us about his occupancy at Harcourt House, his residence in the capital:

During the occupancy of the eccentric fifth Duke, William John Cavendish Bentinck Scott, he enclosed the garden with a gigantic screen of ground-glass, extending for 200 feet on each side and 80 feet high. His object in having this screen constructed was to prevent the residents of neighbouring Henrietta and Wigmore Street from viewing the garden.

Mick Jackson's Booker shortlisted 1997 The Underground Man imagines his last years. Also Tunnel Vision: The Enigmatic Fifth Duke of Portland by Derek Adlam must be read.

Speculating the reasons behind such designs, Look and Learn says:

It has been suggested that the Fifth Duke led a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” life, and that while he was thought to be hidden in his underground country home, he was, in fact, leading an entirely different existence in London. If this were so, it has never been proved. But what does seem certain is that the Duke suffered from a disfiguring skin-disease – maybe a complaint in which daylight affected the skin – and for this reason alone he led his lonely underground life.

Thanks for reading.
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Stay Safe
Over the course of the First World War, between 1914 and 1919 the kitchen block was used as an army hospital. During WW2 the army leased the main property as a Officers Mess, and during the run-up to Day the estate and some of the tunnels were used as an ammunition depot till 1945ish

From 1953 till 2005 the house was known as 'Welbeck Collage' a 6th Form pre Sandhurst Officer Training Collage (only Army up to 1990) and one tunnel was blocked off and used as a shooting range, it even even had underground classrooms.. I visited the collage several times when still serving!


Although located in a magnificent building with extensive grounds, the quality of living accommodation was lower than may be expected for sixth-form students at most other comparable establishments. The largest dormitory, Harland's "Dorm 3", held 13 students; many lessons were held in "glass corridor", an underground complex with numerous roof lights originally intended for horticultural purposes; and the lower sixth study areas (known as "the pits" or "cabins") consisted of two large underground rooms and a long corridor which were sub-divided by low partitions to provide each student with an individual work area and some degree of privacy. There was one television for each house and until 1990, a single public telephone to be shared by all students.
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