The Eccentricities of The 5th Duke of Portland
William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland, was a 19th century British aristocrat who, like all proper aristocrats, was renowned for his eccentricities. Terribly shy and introverted, Portland lived a reclusive lifestyle. His valet was the only person who saw him in his quarters, whilst the army of workmen employed to renovate his home, Welbeck Abbey, were ordered, if perchance they were to catch a glimpse of their master, never to acknowledge his presence. One workman who saluted Portland was immediately dismissed. His rooms all had two letterboxes, one for incoming and another for outgoing mail; his staff received their orders via written notes and any contact with the outside world was conducted by letters through which maintained an extensive correspondence with a wide-ranging network of family and friends.
Portland frequently took nocturnal walks around his estate, following, at a distance of forty yards, a female servant carrying a lantern. On the rare occasion he would venture out by day he would don two overcoats with a large collar and a tall hat, and would carry an umbrella with which he would attempt to conceal himself if anyone addressed him.
Most curious, however, were his architectural alterations to Welbeck Abbey, which cost an enormous amount of money and required thousands of workmen. Whilst the Abbey’s immense 22acre kitchen gardens, the huge riding house and stables, and the roller skating rink built for the servants are impressive, it is undoubtedly the complex labyrinth of subterranean tunnels and secret chambers, all painted pink, that are most intriguing.
Reportedly totalling 15miles in length, the tunnels connect a number of chambers and above ground rooms. One connecting the main house and riding house is 1000yds long and wide enough for several people to walk side-by-side, whilst another, more elaborate tunnel, over one mile in length, wide enough for two coaches and intended to emerge near Worksop, had to be abandoned after a part of it which ran under the lake failed. The skylights used to illuminate the tunnel can still be seen from a nearby footpath and in aerial photographs. Included amongst the chambers are a 160ft high great hall, which was used as a picture gallery and ballroom (although not by the 5th Duke), a library, an observatory with a large glass ceiling, and a billiards room.
[Sources: Welbeck Abbey | 5th Duke of Portland | Images: 1: The Duke of Portland | 2: Welbeck Abbey | 3: The Grand Ballroom : 4: A Subterranean Tunnel | 5: Entrance to the Short Tunnel | 6: Library]