Saturday, May 13, 2006

Welbeck Lodge, Welbeck Manor, Welbeck Abbey, the Dukeries.

Above: The Lion Gates at the North Lodge as seen form a departing Duke’s perspective.

At the time of the Doomsday Book, Welbeck Estate belonged to Hugh FitzBaldric. Thomas de Cuckney founded a Premonstratensian Abbey there in 1140. The Abbott of Welbeck was a wealthy man, and became an especially influential one when in 1512 all the houses of this particular religious order came under his care.

Above: The Greendale Oak. For pictures and information about other famous Oak trees in Sherwood Forest see THIS LINK.

After Henry 8th’s dissolution of the monasteries the property was granted to Richard Whalley of Screveton, then subsequently sold to Gilbert, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury. In 1599 it was sold again to Sir Charles Cavendish, a son of Bess of Hardwick by her second husband. When it then passed to his son, William, destined to become 1st Duke of Newcastle, it became a ducal seat. (Seat of a Duke). The Cavendish family then converted it into a stylish country house designed by Robert Smythson. (Smythson had also designed nearby Worksop Manor in 1580). Parts of the original abbey were retained in the basements. The most famous story about the 1st Duke of Portland involves him and the Earl of Oxford. The Duke wagered he could drive a coach and horses through a huge oak tree. After much chopping, an arch through the tree was made and the wager won. Suffice to say the tree did not survive the centuries. In 1774 Welbeck manor passed via marriage to an heiress to William Bentinck, making him the 3rd Duke of Portland.

There is little doubt the most infamous owner was the so called “Mad Duke”, 5th Duke of Portland, (William) John Cavendish-Bentinck Scott. Inheriting the title in 1854, stories persist to this day about the maze of underground tunnels he had constructed, and wildly exaggerated accounts of how far they reached. Certainly he was a prolific builder. His expertise and enthusiasms as a gardener saw the construction of high walls in which braziers could quicken the ripening of fruit bushes. Similarly, he had a passion for raising horses, constructing what was at the time the second largest riding house in the world. Even today it is said many fine horses can trace their pedigree back to Welbeck. But it’s the tunnels on which his reputation as an eccentric is based, though they were never as numerous as rumour suggests.

Above: The south lodge exit from the tunnel (2014). Below: The Duke's infamous underground ballroom and 19th century illustrations showing the sheer scale of the tunnels.



One tunnel wide enough for a group to walk side by side led from the house to the riding school, whilst a workman’s tunnel ran close by. A further tunnel, estimated at 1.5 miles long, led from the coach house to the south lodge. (See above). Remaining stretches of tunnel do survive near the lake and their skylights can be seen from the public footpath, Robin Hood’s Way. But perhaps more impressive were the Dukes underground rooms, including a library, a chapel, and a ballroom. It has been suggested this indulgence was part eccentricity and part wiliness to provide meaningful labour for the estate workers. Certainly they were well looked after, apparently receiving from the Duke a suit, top hat, umbrella, and donkey, the latter for those who had to travel far. No wonder he earned the name “the workman’s friend”. In his old age the Duke took to living in just 4 or 5 rooms, painting them pink, as the rest of the house fell into a state of disrepair. He died in 1878.


His successor made effective renovations but the building’s Oxford wing burned down in 1900. Rebuilding work designed by Ernest George was completed by 1905 and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the assassination of whom would start World War 1, stayed at Welbeck Abbey courtesy of the Duke of Portland in 1913. During that war the kitchen block became an army hospital. Following World War 2 the Dukes of Portland leased Welbeck to the Ministry of Defence and Welbeck College became a respected army training college. The Ministry left the property in 2005 and it became once again a private residence.

 Note: The only public pedestrian access across Welbeck Estate is the footpath known as Robin Hood’s way.

Above: Old painting of the north lodge, artist unknown. Below: That same road today (2014).


The Lion gates were the back entrance, from which a red gravel path served Dukes and Royalty. The lodge gate (below) dates from 1884. The gate keeper(s), in top hat and tails, would be on 24 hour duty.
You can read more about Worksop, the Dukeries, on THIS LINK, and more about Bess of Hardwick's role in the formation of the Dukeries on THIS LINK. You can also read more about the first Thoresby Hall, the Dukeries, on THIS LINK.

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3 Comments:

Blogger robin hood said...

Welbeck Lodge is private property, unlike other areas of the Dukeries such as Clumber Park.

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Blogger robin hood said...

Sherwood Forest, the Dukeries, Thoresby park, history.

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Blogger robin hood said...

Pierrepont, Manvers, Dukeries, Thoresby Hall, Thoresby Hotel, Thoresby Park, Perlethorpe, Perlethorpe Village, Ollerton, Budby, Sherwood Forest.

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