Posted by: Juniper7
N 53° 16.358 W 001° 08.982
30U E 623384 N 5904196
Quick Description: THE ECCENTRIC DUKE AND HIS UNDERGROUND TUNNELS
Location: United Kingdom
Date Posted: 12/15/2011 4:12:35 AM
Waymark Code: WMDAKD
THE ECCENTRIC DUKE AND HIS UNDERGROUND TUNNELS
The story of the transformation of Welbeck enters upon a new stage with the succession, in 1854, of the Marquis of Titchfield (William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck) as fifth Duke, born in 1800. He it was who designed and had constructed the mysterious underground apartments and tunnels for which the Abbey and its environs are famous. There were miles of weird passages beneath the surface of the earth, one tunnel alone being nearly a mile and a half in length, stretching towards Worksop, while others ran in various directions.
Welbeck is nearly 4 miles from Worksop, and a stranger on approaching the Abbey is likely to receive a mean impression of its vast extent. The architecture is a mixture of the Italian and classical styles, and its having been built at different periods, with so many of its adjuncts underground, makes it wanting in imposing features. In various parts of the estate about 50 lodges were erected for the occupancy of gardeners and keepers. They were of Steetley stone, all similarly planned and pleasing to the eye, what there was of them above ground; but the Duke had subterranean kitchens made at the side and lighted them with bulls-eyes at the top.
He spent about 100,000l. a year in the development of his plans, and employed as many as 1,500 workpeople in helping him to gratify his hobby. When it is remembered that his reign as Duke lasted a quarter of a century, from 1854 to 1879, it will be seen that artisans of all descriptions found Welbeck a veritable gold-mine. Even so late as November, 1878, a Nottingham newspaper correspondent, on visiting Welbeck, was impressed with its appearance as that of the premises of “some great contractor who had an order for the building of a big village.” There was the buzz of machinery, large areas were covered with bricklayers’, masons’, and joiners’ sheds, wherein any new mechanical contrivance was put to the test. For more than eighteen years the vicinity of the house resembled a builder’s yard, in the centre of which the Duke lived and moved and had his being, enjoying, in his way, the piles of bricks and mortar surrounding him. After he had decided upon the erection of a new building he had a model of it made for his inspection, and if approved of, it was proceeded with.
Any tramp or wayfarer who applied for work at Welbeck was put on the staff, and the market value of his labour paid. The Duke seemed to find grim pleasure in the society of the casuals who made their way to his stone-yards.
The wing built by the Countess of Oxford in a former generation had a new storey put to it, with a magnificent suite of 14 new rooms furnished in Louis XIV. style, richly gilded, and with mantelpieces of white marble.
An underground passage was made leading to the old riding school, built by the Duke of Newcastle in 1623, but since converted to other uses, such as a library and church, after the erection of the new riding school. Beneath it are great wine cellars with subterranean communications.
The most wonderful of the underground apartments built by the Duke was the picture-gallery, or as it was intended to be, the ball-room. It is lighted from the roof by means of bulls’-eyes. An enormous sum was spent in labour, excavating the solid clay in order that this magnificent saloon might be constructed.
Some choice examples of the great masters are contained in this palace of art, which is 158 feet long, 63 feet wide, and 22 feet high. Here are examples of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, de Mytens, Tintoretto, Teniers, Snyders, Bassano, Wyck, de Vos, Greffier, Francks, Berghem, Zucchero, Wootton, Breughel, Dirk Maas, Netscher, Cagnacci, Gerard Honthorst, Van der Meulen, Rigaud, Vandyke, Holbein, Kneller, Lely, Dahl, M. Shee, Knapton, West, Jansen, Verelst; in fact not only in the picture-gallery, but in all parts of the Abbey are scattered treasures of art and vertu. Among the interesting curiosities are the one-pearl drop-earrings seen in the portraits of Charles I., and worn by him on the morning of his execution; also the silver-gilt chalice from which he received the consecrated wine on that fateful morning at Whitehall. The chalice bears the following inscription: “King Charles the First received the communion in this Boule on Tuseday the 30th of January, 1664, being the day in which he was murthered.” In the library are autograph letters from the Stuarts, including one from Mary Queen of Scots, signed “Your very good friend.”
There is a portrait of Adelaide Kemble, with whom the Duke is said to have been in love in early manhood. The actress is in the pose of her histrionic profession, and in another part of the gallery is a bust of the Duke by H. E. Pinker (1880).
The gigantic riding school is about 380 feet long, 112 feet wide, and 50 feet high, and from it is a subterranean passage leading to the tan gallop, designed for the exercise of horses. The length of this gallop is 1270 feet, and it is all under a glass roof. He had about 100 horses, and his stables extended over an area almost as large as a village.
Of all his extraordinary hobbies that of planning subterranean passages has excited the most wonder and satire. These tunnels, in which it was possible for three persons to walk abreast in some parts, were lighted with gas jets placed at intervals. One at least of the tunnels is large enough for a horse and cart to be driven through.
The drive from Worksop is a delightful one, but all at once the stranger is surprised to find himself in a cavern, leading as might be supposed to the catacombs. It was no uncommon thing for the Duke to rise up out of a tunnel and appear in the midst of a gang of workmen when they were little expecting him, and when, perhaps, they were idling their time, or making uncomplimentary remarks about him.
When the tunnels were in course of construction there might be seen a procession of men on donkeys going to and fro. It was all in a piece with his Grace's conduct that he should purchase donkeys for them to ride upon; but the animals, when let loose, would gnaw at the trees, so the services of the four-legged asses were dispensed with.
His manner of dealing with a strike was a summary one. The wages of the excavators of the tunnels were fifteen shillings a week regularly, sunshine or rain; but the men thought their rich employer could afford them an increase, so they struck.
“You can strike as long as you like,” was the message sent by the Duke, “it does not matter to me if the work is never done.”
This cool attitude had its effect, the strike was at an end, and the tunnelling proceeded.
One reason given for planning the tunnels was that when he first desired to withdraw himself from observation he tried to close the public rights of way over the estate. This brought him into collision with the powers that be, and he compromised matters to his own satisfaction by making the underground roadways. His cynicism was rich.
“Here have I had provided for you at enormous expense a clean pathway underground, lighted with gas too, and you will persist in walking above ground,” was his salute to some astounded visitors. The idea that they should prefer the sunshine, the delightful woodland scenery and sweet-smelling scents wafted over Welbeck in summer-time, to the gaseous tunnels, as if they were rabbits having natural affinities to the burrows of the earth, was one only worthy of a ducal misanthropist.
Type: Local Legend or Lore
Referenced in (list books, websites and other media): Not listed
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