Welbeck Tunnels, Notts, September 2016

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HughieD

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The History:
Welbeck Abbey and estate is located in the Dukeries in North Nottinghamshire. It was the site of a monastery belonging to the Premonstratensian order in England and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries became a country house residence of the Dukes of Portland. One of the Dukes put his name on the map by building a tunnel complex that radiated out from the house. The duke in question was William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland (formally the Marquis of Titchfield).

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Born in 1800, he inherited the Welbeck Estate in 1854 and during his 25-years tenure at the estate, went on to spend a fortune on building work, including the aforementioned 10km complex of tunnels, along with underground rooms and a subterranean kitchen railway. He spent about £100,000 a year for more than eighteen years to realise his plans (at a cost of £2m in today’s money), and employed as many as 1,500 workers transforming the vicinity of the house into a builder’s yard. Many of the workers were Irish labourers (referred to by locals as ‘Sligo’) who built the London Underground.

He built four main tunnels in total, using the “cut and cover” technique. Tunnel No.2 was the longest at approximately one-and-a-half-miles long. Lit by the skylights by day (which appeared at intervals of about approximately 10-yards) at night a series of gas lamps illuminated the tunnel, the gas being supplied by the Duke’s nearby Gas Works. Starting by the lodge close-by to the riding school, it snaked north before swinging round to the east, coming out in the open briefly, before disappearing underground again and continuing north-east towards the (inappropriately named) South Lodge.

Tunnel entrance to the south of the riding school:

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The purpose of this tunnel was so the duke could ride off the estate undetected, in the direction of Worksop Railway Station, to catch the train to London. The tunnel was abandoned in the late 19th century when a section forming part of the lake dam failed. The remaining sections of tunnel survive on either side of the lake. The tunnel's skylights can be seen from the Robin Hood's Way footpath which follows its course and a masonry entrance can be seen between the two (South) lodges at the north-eastern limit of the park. Tunnel No.1 was shorter, its entrance was just north of the abbey as it headed due north before coming out after approximately half-a-kilometre later. It was used as a carriage-way, broad enough for two carriages to pass and a track swung round to join the open stretch of Tunnel No.2. Unlike Tunnel No 2, it had no skylights.

How the scene may have looked back in the day:

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Tunnel No.3 was the kilometre-long Plant Corridor which runs between the main house and riding house. It was built wide enough for several people to walk side-by-side.

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Running parallel to the Plant Corridor to the north is Tunnel No.4, a narrower, rougher-hewn tunnel, which the duke had built for the servants. In addition there are many other smaller tunnels including a grotto corridor, a corridor-like fruit arcade, and corridors with narrow-gauge rails used to transport warm food to the main house. Additionally the Horse Corridor, decorated with antler racks, leads to the underground ballroom. At 50m long and 20m high it was the largest private room in England at the time.

Print of Welbeck from 1881:

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Speculation abounds as to why the duke had the tunnels constructed. One line of thought was that he may have had health issues (some suggest the skin condition known as Psoriasis) meaning he wanted to withdraw from the public eye. Others believe it was more down to the duke's obsession with technology and the fact he enjoyed the process of building and all its associated administrative hubris. What is for sure, however, is that he never married and on the 1st July 1878 his wagonnette carried him through the Welbeck tunnels for a last time on what would be his final trip, to his London residence. He remained at Harcourt House until his death on the 6th December 1879. His estate then passed to his nephew, Sir William John Arthur Charles James Cavendish Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland.

During the First World War the kitchen block was used as an army hospital, then during World War II the army leased the main property as an Officers Messs. During the War, in 1943 the death of the 6th Duke saw it passing g to the 7th Duke. Some of the 5th Duke's tunnels were used as an ammunition depot until just after the end of the war. Welbeck was then leased by the 7th Duke to the Ministry of Defence who from 1953 operated it as Welbeck army training college. On the death of the 7th Duke in 1977, the estate passed to his daughter Lady Ann. In 2005 the Ministry of Defence moved out and the abbey reverted back exclusively to the family seat of residence.

On the death of the childless Ann aged 92 in December 2008, the 15,000-acre estate passed to her cousin and current owner, William Parente. He then set up the family-controlled Welbeck Estates Company and the charitable Harley Foundation, converting some estate buildings to new uses including an art gallery, farm shop and cafe. Sadly, though, the tunnel complex has been neglected, with the current owners try to keep the existance of the tunnels a best-kept secret. Hence, they look destined to slip into obscurity as they slowly slip into rack-and-ruin, rather than Parente preserving this national heritage treasure by splashing some of his £330m net worth to save this unique tunnel complex built by his Great Great Grandfather.

The 5th Duke has been the focus of two books; Mick Jackson's 1997 Booker short-listed “The Underground Man” and Derek Adlam’s “Tunnel Vision: The Enigmatic Fifth Duke of Portland”.

The Pictures:

30406945662_fc27e603d6_b.jpgimg8203 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30523122395_1c96723e04_b.jpgimg8197 by HughieDW, on Flickr
29892119244_68d74f8f21_b.jpgimg8105 by HughieDW, on Flickr

29892072204_cda8afa536_b.jpgimg8109 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30486197606_dd47b91dbd_b.jpgimg8110 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30406340902_52ac4f9e09_b.jpgimg8112 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30522558995_9cf0e6b339_b.jpgimg8115 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30435599001_7bf5bb9e5d_b.jpgimg8119 by HughieDW, on Flickr

29889654683_a338291f4d_b.jpgimg8121 by HughieDW, on Flickr

29891771754_a537083549_b.jpgimg8126 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30224300720_1b776a6655_b.jpgimg8158 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30435409421_50bb0bc2aa_b.jpgimg8129 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30435362921_b55e3bc2cf_b.jpgimg8140 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30224135870_d2cc22f50e_b.jpgimg8144 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30225091400_793c5572d3_b.jpgWelbeckphone03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30224049610_424b622d67_b.jpgimg8147 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30522119825_018280aa9d_b.jpgimg8149 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30225189900_41abc881a7_b.jpgWelbeckphone02 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30436802021_dbdbd9301e_b.jpgWelbeckphone04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30487331056_78235cf9da_b.jpgimg8163 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30436654641_078b479faf_b.jpgimg8175 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30225548780_767db28e91_b.jpgimg8179 by HughieDW, on Flickr

29890791363_3b612863fe_b.jpgimg8180 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30225443480_f5ebdba6d5_b.jpgimg8184 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30407190262_5f830a55ab_b.jpgimg8186 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30487044566_e32c338695_b.jpgimg8192 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30436377171_50f6eb38d2_b.jpgimg8193 by HughieDW, on Flickr
 
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The Wombat

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This is excellent.
We had a look round here earlier in the year, but didn't see a fraction of what you did!

Top work Hughie
 

shatners

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Brilliant Hughie... congrats on the research paying off.... as you know I've been appreciating these shots on Flickr :D

Top job!
 

Mikeymutt

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What a great report hughie.well wrote and well presented.I do love the look of this place.now did you find the ball room
 

HughieD

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Great report Hughie! I'll definitely be visiting here myself soon :)

Cheers Rubex. Drop me a PM re: intel

What a great report hughie.well wrote and well presented.I do love the look of this place.now did you find the ball room

Cheers Mikey. Ah, yes, the infamous ballroom. Sadly not.
 

Potter

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Excellent. I will have to pay this one a visit.
"William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck" - That's one hell of a name, same with his Nephew.
Seems supermarket trolleys really do get everywhere.
 

Timbo78

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Hi, I was lucky enough to be shown round the tunnels and house by a member of staff at the college out ten years ago. The tunnels and underground stables were really interesting. One of the tunnels had a narrow gauge railway. The underground ballroom wasn't originally below ground. while they were building the lake they piled the spoil around the building thus creating the underground effect.
Apparently the Crown Jewels were stored at Welbeck during the Second World War. Even more curious if Hitler had conquered the UK he was planned on using Welbeck as his headquarters.
 

Dirus_Strictus

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HiApparently the Crown Jewels were stored at Welbeck during the Second World War. Even more curious if Hitler had conquered the UK he was planned on using Welbeck as his headquarters.

No they were not and Hitler and Welbeck do not even connect on the pages of any novel!!! As any Google search will bring up dozens of factual information as to where the Jewels were located, why not check the facts before posting? I have always found this Forum full of accurate snippets of information - lets keep it that way and not get into the realms of 'La La Land'!
 

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