The 5th Duke of Portland (1800 – 1879) was a keen collector, and The Portland Collection remains home to many pieces that he chose.
He bought more than 50 paintings, including works by Reynolds and Mytens, over 70 miniatures and an extraordinary array of ceramics.
There are many rumours which surround the 5th Duke of Portland. Original letters and documents in The Portland Collection (and The Nottingham University Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections) dispel some of these myths. Most exciting are the memoirs of Elizabeth Butler, a laundry maid who worked at Welbeck for 62 years. In 1932, at the 6th Duke’s request, she wrote an account of the 5th Duke and life at Welbeck. In it, she recalls daily working life and her admiration for the way the 5th Duke managed the estate and his employees.
The 5th Duke became a recluse who shunned his social equals. Rumour and myth surrounded his life and tales of disfigurement and madness spread throughout society. However, to his staff he was a considerate employer, known for many acts of goodwill. To his friends and family he was lavish with gifts and to many charities he was a generous supporter.
The Duke is especially well known for his architectural legacy at Welbeck. He combined new Victorian engineering technologies and the architectural styles of his ancestors, and so his buildings became the biggest and grandest of their time. His projects included the largest Kitchen Gardens in Britain and the second largest riding school in the world.
But perhaps The Duke’s most extraordinary and famous construction is a network of underground tunnels and structures beneath Welbeck Park. He employed up to 1000 Irish workmen experienced in railway building. With their expertise, he constructed 2.5 miles of tunnels – some large enough to pass 2 carriages side by side. The Harley Gallery is built within the ruins of the gasworks. Built in 1860, the gasworks fuelled the thousands of lamps in the 5th Duke’s underground buildings.
Want to find out more? Tunnel Vision: The Enigmatic 5th Duke of Portland is available from the Bookshop.