Welbeck Abbey was founded as a monastery in 1153. When Henry VIII became Supreme Head of the Church of England in the 1530s, he dissolved the monastery. After the dissolution, a member of the King’s court bought Welbeck Abbey.

Bess of Hardwick’s youngest son, Sir Charles Cavendish, bought the Welbeck estate in 1607. Since then the estate has continued to be handed down through the family.

The Dukes of Portland and their families

Family members include the 5th Duke of Portland, the famous ‘burrowing duke.’ The 5th Duke spent his time and wealth at Welbeck, commissioning an impressive range of buildings which included a maze of underground tunnels. He built The Gas Works in about 1860, to light his underground structures. This building is now home to The Harley Gallery.

The Harley Gallery and Foundation are named after Edward Harley, who married Charles Cavendish’s great-granddaughter, Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles, heiress to Welbeck, in 1713. Edward Harley was one of the greatest bibliophiles and collectors in British history. He developed an extensive fine and decorative art collection and a manuscript collection which helped found the British Library.

His collecting habits led to an extensive fine and decorative art collection. Harley also bought the famous horse, “The Bloodied Shouldered Arabian” and shipped him over to Britain. It is said that every racehorse in Britain descended from him or from one other horse, which was called “The Darley Arabian”.

The family have retained a passion for horses and horse racing. In the 1880s their winnings from racing amounted to what would be around £30,000,000 in today’s money. Duchess Winifred made sure that some of the money went to building a set of almshouses. She named them “The Winnings”, and they are still in use today. She also used her position to promote her love of birds and helped to found the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Welbeck today

Welbeck Abbey remains a private family home. During Summer, The Harley Gallery runs tours of the Abbey’s State Rooms to see objects from the art collection built up over the centuries by the Dukes of Portland and their families, The Portland Collection, in their historic setting.

The Courtyard at Welbeck is open to the public daily. Here you can visit The Harley Café, The Harley Gallery, The Portland Collection and Welbeck Farm Shop. The Welbeck estate is also home to a community of food producers including The School of Artisan Food.

A range of publications on the history of Welbeck and The Portland Collection are available from The Harley Gallery Shop.