The Portland Collection museum, Nottinghamshire, tells the story of the Dukes of Portland and their families. The Collection’s paintings, letters, books and objects shed light on how the family shaped their home on the Welbeck estate – and their influence further across the county.

Curator Emeritus Derek Adlam tells all.

866 Years and Counting

Welbeck Abbey began as a monastery, founded in 1154. It stood for 384 years until the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. The church was demolished, and the land and buildings passed into private hands.

It bought by Bess of Hardwick’s youngest son, Sir Charles Cavendish in 1607.

Since then, Welbeck has continued to be handed down through the family and the extensive estate still covers 15,000 acres across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Nottinghamshire Buildings

If you want to plan a visit to a historic property or museum, Nottinghamshire has many hidden gems to discover. And many of these attractions have links to the Welbeck estate.

Welbeck’s owners have commissioned and built some of the greatest buildings in the Midlands and shaped the architecture of the region.

William Cavendish 1st Duke of Newcastle was the second owner of Welbeck, and one of the family’s most prolific builders.

Nottingham Castle is one of William Cavendish’s buildings. He had planned a ‘Ducal Palace’ on the site of the earlier castle, and it was still being constructed when he died.

The 3rd Duke of Portland on horseback at Welbeck, George Stubbs, 1767

The 3rd Duke of Portland on horseback at Welbeck, George Stubbs, 1767. William Cavendish’s riding school can be seen in the background. Available on Bridgeman Images.

Cavendish built local landmark Bolsover Castle and started to develop Welbeck Abbey. A dedicated horseman, he built famous riding schools at both properties.

The family would go on to build and develop across Nottinghamshire, and their buildings are the stuff of local legend.

The Victorian 5th Duke of Portland is famous for being the ‘burrowing duke.’ The 5th Duke spent his time and wealth at Welbeck, commissioning an impressive range of buildings that included a maze of underground tunnels.

His picturesque lodges and stables are scattered across the local landscape. They were designed to reference his ancestor’s style at Bolsover Castle.

The 5th Duke of Portland built his Gas Works in about 1860, to light his underground structures. This building is now home to The Harley Gallery.

Caring for Nottinghamshire’s landscape

Nottinghamshire is characterized by green rolling countryside, and most famous for Sherwood Forest.

Welbeck sits at the northern end of Sherwood Forest, and the estate looked after some of the great trees of England. It manages woodlands and parklands to this day.  When St Paul’s cathedral was rebuilt after the great fire of London it was Welbeck oaks that were used for the roof beams.

Creswell Crags can also be found on the estate. The museum sits in a prehistoric limestone gorge, lined with caves and rock art.

In the 19th century, the 4th Duke of Portland worked on many important land reforms, concerned as he was to get the best from his lands and improving his estates wherever possible. He also started the development of his property in Marylebone in London. Here, there is a network of world-famous streets with names from the family, including Cavendish Square, Oxford Street, and Harley Street.

Advances in Infrastructure

William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, 4th Duke of Portland, Sir Francis Grant, 1852. (c) The Harley Gallery, The Portland Collection

Detail, William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, 4th Duke of Portland, Sir Francis Grant, 1852. (c) The Harley Gallery, The Portland Collection. Available on Bridgeman Images.

The 4th Duke of Portland also developed the water management in North Nottinghamshire and had extensive water meadows constructed. They would later lend their name to the Water Meadows Swimming Pool Complex.

This approach was very unusual in the north of the country, and the Duke’s development was an exceptionally large example of a water meadows system. His plans not only changed the landscape of Mansfield but allowed the industrial development of cotton mills in our region. This in turn developed employment and prosperity for the East Midlands.

This continued with Welbeck’s development of mining and the North Nottinghamshire coalfields. Alongside this business development was a commitment to miners’ welfare. The 6th Duchess of Portland’s funded Portland Hospital, now college, and Harlow Wood Hospital.

County Landmarks

Many local landmarks connect to the Duke of Portland and family. In Mansfield Market Place stands an impressive Gothic memorial to Lord George Bentinck. The son of the 4th Duke of Portland, Lord George was a political innovator and horse racing enthusiast. Further memorials for him are near Carburton and in London’s Cavendish Square Gardens.

The family also held the title ‘Marquess of Titchfield’, which lends its name to Titchfield Park in Mansfield. This is the oldest public park in the town, with the Duke of Portland beginning its development in 1879.

Plan a Museum Visit

Visit The Portland Collection Museum, Nottinghamshire, to learn about your local history.

Nottingham history offers some amazing stories, and the county’s museums shed light on how the area has influenced the country as a whole. There’s a list of great museums in Nottinghamshire on the Visit Nottinghamshire website.