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Home > New Search > Welbeck Abbey

Welbeck Abbey  England 
Welbeck, Bassetlaw, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England

Circa Date: Mid-12th century, 13th & early 17th century core w/significant 18th & 19th century alterations and additions

Status: Fully Extant


Special Info / Location/ Date

Special Info
Phonetic Pronunciation of House Name

District Today
 Historic County
 City / Town / Village
Welbeck, Bassetlaw, near Worksop

Start Date
Completion Date
Circa Date
Mid-12th century, 13th & early 17th century core w/significant 18th & 19th century alterations and additions

The South Façade from a 1916 postcard

Click on thumbnail for a larger view

The South Façade from a 1916 postcard
The Portland Vase from an 1860 publication
The Portland Vase in the British Museum
The Portland Vase on a circa 1832 Spode dinner plate
Scene from the Portland Vase on a 1930s bakelite brooch
A Rubens grisaille sketch for The Triumph of Venus, formerly at Welbeck, today in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
A circa 1795 Wedgwood Jasperware Portland Vase, No. 9 of the first edition, today in the collection of the Harvard Art Museum
An 1829 steel engraved print from Jones' Views of the Seats
A late 19th century Wedgwood Jasperware Portland Vase pithcer
A late 19th century Wedgwood Jasperware Portland Vase pithcer
1984 Jasperware medallion issued to commemorate 225th anniversary of Wedgwood. The bust of Josiah Wedgwood has, to its left, a miniature version of the Portland Vase.

Designed   May have designed Gothic Hall
Date   1747-51
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Designed   Reconstructed South Wing and remodeled West Façade for Henrietta, Countess of Oxford.
Date   1742-46

Designed   St. Winifred's Church (1913-16), Langwith Lodge (1904), and other Estate buildings, all for 6th Duke of Portland.
Date   1904-16

Designed   Cricket Pavilion, Tea Pavilion, and sunken garden pavilion.
Date   1908

Designed   Parkland
Date   1790-92

Designed   Redesigned Oxford Wing internally, remodeled Gothic Hall, redesigned East (Garden) Front in Baroque Revival style, alterations to West Façade, designed Dining Room for 6th Duke.
Date   Early 20th century

Designed   Alterations, including conversion of Old Riding School building into a new Chapel and the Titchfield Library and linking them to the House with curved Print Corridor for 6th Duke.
Date   1891-96

Designed   Alterations for 3rd Duke of Portland: Chapel (1763), Stables (1774), East Front of House and Red Drawing Room, (1775-77), and probably the Swan Drawing Room (1760s).
Date   1763-77

Extant / Listed / References

Extant Type
Fully Extant
Extant Details

House Listed As 
Grade I
Gardens Listed As  
Grade II
Country House:  Yes

Vitruvius Britannicus
Vitruvius Scoticus
J.B. Burke (Burke's Visitation of Seats)
2.S. Vol. I, p. 201, 1854.
Country Life
XIX, 558, 1906. LXXIV, 346 [Repton Notebooks], 1933.
J.P. Neale (Neale's Views of Seats)
Vol. III, 1820.
Access / Ownership / Seat

Open to Public Please note: Houses listed as being open "By Appointment" are usually country house hotels, B&Bs, or schools.
Limited Access
Historic Houses Association Member
Phone Number If calling from the U.S., delete the first "0" in British numbers.
Fax Number

Current Ownership
Current Ownership Type
Individual / Family Trust
Primary Current Ownership Use
Private Home
Current Ownership Use / Details
Owned by the Welbeck Estates.

Seat ("Seat" is loosely defined as any family that occupied the house for a period of 2 years or more)
Today Seat of
William Parente; Cavendish-Bentinck family here since 1607.
A Past Seat(s) of
Richard Whalley, 16th century. Sir Charles Cavendish, 17th century. Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and 1st Duke of Newcastle-Under-Lyne, 18th century. Henrietta, Countess of Oxford, 18th century. William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland, 19th century.
Possible (Unsure) Seat of
History / Gardens & Park / Movies

Earlier House(s) / Building(s)
Today's house occupies the site of an abbey of Premonstratensian canons, founded in 1140 by Thomas de Cuckney and dedicated to St. James.
House Replaced By
Built / Designed For
House & Family History
When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the Premonstratensian abbey at Welbeck was seized by the Crown and later granted to Richard Whalley of Screveton. After the Whalleys decamped the Welbeck Estate passed through a number of owners until it came to settle in the ownership of Sir Charles Cavendish, youngest son of the Countess of Shrewsbury (the famous Bess of Hardwick). Sir Charles entertained James I at Welbeck and was subsequently raised to the peerage as Baron Cavendish and Earl of Newcastle. In August of 1619 the Prince of Wales, later Charles I, paid an extended visit to the Earl at Welbeck. During the Civil War the Earl was Commander-in-Chief of the Royalist Forces North of the Trent and served his monarch well. In 1642 Queen Henrietta Maria (Charles I's wife) arrived at Welbeck with arms and ammunition; the Earl made sure the Queen was safely transported to the King at Oxford. At the Restoration Charles II raised the Earl to the Dukedom of Newcastle. The 1st Duke of Newcastle’s great granddaughter married the 2nd Earl of Oxford; this couple's only daughter married William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland, in 1734, thus bringing the Welbeck Estate into the family in whose ownership it remains today (2006). Welbeck Abbey is famous primarily because of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, who built 3 miles of tunnels under the House, in addition to the construction of many Estate buildings; in total, the 5th Duke spent nearly £1 million (equivalent, in 2005 values, to approximately £77 million) on his building campaigns at Welbeck; he could, however, afford it. The Duke had, at £200,000 (equivalent to approximately £12 million in 2005 values) one of the largest annual incomes in England. The Duke was apparently so shy that he communicated with his servants through a letterbox, so as to avoid having to see them face-to-face. In addition to the tunnels (one of which exited near a rail line, thus enabling the Duke to take his carriage from an underground tunnel directly to his private rail car, and thence to London), the Duke also built a number of underground rooms, the most famous of which is the 160-foot-long Ballroom, still used today by the Army college (Welbeck College) which occupies part of the House. To prevent the penetration of moisture into the underground rooms the walls were constructed of an exceptional thickness and then covered with asphalt. To run his huge Estate the 5th Duke employed over 1,000 staff, many of whom worked on the construction of the tunnels and the underground rooms. In 1997 the 5th Duke was the subject of a fictional novel, "The Underground Man," by Mick Jackson. Under the terms of the 5th Duke’s father’s will, should the 5th Duke die childless (which is exactly what happened), the Portland Estates were to be divided between the 5th Duke’s male heir (William Cavendish-Bentinck, who would become the 6th Duke), and the 5th Duke’s two surviving sisters. The 6th Duke thus inherited the Welbeck Estate and many of the surrounding estates, as well as Bolsover Castle, while his aunt, Lady Ossington, inherited the Scottish Caithness estate, and his other aunt, Lady Howard de Walden, inherited the Marylebone Estate in London, in whose family’s ownership it remains today (2005). The 6th Duke, upon inheriting, set about making major improvements to the House; he engaged the architect John Dando Sedding to transform the former Riding School into a new Chapel and a Library; these were then linked to the House by a great curved corridor. The Chapel is a tour-de-force, called “one of the finest and most complete country house chapels of the late-Victorian era” by Pete Smith, writing in “The Edwardian Great House.” It has a pulpit of yellow marble, black-and-white checkered marble floors, enormous pink-gray marble columns, and a colored marble altar rail. The piece-de-resistance, however, are the solid bronze doors depicting scenes from the life of Christ in low relief. The doors are copied after those of the Baptistery of the Duomo in Florence and were designed by Henry Wilson and cast by F.W. Pomeroy. The Chapel is arranged in the fashion of an 18th century church and sports full-height columns supporting a barrel vault plaster ceiling. Pete Smith calls the atmosphere “almost Byzantine.” The Titchfield Library (still used today by Welbeck College) features an inglenook fireplace carved by F.W. Pomeroy of local alabaster. The 6th Duke initiated the cataloging of the books in the Library, in addition to the huge job of cataloging the contents of the House. As a result of these endeavors, during the 1890s a series of privately printed books were published. The first was James Garrard’s catalog of the silver plate at the Abbey, published in 1893. In 1894 Charles Fairfax-Murray published a catalog of the pictures at the great house, and, in 1897, G.R. and H.W. Harding came out with a published catalog of the furniture and porcelain at Welbeck. One of the results of this great push of documenting the collections at the Abbey was that the 6th Duke gave permission for the Royal Commission of Historical Manuscripts to begin the enormous task of cataloging the archives at Welbeck Abbey. This project eventually led to the publication, post World War I, of a series of histories of Welbeck Abbey. The enormous Print Corridor (divided into offices by Welbeck College during their occupation) contained part of the huge collection of prints in the Portland Collection. In the fall of 1900 a fire swept through part of the Abbey, gutting the Oxford Wing and causing an estimated £50,000 in damage (equivalent to approximately £3.6 million in 2005 values). The 6th Duke hired Sir Ernest George to make repairs after the fire and to alter other rooms in the Abbey. George glassed-in the porte-cochere and introduced new brass inner doors by J. Starkie Gardener; designed in the Jacobean Revival style and fitted with thick beveled glass, the doors are still stunning today (2005). The 5th Duke’s great underground works were not complete at his death, with the result that the 6th Duke inherited, to the west of the underground Ballroom, an area 300 by 250 feet that had already been excavated for the planned underground Bachelor’s Wing. The 6th Duke instead had Sir Ernest George design a large garden pavilion, sunk 15 feet below the surrounding park, complete with a half-moon-shaped swimming pool and tennis courts. The 6th Duke was Grand Master of the Nottinghamshire Masonic Lodge and allowed meetings of the Lodge to be held in the famous underground Ballroom. The 6th Duke was Master of the Horse to both Queen Victoria and Edward VII and entertained on a grand scale; he was famous for the house parties he held at Welbeck for the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII); he also entertained the kings of Belgium, Siam, Spain, and Portugal at the Abbey. During the 6th Duke’s time the household staff numbered 300 and included a man whose job was to clean the housemaids’ bicycles. The Cavendish-Bentinck family historically derived a large portion of their wealth from the very lucrative Marylebone Estate, a great swath of London they owned that comprised the land between Oxford Street and Regent’s Park, including Harley Street and Portland Place. In addition to the London properties, the family had 11 coal mines on the Welbeck Estate, which also provided a substantial income. These coal mines were nationalized after World War II and were closed by the Coal Board in the late 20th century. The Red Drawing Room (formerly the Saloon) is noted for its Gobelins tapestries, woven in 1783 and only discovered in the late 19th-early 20th century by Lady Bolsover in a tin trunk that had remained unopened for almost 100 years. The plaster ceiling of the Gothick Hall is considered one of the greatest creations of the Gothick style. The Entrance Hall contains a fireplace carved by Thomas Carter that is dated 1744 and was inspired by the fireplace in the Star Chamber at Bolsover Castle. During the Second World War the Army moved into Welbeck; in 1954 a sixth-form Army College was started there, where it remains today (2005), occupying part of the House. At the early 21st century the Welbeck Estate covers 16,000 acres and employs approximately 110 people. In addition, a family charitable organization, The Harley Foundation, encourages and supports exceptional craftwork in traditional methods. In 2005 the British Army vacated Welbeck Abbey. The family still live on the estate in a house called Welbeck Woodhouse and within Welbeck Abbey itself.
Collections This field lists art objects that are currently or were previously in the collection of the house.

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The exceptionally famous Portland Vase, named after the Dukes of Portland, is today in the collection of The British Museum, London. Most scholars believe the Roman vase was made about the time of the birth of Christ, during the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). The vase is considered the most beautiful cameo glass vessel surviving from antiquity. It is made of dark blue-purple glass surrounded with a single continuous white glass cameo depicting seven figures, the cutting of which was very likely performed by a skilled gem cutter. Modern scholars estimate it took no less than two years to produce the vase. Though the circumstances of its modern discovery cannot be proved, it appears that the vase was discovered circa 1582 by Fabrizio Lazzaro in the sepulchre of the Emperor Alexander Severus at Monte del Grano, near Rome. The first written reference to the Vase occurs in a 1601 letter from the French scholar Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc to Peter Paul Rubens, in which it is recorded as being in the collection of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte in Italy. It later entered the collection of the acquisitive Barberini family (the Barberini Vase, as it was then known, was the prized possession of Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII [1623-44]) and remained with them until sold in the late 18th century. James Byres (1733-1817), a Scottish art dealer known as “the Pope’s antiquary,” (Byres settled in Rome in 1758 and conducted business from his house in Via Paolina) acquired the Vase after it was sold by Donna Cornelia Barberini-Colonna, Princess of Palestrina. Byres sold the vase in 1778 to Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), British ambassador in Naples, who brought it to England on his next leave (after the death of his first wife, Catherine). With the assistance of his niece, Mary, Hamilton arranged a private sale (for approximately £2,000, equivalent to approximately £216,000 in 2012 values, using the commodity index) to Margaret Cavendish Holles-Harley (1715-85), widow of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland. The Vase was but one of many pieces of art and curiosities in the collection of the Duchess of Portland, whose collection was collectively called "The Duchess of Portland's Museum." The collection was enormously rich in natural history, but also included books, pictures, busts, coins, medals, miniatures, jewels, and china. After her death in 1785 the Duchess's collection was auctioned on April 24, 1786 by Skinner and Co. The auction was a huge event, no less because of the inclusion in it of the famous vase, but it was more than just the vase that brought notoriety to the collection and the auction. W.S. (Lefty) Lewis, founder of the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University, said of the Duchess: "Few men have equaled Margaret Cavendish Holles Harley, Duchess of Portland, in the mania of collecting, and perhaps no woman. In an age of great collectors she rivaled the greatest. She is best known as having supplanted with her own name the famous Barberini-Hamilton vase…"). Her son, the 3rd Duke (1738-1809), purchased the vase at auction for £1,029 and placed it on loan to the British Museum (it was at this point that the Vase acquired its current name). In 1810 the 4th Duke (1768-1854) placed the vase on permanent loan with the British Museum. The 3rd Duke also lent the vase to Josiah Wedgwood, who devoted considerable time in duplicating it in Jasperware with applied white reliefs (he did not achieve an acceptable replica until 1790 and considered the reproduction of the Portland Vase the culmination of his career). Wedgwood’s success in replicating the vase led to an enormous increase in the vase’s notoriety, taking it for the first time out of the realm of the well-informed cognoscenti and into the upper middle classes. Ironically, today early versions of Wedgwood’s Portland Vase are quite valuable and found in the collections of many museums around the world (the first to enter an American collection, No. 9 of the first edition, is today in the collection of the Harvard Art Museum -- see photo in "Images" section). In 1791 the naturalist Erasmus Darwin (he and Wedgwood were good friends and both were grandfathers of Charles Darwin) published an epic poem entitled “The Botanic Garden” that contains a section inspired by scenes on the Portland Vase. The Vase has been on view in the British Museum since 1810, apart from three years (1929-32) when William Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland, attempted to sell it. The vase was put up for auction at Christie's in 1929; however, it failed to reach its reserve of 29,000 guineas (£30,450) and remained in the ownership of the Dukes of Portland until purchased from William Cavendish-Bentinck, 7th Duke of Portland, in 1945 for £5,000. The Portland Vase makes an appearance in fiction, being mentioned as having been rescued by time travelers from the future just before the destruction of the earth in Arthur C. Clarke's 1951 science fiction short story, "All the Time in the World." A Rubens grisaille sketch for "The Triumph of Venus," today in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (see photo in "Images" section), was in the collection of the Dukes of Portland at both Welbeck and Bulstrode. The Welbeck Estate maintains The Harley Gallery in Welbeck village, a public art gallery built in 1994 within the ruins of the Victorian gasworks (01909-501-700 or www.HarleyGallery.co.uk). The collection features one of the largest privately-owned collections of British portraits, as well as fine and decorative arts amassed over the centuries by the dukes of Portland. There are masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s "Madonna del Silenzio," a rarely seen Van Dyck painting of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, the pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution in 1649, the Portland Tiara by Cartier, and George Stubbs’s painting of the 3rd Duke of Portland on horseback outside the stables at Welbeck.
Pete Smith, writing in "The Edwardian Great House," states that "The 6th Duke commissioned Ernest George & Alfred Yates to remodel the exterior of Welbeck Abbey transforming it from a vast dull Victorian pile into a memorable and distinguished Edwardian great house."

Gardens & Park
Garden, Park, Follies and Outbuildings
The Terrace Garden outside the Oxford Wing was laid out by Alfred Parsons and has, at its center, a large fountain designed and cast by Alphonse Legros. In 2015 the Welbeck Estate comprised approximately 15,000 acres.
Chapel & Church
The Chapel in the House is a tour-de-force, called “one of the finest and most complete country house chapels of the late-Victorian era” by Pete Smith, writing in “The Edwardian Great House.” It has a pulpit of yellow marble, black-and-white checkered marble floors, enormous pink-gray marble columns, and a colored marble altar rail. The piece-de-resistance, however, are the solid bronze doors depicting scenes from the life of Christ in low relief. The doors are copied after those of the Baptistery of the Duomo in Florence and were designed by Henry Wilson and cast by F.W. Pomeroy. The Chapel is arranged in the fashion of an 18th century church and sports full-height columns supporting a barrel vault plaster ceiling. Pete Smith calls the atmosphere “almost Byzantine.” The 6th Duke's final architectural addition to the Welbeck Estate was a new church -- St. Winifred, in the village of Holbeck. It was begun in 1913 and finished in 1916 to the designs of the architect Louis Ambler. The design of the church was inspired by the Norman church at Steetley in Derbyshire.

Location for Movies / TV
"Testament of Youth" (2014 - for the Uppingham School, Melrose house, and Etaples field hospital scenes).

Author   Sayer, Michael
Year Published   1993

Author   Hall, Michael
Year Published   1994

Author   Colvin, Howard
Year Published   1995
Reference   pgs. 222, 952

Author   Kidd, Charles; Williamson, David (Editors)
Year Published   1990
Reference   pg. P 987

Author   NA
Year Published   1914
Reference   pg. 978

Author   NA
Year Published   NA
Reference   Nov 1985, pg. 689

Author   Lovell, Mary S.
Year Published   2006
Reference   pg. 490

Author   Walpole, Horace; Lewis, W.S. (Introduction)
Year Published   1936
Reference   pgs. v, vi

Author   Airs, Malcom (Editor)
Year Published   2000
Reference   pgs. 77-79, 81-92

Author   Walker, Susan
Year Published   2004
Reference   pgs. 7, 21-24, 27

Author   Colvin, Howard
Year Published   2008
Reference   pg. 568

There are no documents associated with this house.

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