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Welbeck Abbey in 1829

Welbeck Abbey near Clumber Parkmarker in North Nottinghamshiremarker was the principal abbey of the Premonstratensian order in England and later the principal residence of the Dukes of Portland.

Monastic period

The Abbey's estate was first mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it is recorded as belonging to one Hugh FitzBaldric. Thomas de Cuckney founded a religious house there in 1140. It was an abbey of Premonstratensian canons, dedicated to St James the Great. The abbey was enriched by liberal gifts from the Goushills, D’Eyncourts, Bassets, and other families of Nottinghamshiremarker; and it also received a considerable grant from King Edward I. With so much wealth at his disposal, the Abbot of Welbeck was an influential man, and in 1512 all the houses of the order in England were placed under his care.

Abbots of Welbeck Abbey

  • Berengar, occurs between 1153 and 1169
  • Adam, occurs between 1183 and 1194
  • Richard, occurs between 1194 and 1224
  • William, occurs 1229, 1236, 1243
  • Richard, occurs 1250, 1252, 1256-7
  • Adam, occurs 1263, 1272, 1276
  • Thomas, occurs 1281, 1292
  • John de Duckmanton, 1309
  • John de Cestrefeld, 1310
  • William de Kendall, 1316
  • John de Nottingham, 1322
  • William de Aslakeden, 1335
  • Robert Spalding, 1341
  • John de Wirksop, 1349

  • Hugh de Langley, 1360
  • George de Gamelston, occurs 1369, 1383, 1387
  • William de Staveley, occurs 1389
  • John Bankwell, occurs 1393
  • John de Norton, occurs 1412, dies 1450
  • John Greene, 1450
  • William Burton, occurs 1475, 1482
  • John Lancaster alias Acastre, occurs 1488, 1491
  • John Copper, occurs 1492
  • Thomas Wydur, occurs 1494, 1497, 1500
  • Robert, occurs 1502
  • Thomas Wilkinson, 1503
  • John Maxey, 1520, died 1536
  • Richard Bentley, surrendered 1538

Country house

Welbeck Abbey in the 17th century

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site was granted by Henry VIII to Richard Whalley, of Screveton. After being owned by a City of Londonmarker clothier, the abbey was purchased from Gilbert, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, by Sir Charles Cavendish, son of Bess of Hardwick. It then passed to Sir Charles's son William Cavendish, later first Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne. Members of the Cavendish family converted it into a country house and added a riding house in the 17th century to the design of Robert Smythson and his son John Smythson. Only a few basements and inner walls were retained from the original fabric of the former Abbey buildings.

Welbeck became the principal family seat of the early Dukes of Newcastle. In the 18th century, it passed through an heiress into the Bentinck family and became the main seat of the Earls and Dukes of Portland.

The 5th Duke of Portland undertook what are considered the most substantial building works at Welbeck.

The kitchen gardens covered and were surrounded by high walls with recesses behind them in which braziers could be placed to hasten the ripening of fruit. One of the walls, a peach wall, measured over in length.

An immense new riding house was built which was 396' long, 108' wide and 50' high and which enclosed a tan gallop of . It was lit by 4,000 gas jets.

Welbeck Abbey - Picture Gallery by George Washington Wilson

There was a tunnel over one thousand yards in length, leading from the house to the riding school and wide enough for several people to walk side by side. Parallel to this tunnel was another, more roughly constructed, which was used by workmen.A longer and more elaborate tunnel, one and a half miles long and intended as a carriage drive broad enough for two carriages to pass, led towards Worksop. This was abandoned in the late nineteenth century when the section of the tunnel forming part of the lake dam failed. Remaining stretches of tunnel survive on either side of the lake. The sites of skylights can be seen from the Robin Hood Way footpath which follows the course of the tunnel, and a masonry tunnel entrance can be seen between two lodges at the northeastern limit of the park.

The 5th Duke also excavated underground chambers. The largest is a great hall, long and wide and originally intended as a chapel, then used as a picture gallery and occasionally as a ballroom. There is also a suite of five adjacent rooms constructed to house the Duke's Library. Although often cited as being "underground", these apartments are strictly "below ground", as they are not covered by earth or lawn; the flat rooves and skylights are visible in aerial photographs, although at ground level they are concealed from most directions by shrubbery.

The Duke also made many alterations to the house above ground. A vast amount of plumbing was done with elaborate new bathrooms made and a great many new pipes laid. New lodges were built at different entrances to the Park.

This work cost prodigious sums and involved the employment of thousands of men - masons, bricklayers, joiners, plumbers, navvies etc. While there were disputes from time to time (wages, hours, etc) the Duke personally got on very well with his employees and earned the nickname 'the workman's friend'. He created employment in the district both for the skilled and the unskilled.

By 1879 Welbeck was in a state of disrepair. The only rooms habitable were the four or five rooms used by the 5th Duke in the west wing. All the rooms were painted pink, with parquet floors, all bare and without furniture, except that almost every room had a 'convenience' in the corner.

The House was repaired and brought into full occupation by 6th Duke, and became notable as a centre of late Victorian and Edwardian upper-class "society". The Duke was a keen horse-owner, and the almhouses he constructed on the estate are know as the Winnings, because they were funded from the proceeds of money won by his horses in seven "high purse" races from 1888-1890.

The Oxford Wing of the Abbey, which contained some of the oldest parts of the building burned down in October 1900, although most of the contents were saved from the fire. The wing was rebuilt to the designs of Ernest George by 1905.

A smaller house known as Welbeck Woodhouse was built on the northern side of the estate for the then Marquess of Titchfield in 1930-31. This was built to a design by Walter Brierley but executed after Brierley's death by his partner James Hervey Rutherford.After the Second World War, Welbeck was leased by the Dukes of Portland to the Ministry of Defence and was used as an army training college, 'Welbeck Collegemarker' until 2005.

Welbeck today

The descendents of the Cavendish Bentinck family still live on the estate. The Abbey itself is the home of William Parente, the only grandchild of the 7th Duke of Portland and his Duchess, who served as High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire in 2003-04, while Lady Anne Cavendish-Bentinck, the elder daughter of the 7th Duke, lived at Welbeck Woodhouse, and owned most of the estate, up until her death on December 29, 2008.

As the estate remains privately owned, pedestrian access is confined to footpaths forming part of the Robin Hood Way. However, there is general public access to the Welbeck Farm shop and The Harley Gallery. This gallery, managed by the Harley Foundation trust, shows a combination of contemporary arts and crafts together with items from the Cavendish-Bentick art collections.

List of owners and occupiers


  1. The Summer Excursion, Transactions of the Thoroton Society III (1899)
  2. Entry for Welbeck Abbey in register of Historic Parks and Gardens
  3. Charles Mosley, ed., Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), volume 3, page 3336

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