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A virtual trip down memory lane… (1)

Monday, September 21 2009

or rather down a very black hole!

Braich Goch

Open chamber at Braigh Goch Slate Quarry.
Photo Corris Mine Explorers.

I blame William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, the 5th Duke of Portland. The Duke constructed an elaborate network of underground rooms and tunnels on his estate at Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. The complex featured on a brilliant TV programme called Stranger than Fiction which was broadcast in the UK in the late 1950s. The producer of the programme seemed to favour architectural follies and unusual railways. At Welbeck he could feature both.

The Duke’s underground complex was reputed to have totalled 15 mi (24 km) of tunnels and underground corridors, connecting various underground chambers and above-ground buildings. They included a 1,000 yd (910 m) long tunnel between the house and the riding house, wide enough for several people to walk side by side. A more roughly constructed tunnel ran parallel to this for the use of his workmen. A 1.25 mi (2.01 km) long tunnel ran north-east from the coach house, to emerge at the South Lodge. It had domed skylights and was lit by gas lamps at night.

The underground chambers included a ballroom 160 ft (49 m) long and 63 ft (19 m) which was also a picture gallery. It had a hydraulic lift that could carry 20 guests. There was also a 250 ft (76 m) long library, an observatory with a large glass roof, and a vast billiards-room. To get this post back on topic there was even an underground railway to carry food from the kitchen!

Seeing the TV programme about the Duke’s creation at a very impressionable age left me with a predilection for things underground. This was reinforced by reading Arthur Ransome’s Pigeon Post where Ransome takes his heroes into a slate quarry inside an abandoned copper mine. No wonder then, that when I began working as a volunteer on the Talyllyn Railway, I became more interested in the slate quarries which gave birth to the railway than to the trains themselves.

(to be continued…)

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One comment

  1. I have explored these tunnels from the age of 12. They are truly something to be marvelled at. I recently went on a foray into the tunnels but found a lot of the old access points have now been bricked up.



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