I found this story in E.S. Turner’s What the Butler Saw.
One of the very first posts I wrote on this blog was about the 5th Duke of Portland (1800-1879), who epitomised aristocratic eccentricity. He loved privacy to such an extent that he built an underground tunnel more than a mile long, allowing him to travel by carriage between his two homes completely unseen.
When he was forced to ride in his carriage in public, “he did so in a black coach like a hearse with blinds drawn, pulled by black horses. At night, if he chose to walk abroad, he would be preceded by a woman servant at a distance of exactly forty yards, carrying a lantern. She was forbidden to speak to him.
“When he visited his London home, the Duke travelled in a carriage, with blinds drawn, which was loaded on a railway truck. Before it was due to arrive at Harcourt House, in Cavendish Square, all the servants were ordered out of the way (the garden had high screens round it)” (262).
To answer my question from the first blog post, the book recounts, “Whenever the Duke required medical attention, the doctor came to the door of the room and asked diagnostic questions by way of the valet, who felt his master’s pulse when requested to do so. (This was somewhat in the fashion of an earlier Countess of Carlisle, who was too proud to allow the local doctor to speak to her, except through her personal maid. Once, after a frustrating interview, she instructed her maid: ‘Inform the doctor he may bleed the Countess of Carlisle.’)” (262).
The Duke’s kitchens were in a converted riding stable. Why a riding stable, I’m sure I don’t know. But whenever dinner was prepared the food would then be lowered down to his subterranean tunnels and put on a heated truck which ran on rails for 150 yards to the main house, where it was then brought back up above ground to be served in the dining room. “It was the Duke’s whim to have a chicken roasting on a spit perpetually, so that at any time he could send for one” (262).
He was also obsessed with horses and built a beautiful new stable, containing 4,000 gas jets to light it (although another report says it was 8,000 jets). At the time of his death, he left 94 horses, which were attended to by nearly fifty grooms and stablemen.
Of the Duke’s home, one author wrote, “All is vast, splendid and utterly comfortless. One could imagine no more awful and ghastly fate than waking up one day and finding oneself Duke of Portland and master of Welbeck. The sixth Duke, to whom this ghastly fate fell, had a heavy struggle making the place habitable; his predecessor had lived in four or five rooms in the west wing” (262-63).