Old Victorian train tunnel

Dig deeper into local history with The Harley Gallery’s new exhibition about the 5th Duke of Portland

New exhibition at The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire reveals the life of the elusive 5th Duke of Portland who owned the historic Welbeck estate during the Victorian era.

The 5th Duke was an unusual figure in high society, and many myths and legends have grown around his memory.

These include always wearing 3 pairs of socks, only eating roast chicken, and communicating exclusively by letter through his bedroom door.

The actual truth behind the stories is uncertain but it seems that the famously private 5th Duke was leading a fascinating life.

He is best known for his building projects, which include one of the world’s largest riding schools, 2¾ miles of tunnels, a subterranean ballroom and an underground donkey stable.

This exhibition illustrates his life beyond the tunnels – including stories of lost love, amazing art collecting, and the creation of the landscape we see today at Welbeck.

As a young man, the 5th Duke fell in love with the opera singer Adelaide Kemble. He proposed to her, only to discover that she was secretly married. The Duke never married. The exhibition includes Long Tunnel portraits of the singer from the Duke’s collection, including a gold framed miniature portrait, and a selection of drawings from a series of 34 sketches which show scenes from Adelaide’s performances.

The exhibition also includes some of the works from the 5th Duke’s extensive art collection. He bought more than 50 paintings, including works by Reynolds and Mytens, over 70 miniatures and an extraordinary array of ceramics. A highlight of the exhibition is a full length, glamourous portrait of Madame de la Vallière, who was a mistress of Louis XIV.

This exhibition also includes the architectural models for some of the Duke’s building projects, the Duke’s death mask, one of just a few images of the reclusive Duke, and his iconic double-letterbox bedroom door, which offered a Victorian version of modern day top level privacy settings.

Lisa Gee, Director of The Harley Gallery, comments:

“We wanted to illustrate that the 5th Duke was more than a tunnel builder. He was a true man of his times; a great art collector, prolific correspondent, philanthropist, and innovator using the latest technology and design. Welbeck and The Portland Collection was greatly improved by the Duke for his heirs and future generations.”


  • The 5th Duke of Portland // Tunnel Vision is showing at The Harley Gallery until December 2022. It is open Tuesday – Sunday with free entry, and free parking.
  • The Harley Gallery is on the Welbeck estate, on the A60 south of Worksop. It is 15 minutes from both the A1 and M1.
  • The Harley Gallery is accompanied by a free-entry, award winning museum dedicated to The Portland Collection.
  • A free online talk accompanies this exhibition, ‘Bachelor Dukes: The 5th Duke of Portland and the 6th Duke of Devonshire with Dr Lauren Batt’. Tickets can be booked through the Visit Nottinghamshire website here.
  • Visitors can also book tickets to visit the State Rooms at Welbeck Abbey during the summer (please note these tours do not include any underground rooms or tunnels). Please click here for full details.

Posted on 11 July 2022

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Jack Woolley