William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the Eccentric 5th Duke of Portland

The closest most people got to seeing the Marquess of Titchfield.

The closest most people got to seeing the Marquess of Titchfield.

Today marks my 100th post for the Blog of Funny Names. What a ride it’s been! For this special occasion, I’m taking on a subject that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time but had trouble finding the right angle. This is my third-longest post ever – behind our 100th blog post (our longest and most-commented post ever) and Bone Wars! (maybe my personal favorite) – but it’s a doozy! I hope you enjoy! Here’s to 100 more! – Dave

Longtime readers have probably realized that the Blog of Funny Names is as much about people as it is about funny names. Plenty of sites can list dozens of ludicrous and preposterous names and call it a day, but we prefer to delve more deeply into the intricacies of the individual. In our opinion, the act of giving a child a funny name is nothing but an expression of certain qualities that make people awesome (and despite people’s frequent foibles, we do find folks pretty awesome in general).

Almost a year ago, a personal friend brought to my attention the fairly remarkable name of an extremely remarkable fellow, William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland, and perhaps most awesomely known as the Marquess of Titchfield between 1824 and 1854.

William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (who we’ll call the Duke for short, because Wild Bill just doesn’t seem proper for a cloistered British aristocrat) was a well-known eccentric in 19th-century England.

How eccentric? Well, for one, he was extremely reclusive. How reclusive? Only one person – his valet – was ever allowed to see him in his quarters. Not even his doctor or any of his thousands of workers could lay witness to the Marquess.

In fact, his tenants and workmen were told not to acknowledge his presence, and reportedly a worker who saluted him was once dismissed on the spot. Workers received their requests in writing, and each of his rooms had two mailboxes – for “incoming” and “outgoing” correspondence.

The Duke preferred to travel at night, preceded by a lady servant carrying a lantern 40 yards ahead of him. In the rare instance he ventured outside during the day, he wore two overcoats, an extremely large hat (a la my favorite historical eccentric, Lord Timothy Dexter), a large collar, and a big umbrella behind which he would hide if anyone dared to address him.

Nonetheless, as a young man, the Duke served in the military… well, sort of. From 1824-1834, Duke Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck was captain of the Royal West Indies Rangers, generously accepting only half pay. The problem: the regiment had disbanded in 1819.

He had a similar record with the political offices he was appointed to. He would resign or go AWOL for many of his positions, including a seat in the House of Lords for which he didn’t take the oath of office for a full three years.

The Marquess of Titchfield, as he would like to be remembered.

The Marquess of Titchfield, as he would like to be remembered.

Naturally, this led to rumors that the Duke was disfigured or mad, but primary accounts state he was a normal looking man. He had a large network of friends and family who he kept in touch with (by mail of course), including British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

When forced to do business in London, he would take his carriage to the town of Worksop, and then have it loaded onto a railway wagon. Upon his arrival at his London residence, the household staff would be instructed to hide until he hurried to his quarters.

OK, so he was shy… but that’s only the surface of the Duke’s peculiarities. He preferred to have a chicken roasting at all times, and his meals were delivered on heated trucks that traveled in his underground tunnel system.

And his estate, Welbeck Abbey, had a massive underground tunnel system: in all, about 15 miles long… all of it painted pink. One of the tunnels, between the coach house and the South Lodge, was wide enough to contain two carriages, and was illuminated by domed skylights during the day, and gas lights at night.

Welbeck Abbey also had underground chambers – again, all painted pink – including a massive “ballroom” and picture gallery, complete with a giant ceiling painted like a sunset and a hydraulic system that could lift 20 guests out of the ballroom.

But he never held a ball in this ballroom. Not once.

And the estate was impressive above ground as well. He had 22 acres of kitchen gardens surrounded by high walls with recesses containing fruit trees, including a peach wall 300 meters long. Like many contemporary aristocrats (and 10-year old girls who also shared his fondness for pink), he loved horses. Duke Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck oversaw construction of a large riding house with dimensions substantially larger than a football field, 50-foot high ceilings, and 4,000 gas jets for illumination. It contained 100 horses of various breeds.

But he never rode any of the horses in the riding house. Not once.

An alternative depiction of Lord William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland, Marquess of Titchfield, and Captain of the Royal West Indies Rangers.

An alternative depiction of Lord William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland, Marquess of Titchfield, and Captain of the Royal West Indies Rangers.

The Duke also had a 250-foot long underground library, a sizable billiards room, and a lovely observatory with a glass roof. Over the years, he had all the furniture and tapestries removed from all rooms of the estate, and by the time of his death, everything except his 4-5 room suite fell into a state of disrepair… still painted pink.

Though public sightings of him were as rare as a rubber-nosed woodpecker, the Duke was not without his admirers. He was reportedly called “the workman’s friend” for his generous wages that employed thousands of local workers, both skilled and unskilled. As roller skating grew in popularity, he had a large rink built and encouraged his workers to use it.

At the time, some speculated he had secret admirers too. In 1897, twenty years after his death, a widow claimed that William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the former Marquess of Titchfield and 5th Duke of Portland, lived a double life as her father, Charles Thomas Druce, who supposedly died in 1864 (reputedly a cover for the Duke to return to life as a standoffish aristocrat).  The case took 10 years to resolve, but after the real Druce’s body was found, many of the witnesses were charged with perjury and/or sent to an insane asylum.

The massive Welbeck Abbey – including many of the Marquess’ additions – still stands today, and is occupied by many of the Duke’s family’s descendants (he naturally had no direct descendants of his own), as well as people who rent out rooms as office space, vacation lodgings, or even their primary residences… at least until our Funny Names Blog-related royalties give us enough money to buy out the estate and reboot the Outerbridge Horsey lineage. The estate also contains a popular cricket field, and in 2012, lay host to a fairly high-profile music festival. No word on whether the estate’s innards are still painted pink, but we can all dream.

Welbeck Abbey. Not pictured: William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott Bentinck.

Welbeck Abbey. Not pictured: William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott Bentinck (fittingly), or his massive underground operation.


About Dave

Based out of San Diego, California. Co-founder of the Blog of Funny Names. funnynamesblog.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Greatest hits. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the Eccentric 5th Duke of Portland

  1. Liz says:

    I feel we have come full circle, BoFN folk:-) Clicking on your first-paragraph links, I see that Bone Wars is the first post of yours I ever read! My comment was one of your record-setting many and Dave and Rob were kind enough to reply–Dave, in depth. It’s thoughtfulness (and the obvious enthusiasm for your subject:-)) that keeps us coming back. And tomorrow I join the ranks. Love that I found you on Dave’s fave post, today is his 100th post, and tomorrow is “1” for me. You guys rock and the world is lucky to you have you.

    Oh, WJCC-S-B was an odd duck. You are probably the world expert on him, Dave. Nice job–love the (non)photos.

    • amb says:

      It’s a sign! So excited for tomorrow 🙂

    • Dave says:

      I didn’t even realize that, but it’s pretty fantastic! So glad to have you on board, and “1” will be a good one, even if you keep trying to control expectations 🙂

    • Dave says:

      Haha, It’s hard to believe those initials never caught on 🙂 I’m becoming an expert, but obviously someone had to be the person to investigate all those letters and write the book that led to the creation of the Wikipedia page. I’m just a humble researcher 🙂

      We’re lucky to have you! Looking forward to tomorrow! (With no expectations, of course! 😉 )

  2. amb says:

    Whoohoo! Congratulations on #100! A milestone worth breaking the 1,000 word barrier for.

    As for the post itself … I’m running out of ways to compliment your writing, Dave. One of these days I’m going to read something of yours and just ask you to marry me.

  3. This is why I look forward to reading the BoFN. Congratulations on reaching your personal mile stone.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks Fannie! Woohoo! It’s hard to believe it’s been 100 posts now! What began as the brainchild of two white guys sitting in a dorm room is now a full-fledged blog with 8! writers (if you include Mailman). It’s been a great ride!

      P.S. Sorry I didn’t get to post a warm welcome on top of your post last week. I was super busy, but I’ll make sure to do so next time 🙂

  4. What a great place for an underground narrow gauge railway—you sure he, or one of his family—didn’t install one? Thank you to, for visiting bythemightymumford.wordpress.com. 🙂

    • Dave says:

      Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s quite possible. Someday, when I buy the Welbeck Estate off my earnings from the Funny Names Blog (my coauthors are probably saying “what earnings?” as they read this 🙂 ), I’ll let you know 🙂

  5. dental eggs says:

    Your blog is so damn educational. And funny. And the brain your holding in your gravatar photo is lovely.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks! I appreciate it! I enjoyed yours as well. I’m currently interviewing for med schools, so perhaps there’s a “comedy writer and healthcare provider” bond going on there 🙂

  6. dental eggs says:

    Oops. ‘You’re holding’. Long day. Must sleep now.

  7. Pingback: Superfluous Oscar Countdown, Day Eight: Special Valentine’s Day Edition « words become superfluous

  8. Pingback: Lord Timothy Dexter, American Author, Businessman, and Lucky Eccentric | The Blog of Funny Names

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