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.
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.
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.