Manuscripts and Special Collections

Biography of William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland (1800-1879)

Originally known as Lord John Bentinck, the 5th Duke was educated at home. Despite suffering from delicate health, he served in the army from 1818, reaching the rank of captain in the Grenadier Guards by 1830. As a younger son, he was not originally destined to succeed to the title, but on the death of his brother, William Henry in 1824, he became Marquess of Titchfield and heir to his father's dukedom.

Following in the family tradition, he entered the world of politics, serving as M.P. for King's Lynn between 1824 and 1826. Despite being a firm supporter of the Tory party, he was never especially politically active, and spoke infrequently in both Houses of Parliament. He allowed over three years to elapse after his accession to the dukedom before he took his seat in the House of Lords, not taking the oaths until 5 June 1857. He had been offered the Order of the Garter, but declined it and refused it again in 1877. He disliked both Gladstone and Disraeli, especially the former after the disestablishment of the Irish Church. The 5th Duke was a zealous defender of the Established Church at all times. In August 1868 he subscribed £2000 to the funds of National Protestant Union and he opposed the 1870 Forster's Education Act which he believed benefited nonconformists.

Away from politics, the 5th Duke was a keen hunter and shooter and was acknowledged to be one of the best judges of horse in England. In later years he always sent a groom to the telegraph office at Worksop to bring him the earliest news of the results of the Derby or St Leger. He was also extremely fond of the opera, and in earlier life had courted the singer Adelaide Kemble. In fact he proposed to Adelaide, but was turned down by her.

The duke is perhaps most renowned for the developments he oversaw at Welbeck Abbey. The kitchen gardens covered 22 acres and were surrounded by high walls with recesses behind them in which braziers could be placed to hasten the ripening of fruit. One of the walls, a peach wall, measured over 1000 feet in length. An immense new riding house was built which was 396 feet long, 108 feet wide and 50 feet high and which enclosed a tan gallop of 422 yards. It was lit by 4,000 gas jets. Perhaps most remarkable of all was the series of tunnels and underground rooms which he had constructed underneath Welbeck, one of which led to Worksop and was broad enough for two carriage ways.

The 5th Duke was interested in all aspects of the running of his estates - the planting of trees, the feeding of deer, the emptying and cleaning of the lake, and so on. He regularly inspected the stables and watched young horses being broken. He was also known to be a considerate employer. He provided his employees with umbrellas and donkeys to enable them to get to and from work without fatigue, and when roller skating first became popular he had a rink installed near the lake for the benefit of the staff and he encouraged them to make good use of it. Similarly, he liked them to row on the lake and would sometimes coach them in oarsmanship.

In 1896, after the 5th Duke's death, an application was made by the widow of Walter Thomas Druce, son of the late Thomas Charles Druce, the owner of Baker Street Bazaar, London, for T.C. Druce's body to be exhumed from the Druce family vault at Highgate Cemetery. She claimed that her father-in-law T.C. Druce was in fact the 5th Duke of Portland, who had worked as an upholsterer for some years then staged a sham burial as Druce in 1864. The coffin would, therefore, be empty.

The case to claim the Portland inheritance was continued by members of the Druce family for some years after Mrs Druce was admitted to a mental home in 1903. A company was set up to support the case with a capital of over £30,000 subscribed by the public in expectation of huge profits. The coffin was finally opened in 1907 and was found indeed to contain the body of T.C. Druce. The Druce-Portland Company, and the legal case, collapsed.


Marble bust of the 5th Duke of Portland

Marble bust of the 5th Duke of Portland (Bust by Sir E. Boehm)


The 5th Duke never married and was succeeded by his cousin, William Cavendish-Bentinck, a grandson of the 3rd Duke, as 6th Duke of Portland.

Archive Collections

  • The 5th Duke's papers (Pw K) are part of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection held in Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham and include extensive estate correspondence
  • The Portland (London) Collection (Pl), also held in Manuscripts and Special Collections, contains papers relating to the estate business of the 5th Duke and also to the infamous Druce case
  • The Portland Estate Papers held at Nottinghamshire Archives also contain items relating to the 5th Duke's properties
  • Details of collections held elsewhere are available through the National Register of Archives.

Published Sources

  • Bentinck, William J.A.C. Cavendish-, 6th Duke of Portland, Men, Women and Things (London, 1937) [King’s Meadow Campus Oversize Not 468.V38 BEN]
  • Besterman, Theodore, The Druce-Portland Case (London, 1935)
  • Bradbury, David J., Welbeck and the 5th Duke of Portland (Mansfield, 1989) King’s Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Pamphlet Not 468.D64 ABB]
  • Jackson, Mick, The Underground Man (London, 1997) [King’s Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Not 1.W8 JAC]
  • Keel, Tom Freeman- and Crofts, Andrew, The disappearing duke: the improbable tale of an eccentric English family (New York, 2003) King’s Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Not 468.V38 CAV
  • Turberville, A.S., A History of Welbeck Abbey and its Owners, Volume 2, Chapers 18 and 19 (London, 1938) [King’s Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Not 468.D14 TUR]

Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651