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To get to the underwater ballroom, the guests had to walk down a damp corridor of stairs and get into a 400-foot long subway that led them to a 30-foot high glass chamber. The ballroom had an ornate tile floor, extravagant furniture, and the effect of the underwater view was not lost on most guests. When light shone through the merky green water it was a spectacular sight; guests also enjoyed watching the fish scurry by the glass pane windows. However, if one of those windows broke, it would be just five minutes before the entire dome filled with water.

To get to the underwater ballroom, the guests had to walk down a damp corridor of stairs and get into a 400-foot long subway that led them to a 30-foot high glass chamber. The ballroom had an ornate tile floor, extravagant furniture, and the effect of the underwater view was not lost on most guests. When light shone through the merky green water it was a spectacular sight; guests also enjoyed watching the fish scurry by the glass pane windows. However, if one of those windows broke, it would be just five minutes before the entire dome filled with water.

The Swindler, The Cyanide Pill and The Underwater Ballroom

The Story Behind Britain’s Most Bizarre Folly

Upon first glance, Britain’s Witley Park in Surrey is just like any other extravagant mansion, but there’s much more to this Victorian masterpiece than meets the eye. From the secret underwater ballroom to dramatic suicide deaths, the story behind the man who built the mansion is surprisingly tragic.

The story of the underwater conservatory at Witley Park begins with James Whitaker Wright (1846-1904). Wright was a former printer, Methodist minister, and a company promoter and swindler.

Wright’s family immigrated to Toronto, Canada after his father died in 1870. From there Whitaker found his way to Philadelphia, where he found a lucrative career promoting silver mines.

However in Wright deals, only the promoters appeared to be making money. Mines in Leadville, Colorado and Lake Valley, New Mexico failed to yield the promised dividends or returns to investors.

For Wright the short-term success yielded short-term pleasure. With the great gains came great losses; he was left penniless after his interest in Gunnison Iron & Coal collapsed in 1889.

Whitaker was undeterred, as performance of his American investments were simply a means to an end. His greatest desire was to make a name for himself in the vaunted English Victorian Society.

He returned to England in 1889 and continued the schemes of promoting mines, this time on the London market. To this end he formed the London and Globe Company in 1890, to float stock and bond issues for his mines in Australia and Canada. Also propped up by Wright were the British and American Corporation and the Standard Exploration Company.

Whitaker might have lacked a moral compass, but he was a consummate salesman. In 1896 he raised £250,000 ($373k) – or about £24.8M ($36.98M) in 2015 – to purchase shares of a company established to dig mines in Western Australia. Investors were lured by Wright’s sly use of the word “consol” in the name of the opportunity, thus creating the impression of a reliable investment.

[ Consol: British government security without a maturity date. The name is a shortened version of “consolidated annuities.” This form of stock originated in 1751 and was generally considered to be one of the safer investments at the time. ]

Whitaker Wright’s deception would not go unpunished. But before he would face judgement, he created Witley Park.

In 1890 Whitaker Wright purchased the Le Ley Estate and Lea Park manor home in Surrey, England. His purchase price of £250,000 (or £24M in 2015) bought him a Georgian manor home with origins dating to the Norman Conquest.

Wright also purchased the adjacent South Park Farm, at the time owned by the Earl of Derby.

The properties were combined into a single 9,000-acre estate (36 km2; 14 sq mi) before another £400,000 was spent expanding the homes into a 32-room, 11-bath mansion.

The Neo-Tudor home included two dining rooms, a drawing-room, a library, a palm court, and its own private hospital. It also contained an observatory, stabling for up to 50 horses, a theater, and a velodrome. Italian art and statues adorned the interior halls, and furnishings were finished in gold.

From villager’s reactions to Wright, we can determine that terrain alteration is not the preferred method to ingratiate oneself to the neighborhood. During the 1890s an army of men re-graded the terrain and permanently altered the landscape, much to the chagrin of the community.

Added to the grounds were three lakes, known today as ThursleyStable, and Upper. The largest, Thursley Lake, displaced fifty acres of farmland.

A thirty-foot cascading waterfall separates Thursley Lake from Upper Lake; the former also joins Stable Lake, where water passed through a giant dolphin’s head carved from a solid block of marble weighing eighty tons (note: the dolphin’s head was sold after Whitaker’s death).

Thursley Lake is the centerpiece (map) of the estate and boasted an artificial island, a boathouse commissioned from Lutyens, a walking pier, and the famed underground conservatory room.

At times Wright’s creativity seemed to blur the lines between madness and brilliance. Beneath the estate, a series of underground tunnels leads to a magnificent domed room under Lake Thursley

About 150 meters (500 ft) from the house, by the lakeside, a round metal grate hides view into a tunnel. Proper access is reached via a door protruding from the ground and covered by trees just south of the main lawn. There, an unwelcoming locked door guards what looks like a bunker built-in to the earth.

Behind the door a spiral staircase leads guests down to a 400-foot arched tunnel lit by rows of electric lamps. Today the lamps are no longer, leaving the tunnels dark. In photos flashes and long-exposure photography help create the appearance otherwise.

On the other end of the passage is a room originally designed as a conservatory under a lake. The dome reaches nine meters (30 ft.) in height and is walled by more than 100 individual panes of three-inch thick glass.

Whitaker Wright used a dondrous mosaic floor, settees, palms, and tables. He later added billiard and card tables, and had used the architectural marvel as a lounge and smoking room.

Maintenance was of course necessary. Wright regularly hired divers to clean algae from the dome’s windows so he and his guests could sit and watch the goldo fish come andpress their noses against the glass.

A lounge with an aquarium for a ceiling which cost £20,000 to build, Madness, or brilliance? The press embraced the latter.

On other side of room is short tunnel to another spiral staircase, this one leading up to a stone platform at lake-level offering views of the estate, lake, island, and statue.

Over time the un-maintained dome has acquired algae and other growth. When the sun allows, the windows cast a green curtain of light in the room, which flickers with the movement of the water.

On the top of the dome sat a statue of Neptune, which protrudes from the lake’s surface and appears to “float” on the water. At night the well-lit room created a brilliant display in the water underneath Neptune.

Today the dome stands as a testament to the architects and engineers who designed it. Over the years the glass has been covered by algae, moss, and other debris, yet the structure has remained intact for over 100 years.

The battle versus time has not been without casualties; oxidation has taken hold of the frame, decorating the structure with rust trails which seem to point to sources of the penetrations. Water has seeped in, only exacerbating the problem.

Wright’s outlandish designs were no small feat for the era. Reports varied on how many jobs were created by the construction: Either four hundred or six hundred men spent seven years to finish the lakes, tunnels, and underground room, depending on which source one refers.

Reports estimated Wright spent over £1,250,000 (£120M in 2015) on the transformation.

Initially Whitaker’s London and Globe flourished with issues floated on the London stock exchange such as the Ivanhoe goldmine in Western Australia, which raised £1 million for the man with the silver tongue.

Wright was operating at the peak of his game. His reputation of flamboyance brought spectators who followed his every move. Observers didn’t know what he was going to do next, but they knew it would be spectacular.

But as is wont to happen with any arrangement not founded in honesty, it eventually came crashing to a close.

In the end, Wright was caught when he had a £600,000 (£48 million in modern currency) loss that he couldn't hide. The investment was lost on the new Baker Street and Waterloo Railway. Today, the railway is known as the Underground Bakerloo Line. The project deeply strained Wright's resources, and before long, allegation of fraud started popping up. By 1900, someone discovered that Wright had committed some pretty serious white-collar crimes. Towards the end of the year, Whitaker's empire collapsed and he fled persecution by running off to Paris.

In the end, Wright was caught when he had a £600,000 loss that he couldn’t hide. The investment was lost on the new Baker Street and Waterloo Railway. Today, the railway is known as the Underground Bakerloo Line. The project deeply strained Wright’s resources, and before long, allegation of fraud started popping up. By 1900, someone discovered that Wright had committed some pretty serious white-collar crimes. Towards the end of the year, Whitaker’s empire collapsed and he fled persecution by running off to Paris.

Things started to unravel in June of 1898 when Whitaker assumed the contract to construct the Baker Street & Waterloo Railway (today known as the Underground’s Bakerloo line).

The line was costly to build and difficult to construct. Making matters worse the bond issue was a disaster; few subscribers appeared and the financing strained Wright’s resources.

By 1900 it had been discovered Wright had manipulated the share price and sliding assets and debts from one company to the next in a series of loans. These accounting shenanigans had worked for years, but they failed to hide a disastrous £600,000 loss in the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway.

It was discovered assets he valued at £7 million were found to be worth just £1.5 million. Perhaps less surprising, the mining prospects in Australia had simultaneously been exhausted.

On December 28th, 1900, Whitaker’s empire collapsed. London and Globe became insolvent, which started a bankruptcy domino-effect across several members of the London stock exchange.

Wright initially sought refuge in his manor’s icehouse before fleeing to Paris, then New York. Amusingly his chosen means for escape was to flee in one of “the best suites on the French Transatlantic vessel La Lorraine.” Who would think to look for him in such a place? Perhaps this part was madness.

Official bankruptcy for the Whitaker Wright estate was declared on January 13th, 1903.

Investors pushed for prosecution and asked why he wasn’t already in jail.

According to government law officers, it was hard to place such punishment without being able to reasonably demonstrate to everyone’s satisfaction that Wright had broken any laws. After all, he had not created the market exuberance which led to the run-up of stock prices nor did he create the resulting market crash. It was an odd deflection of the fact the underlying enterprises held little-to-no value; the debate had shifted from fraud to responsibility of market movement.

Fortunately for investors, the prosecution was led by one of England’s rising star barristers in Rufus Isaacs. Throughout January of 1904 ruthless Rufus broke down Wright’s books and exposed the fraud in the famed case of The King v Whitaker Wright.

On January 26th, Wright was convicted of fraud and given a seven-year prison sentence. Immediately after sentencing, the defendant left the courtroom with his council. In the anteroom, Wright turned to his associate and said “I will not need this where I am going.” He then retreated to the bathroom before returning and smoking a cigar. After a few puffs Whitaker staggered and fell. Within minutes, Wright was dead.

Authorities later discovered Wright had ingested a cyanide pill during his restroom break. Wright had smuggled a revolver as well, perhaps a backup plan to the cyanide. Definite madness.

Shady Entrepreneur J. Whitaker Wright. Long before J. Whitaker Wright built his sprawling mansion in England, he was just a bright-eyed son of a Methodist Minister. Wright was the eldest of five children, and one of his younger brothers actually went on to invent the reversible trolley pole, a device that emits electricity from a wire to the motor of a trolleybus. Wright moved to North America after his father died in 1870, and he promptly got to work building his family fortune.

Shady Entrepreneur J. Whitaker Wright. Long before J. Whitaker Wright built his sprawling mansion in England, he was just a bright-eyed son of a Methodist Minister. Wright was the eldest of five children, and one of his younger brothers actually went on to invent the reversible trolley pole, a device that emits electricity from a wire to the motor of a trolleybus. Wright moved to North America after his father died in 1870, and he promptly got to work building his family fortune.

Wright was one of the early investors in the silver-mining market, and initially made a fortune promoting such companies in Colorado and New Mexico. Suspiciously, Wright made a huge profit from the silver-mining companies, while his shareholders barely saw any income from the investment. After making a large amount of money in the United States, Wright moved back to England and started drafting up the plans for his epic mansion.

Wright was one of the early investors in the silver-mining market, and initially made a fortune promoting such companies in Colorado and New Mexico. Suspiciously, Wright made a huge profit from the silver-mining companies, while his shareholders barely saw any income from the investment. After making a large amount of money in the United States, Wright moved back to England and started drafting up the plans for his epic mansion.

While back in England, Wright started a new shady company floating stocks and bonds for the mining industry. He also purchased the huge estate Lea Park in Surrey. The home was 32 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, and was surrounded by lavish gardens and several large reflecting pools. Building the home was no easy feat. Whitaker had a crew of 600 workmen level out hills that obstructed his view, dig out four lakes, and move his possessions into the sprawling mansion. Some of his most notable possessions were considered true treasures; he had several Italian statues and one bronze dolphin head that was so big it got stuck under a bridge on the way to his home.

While back in England, Wright started a new shady company floating stocks and bonds for the mining industry. He also purchased the huge estate Lea Park in Surrey. The home was 32 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, and was surrounded by lavish gardens and several large reflecting pools. Building the home was no easy feat. Whitaker had a crew of 600 workmen level out hills that obstructed his view, dig out four lakes, and move his possessions into the sprawling mansion. Some of his most notable possessions were considered true treasures; he had several Italian statues and one bronze dolphin head that was so big it got stuck under a bridge on the way to his home.

Wright was so inspired by lake surrounding the estate he decided to build an underground ballroom so he could admire the light shining through the water. On the very top of the ballroom dome, he had a Neptune statue installed so that it looked like the statue was walking on water. Wright was also very secretive about his underground entertainment space, so the Neptune statue was one of the few clues guests had to look for when heading down to his underwater hangout.

Wright was so inspired by lake surrounding the estate he decided to build an underground ballroom so he could admire the light shining through the water. On the very top of the ballroom dome, he had a Neptune statue installed so that it looked like the statue was walking on water. Wright was also very secretive about his underground entertainment space, so the Neptune statue was one of the few clues guests had to look for when heading down to his underwater hangout.

While Whitaker was obsessed with making his home in Surrey look like a museum, he also had a house in London and a yacht called Sybarita, or pleasure-seeker, which he kept at Cowes. Once, Whitaker even raced Kaiser Wilhelm II's yacht in the Royal Yacht Squadron and won. Unsurprisingly, Whitaker was a pushy businessman and was good at getting people to go along with his schemes. However, his business was volatile. Within a few years, Whitaker lost and regained his fortune. One moment, he had more money than he knew what to do with, and the next he was completely broke.

While Whitaker was obsessed with making his home in Surrey look like a museum, he also had a house in London and a yacht called Sybarita, or pleasure-seeker, which he kept at Cowes. Once, Whitaker even raced Kaiser Wilhelm II’s yacht in the Royal Yacht Squadron and won. Unsurprisingly, Whitaker was a pushy businessman and was good at getting people to go along with his schemes. However, his business was volatile. Within a few years, Whitaker lost and regained his fortune. One moment, he had more money than he knew what to do with, and the next he was completely broke.

The underwater ballroom was Whitaker's final addition to his decadent fantasy world. Soon after the mansion was finished, Whitaker started to face financial trouble once again. By 1897, he was deeply entangled in several crooked schemes. He had set up a few companies to lure in his new aristocratic contacts, and while his business was doing well on the surface, behind the scenes he was manipulating the share price and shuffling his debts around between his many companies.

The underwater ballroom was Whitaker’s final addition to his decadent fantasy world. Soon after the mansion was finished, Whitaker started to face financial trouble once again. By 1897, he was deeply entangled in several crooked schemes. He had set up a few companies to lure in his new aristocratic contacts, and while his business was doing well on the surface, behind the scenes he was manipulating the share price and shuffling his debts around between his many companies.

In January of 1903 the Wright estate was declared bankrupt, and investors were trying to locate Wright so he could be thrown in jail. Luckily for the investors looking for Wright, one of England's rising barristers, Rufus Isaacs, was put on the case. Isaac was ruthless in his investigation, and the case The King v. Whitaker Wright became his crowning achievement. When Wright was located, he was convicted of fraud and given a seven-year prison sentence. Immediately after the hearing, Whitaker went to the restroom, took a cyanide pill, smoked a cigar, and then died.

In January of 1903 the Wright estate was declared bankrupt, and investors were trying to locate Wright so he could be thrown in jail. Luckily for the investors looking for Wright, one of England’s rising barristers, Rufus Isaacs, was put on the case. Isaac was ruthless in his investigation, and the case The King v. Whitaker Wright became his crowning achievement. When Wright was located, he was convicted of fraud and given a seven-year prison sentence. Immediately after the hearing, Whitaker went to the restroom, took a cyanide pill, smoked a cigar, and then died.

After his death, Whitaker's estate sat for several years before it was placed on auction. Eventually members of the community came together to purchase the estate and donate it to the National Trust. An Irish businessman, William Pirrie, eventually purchased the mansion. Interestingly enough, Perrie was chairman of Harland & Wolfe, the company responsible for building the RMS Titanic. Pirrie's nephew was the designer of the RMS Titanic, and died in its maiden voyage.

After his death, Whitaker’s estate sat for several years before it was placed on auction. Eventually members of the community came together to purchase the estate and donate it to the National Trust. An Irish businessman, William Pirrie, eventually purchased the mansion. Interestingly enough, Perrie was chairman of Harland & Wolfe, the company responsible for building the RMS Titanic. Pirrie’s nephew was the designer of the RMS Titanic, and died in its maiden voyage.

On January 30 1904, a day of harsh east wind and driving rain, a melancholy procession arrived at the gates of the church of All Saints church in the Surrey valley of Witley. At its head was the glass hearse which had brought the body of the dead financier down the narrow wooded lanes from his palatial home, Lea Park, two miles away in the hamlet of Brook. The first coach behind it carried his son and his two teenage daughters; the fourth brought housemaids from the estate. Villagers lined the route all the way to All Saints, where some 500 more were waiting for the service to begin in the churchyard. The church itself could not be used, because of the circumstances in which Whitaker Wright had died.

Witley was not unused to celebrities: the novelist George Eliot had a summer home there in the final years of her life. Tennyson, who lived just across the country boundary in Sussex, visited Witley and walked on the local hills. But no one had ever matched the glamour and panache of the lord of Lea Park. Though people often assumed from the way he spoke that Wright was American, he was born and grew up in Cheshire, and crossed the Atlantic to seek his fortune when the death of his father left him without resources. Beginning as an assayer, he was shrewd enough and daring enough to seize on the opportunities of the mining boom, and his speculations brought him £200,000 – the equivalent of around £10m today – in 10 years.

He returned to England in 1889 with a new and lovely American wife, and set about building a new business empire.

Hills were levelled and new hills created. A theatre and a glorious ballroom were built. A vast lake, complete with a boathouse commissioned from Lutyens, was designed as a centrepiece. Beneath it, reached by tunnels, was a smoking room in the form of a subterranean conservatory, so that as they smoked his guests could watch fish, or sometimes even swimmers, disporting themselves overhead. A further tunnel led to an artificial island where, on summer afternoons, tea could be taken.

These vast enterprises gave employment to hundreds of men. There was statuary brought from Italy, and expensive paintings adorned the walls. There were stables enough for 50 horses. Some of the local roads, newspapers said, had to be lowered so that massive blocks of marble needed for his creation could be carried under the bridges. The message of all this activity, public and private, was irresistible. “For a time, everything he touched turned – or seemed to turn – to gold. The name of Whitaker Wright became a synonym for success and magnificence.

But the economic climate grew harsher, and that, with Wright’s decision to commit substantial resources to the new underground railway from Baker Street to Waterloo, began to throw up results which would not look good on the balance sheet. As he sought to redeem himself, his speculations grew wilder and wilder and his subterfuges more sinister. In the end, even Wright’s fabled ingenuity could not cope with the scale of their losses. Three days after Christmas in 1900, his empire collapsed.

He talked of a reconstruction to minimise the losses of those who had entrusted their fortunes to him. But that was fantasy. Gross assets he valued at £7m were found to be worth £1.5m at most. Some of those who had lost huge sums in the crash pressed for a prosecution, but the government’s law officers said they could find no way to proceed. There were angry complaints about that in the Queen’s Speech debate of February 1903. The inadequacy of the law as it stood, the Prime Minister, Balfour, agreed, was a scandal. But that was the way things were. Wright’s victims would not accept it, and in March they persuaded Mr Justice Buckley to issue a warrant for his arrest.

But Wright had left the country, first for Paris and then for New York. With his niece, Florence Browne, he had booked one of the best suites on the French Transatlantic Co’s boat La Lorraine. The booking had been made in the names of M and Mlle Andreoni, though Wright said when the couple boarded that this had been done by mistake. But their flight had been detected and a “wanted” notice issued.

When the boat docked at New York the police were waiting to welcome him. He was taken away to prison, and subsequently extradited.

The case of the King v Whitaker Wright came to court in January 1904. He maintained he had done nothing wrong, and the crash was entirely due to the schemings of his enemies in the City. “I am sorry we ever set eyes on England or planted our feet on English soil,” his wife told the Daily Mail. At which, “with a queenly sweep of the trailing skirt of her blue silk gown, she added: ‘Ah, but he will clear himself. I know he will.'” The villagers of Witley had already arranged a torchlight procession with music by the Mouse Hill Band to celebrate his acquittal.

In the early days of the trial his mood remained buoyant, but then in the final stages he was lethally cross-examined by one of the day’s great advocates, Rufus Issacs. His defence immediately crumpled, and his confidence with it. The jury took only 45 minutes to convict him on 24 counts connected with the falsification of balance sheets. Mr Justice Bigham told him: “I do not think I have any option but to visit you with the severest punishment which the act permits, and it is that you go to penal servitude for seven years.”

“My lord,” Wright replied, “all I have to say is that I am as innocent as any person in this court of any intention to deceive or defraud the shareholders. And that is all I have to say.” But the sentence cannot have surprised him. In the closing hours of the trial, he was doodling on a note pad the letters WW, the word “intent”, and the Roman numeral VII.

He was allowed to wait in an ante-room before his conveyance to prison with his solicitor George Lewis – who was also the royal solicitor – and a friend called Eyre who had stood bail for him. Two court officials were present. Wright’s mood appeared once again to be buoyant. He took off his watch and chain and gave them to Eyre, saying he wouldn’t need them where he was going, and asked for a cigar. He puffed at it once or twice. Then his appearance changed and he staggered and fell. Within a matter of minutes, Wright was dead. A fit of apoplexy, probably, waiting reporters were told, and that it was how it appeared in some newspapers next morning. The truth came out at the inquest.

Wright had asked to be taken to a “private room” – the lavatory. How exactly he took the poison was not quite clear: he probably concealed it under his tongue and swallowed it back in the room with a sip of water. He had measured his dose with his usual extravagance: it was enough, the inquest was told, to kill several men. Every organ in the body, a pathologist testified, emitted the unmistakable smell of prussic acid. When the body was searched, a silver-plated gun with six chambers loaded was found in his pocket. He never did things by halves.

On the morning of the funeral, the gates of Witley Park were opened to villagers to come to pay their respects. Reporters said that people in Witley had nothing but good to say of Whitaker. In the graveyard later, the vicar, using a service recently devised by the Bishop of Winchester for deaths by suicide with the commital prayer omitted, led the villagers in psalm 143: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications … and enter not into judgment with they servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.”

His grave is an unexpectedly modest affair. “To the memory of James Whitaker Wright, born at Prestbury Cheshire Feb 9th 1846, died January 26th 1904. Until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away”. Also buried there is his wife Anna Edith. She outlived him by 27 years.

After Pirrie died in 1924, newspaper baron Ronald Huggett purchased the estate. Huggett made most of his money buying and liquidating the massive art collections found in estates just like Wright's. In 1952, the entire mansion burned to the ground when a fire broke out in the underwater ballroom. Although much of the estate was destroyed, the underwater conservatory and tunnels remained in tact. As of 2011, entrepreneur Gary Steele owns Whitely Park, and the old site is being redeveloped. The conservatory under the lake is still there, but it's not accessible to the public. The site became a popular destination for urban explorers at one point, but it's now been protected with a heavy-duty padlock and an alarm system.

After Pirrie died in 1924, newspaper baron Ronald Huggett purchased the estate. Huggett made most of his money buying and liquidating the massive art collections found in estates just like Wright’s. In 1952, the entire mansion burned to the ground when a fire broke out in the underwater ballroom. Although much of the estate was destroyed, the underwater conservatory and tunnels remained in tact. As of 2011, entrepreneur Gary Steele owns Whitely Park, and the old site is being redeveloped. The conservatory under the lake is still there, but it’s not accessible to the public. The site became a popular destination for urban explorers at one point, but it’s now been protected with a heavy-duty padlock and an alarm system.

At the time the conducting of suicide funerals inside of churches was frowned upon. Wright’s funeral was thus held outside in a freezing churchyard in Witley. Whitaker Wright’s black granite tomb can still be seen, alongside that of his wife, in the Witley churchyard.

After Wright’s death the estate sat for almost two years before it was offered for sale in October of 1905. The asking price for the entire property – including lakes, mansion, and underwater conservatory – was £500,000. No buyers came forth, forcing the estate to parcel out the property in auction.

In an unusual twist, the local community banded together in 1906 to purchase parcels of the property and donate them to the National Trust. Whitaker Wright’s arrival in the neighborhood years earlier had initially sparked furor among locals, but Wright’s exotic spending created a regional employment boost for nearly a decade.

There is an irony in the economic dichotomy that was Wright the swindler in London, but Wright the provider in Witley Park. Despite the appearances, he was no Robin Hood.

Witley Park was purchased in 1909 by Irish businessman William Pirrie, the chairman of Harland and Wolff (shipbuilders of the RMS Titanic. Pirrie’s nephew,Thomas Andrews, designed the Titanic and perished on its maiden voyage).

Under Pirrie’s watch, farmsteads were cleared to create a deer park. Pirrie owned Witley until his death in 1924. Afterward newspaper baron and cotton industrialist Sir John Leigh called the estate home, until 1951 when he sold it to Ronald Huggett. Ronald’s legacy is that of liquidating the art and sculptures the previous owners spent over fifty years accumulating.

In 1952 the Witley Park mansion burned to the groundafter a fire broke out in the ballroom, however the underwater conservatory and its tunnels were spared (and largely forgotten). Designs to rebuild on the old site were approved in 2004, and today the site is undergoing redevelopment.

In the years since another estate has been built on the property and the stables were recently used as a conference center. The site’s ownership history after 1952 is unclear, but as recently as 2011 entrepreneur Gary Steele was reported as the owner.

Today the conservatory under a lake is still there, however it is private property and not accessible to the public. Urban explorers should be warned: Tunnel access has been padlocked and alarmed.

Whitaker Wright’s underwater ballroom in Surrey, England – Slate

Whitaker Wright – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Whitaker Wright – The Guardian

The Conservatory Under a Lake | Sometimes Interesting

 


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