This opulent ballroom was constructed in the 1800’s under the lake of the Whitley Estate in England, guarded by the statue of Neptune. How it came into existence, through a Victorian-era tale of corruption, disgrace and eventual suicide, made the over-the-top extravagance of an underground ballroom not only an architectural wonder, but a folly.
Constructed by Whitaker Wright, the Whitley Estate in Witley, deep within Surrey, was one of luxury and excess. The entry into the ballroom isquite concealed, as it was a door in a small, unassuming hut next to a holly tree. Nothing special.
Down the spiral staircase and through a tunnel lies a symbol of excess: a ballroom, paneled in translucent glass and supported by iron, all underneath a lake. Next to it is a smoking room, where guests puffed on fine imported cigars while admiring the passing fish.
Over 600 workers constructed four lakes and built a 32-room neo-Tudor mansion that featured statues from around the world. Most famous was a bronze dolphin’s head that was so large that it’s delivery vehicle got stuck under a bridge en route from Southampton. The road was lowered to facilitate the statue.
Wright was a fraudster. Born in Stafford in 1846, he left school at 15 to become a printer and a minister before setting his sights on America in 1867. He invested in silver mines in Colorado and New Mexico, making a fortune only to lose it several times. Wright eventually settled in Philadelphia and became chairman of the Philadelphia Mining Exchange and a member of the New York Stock Exchange.
In the 1880’s, Wright’s Gunnison Iron & Coal Company collapsed. He returned to England in 1889 and began claiming himself as an expert in mining ventures. In 1896, he raised £250,000, luring investors to back his newly formed company, Lake View Consols, a paper company. On the surface, the company was to construct and operate mines in western Australia, but nothing ever came about other than tired and inpatient investors. Another company Wright founded, the London & Globe Finance Corporation, was based upon the same principles. Share prices were artificially manipulated and debts were shoved from paper company to paper company.
After those ventures failed in a spectacular fashion, Wright fled to New York in 1903 just days before an arrest warrant was issued. After an extradition battle, he was brought back to England and tried in 1904. In the trial, it was unveiled that he had swindled £5 million from investors and run up another £3 in debt.
Wright was sentenced to seven years, but before he could be sent off to prison, he lit a cigar, went to the bathroom and downed a cyanide capsule.
The mansion burned in 1952. The estate, somewhat rundown, is now owned by entrepreneur Gary Steele