The Portland (London) Collection, being Legal, Financial and Estate Papers of the Dukes of Portland, 1304-1940

Scope and Content

The Collection, originating as it does from a solicitor's office, contains what are in the broadest sense legal records, although it includes many types of document lying beyond this legal definition and pointing to a custodial role by the solicitor of some of the family's more general papers. The interest of the core archive lies for the historian particularly in a breadth of subject matter, which includes: urban estates, rural estates, the exploitation of minerals, port and railway developments, famously bizarre law suits, and the amassing of great wealth and great debt.

In date the coverage is strongest for the period from the Restoration to 1927 (and the formation of the Welbeck Estates Company Limited), although some earlier deeds do exist, particularly for Northumberland from the 16th and early 17th centuries. Rentals, estate accounts and incidental records are richest for the later 18th and very early 19th centuries. This was the period of the 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809), whose correspondence and financial difficulties generated a major part of the Collection. The later 19th- and 20th-century material details the buying and, increasingly, selling of small properties, and the development of coal mining and those towns and villages dependent upon it. All of the family's estates, and the mechanisms of their acquisition and disposal, are recorded in some form.

Some estate papers of Edward Harley (1689-1741), 2nd Duke of Oxford and Mortimer, are also found in the Collection. These papers were inherited by the Dukes of Portland following the marriage of William Bentinck (1709-1762), 2nd Duke of Portland to Lady Margaret Cavendish Harley (1715-1785), daughter of Edward. They complement other Harley Family Papers found in the Portland Collection (Reference: Pw 2 Hy).

Litigation is dominated by triangular disputes between the 6th Duke of Portland, the Butterly Company and the New Hucknall Colliery Company in the 1900s. There is also comprehensive coverage of the curious Druce case (1896-1913), which concerned a claim to the ducal title, based on the alleged double life of the 5th Duke of Portland as a London merchant.

The management of urban property is represented by the contrasting development of 18th-century Marylebone, London, late 19th-century Hove, Sussex, and Ashington, Northumberland. Alongside these are the urban estate of Soho, London (1730s-1800s), and the development of Troon, Ayrshire as a coal port. The agricultural heartland of the Portland estates, in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, was transformed in the nineteenth century when coal mining led to the creation of colliery villages such as Creswell and the expansion of existing places such as Bolsover and Mansfield.

A cycle of wealth and debt is evident from the papers, which provide more evidence about the downward turn of the eighteenth century (notably the 1st Duke's disastrous speculation in the South Sea Bubble, and the 2nd Duke's indulgence of his passion for book collecting) than about the rapid revival of fortune in the nineteenth.

Of considerable significance is the correspondence series, much of which comprises political and official correspondence of the 3rd Duke of Portland, closely related to his papers in the Portland Welbeck Collection (Pw). This was clearly distinct in its creation from the bulk of the solicitor's papers, and forms a separate sub-group of the archive. For further description see Pl C.

Finally there are papers relating to the Heaton/Heaton Ellis family (managers of the Dukes of Portland's affairs before Baileys), including business undertaken on behalf of other clients. Some items are present which seem to concern clients of Baileys, Shaw and Gillett, not in any obvious way related to the Portlands, Heatons or Baileys. There are also some documents relating to the operations of Baileys as a firm.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Portland (London) Collection is so named to differentiate it from the Portland (Welbeck) Collections also held by Nottingham University. Although some of the Collection concerns property in London, the name derives from its chief creators, the firm of Baileys, Shaw and Gillett, London solicitors to successive Dukes of Portland. The bulk of the papers were generated in the course of their work on behalf of various members of the family, but particularly the 3rd-6th Dukes of Portland and their trustees as clients of the firm.

Bailey, Shaw and Smith was established in 1836 at 5 Berners Street, London. It became Bailey, Shaw, Smith and Bailey in 1847 and settled on its final title in 1875. It disappeared by amalgamation into Speechley, Bircham and Company in 1997, having moved from Berners Street in about 1990. The firm acted as solicitors to the Dukes of Portland from the mid-1830s. Until that time the legal business of the dukes had been carried out by agents in London, corresponding with stewards on the dukes' estates. Papers relating to pre-1830 business were clearly inherited by Bailey, Shaw and Smith and form part of the archive.

The archive is not solely concerned with legal and financial business, and includes some series which have no obvious explanation in this context. The most significant of these is the political correspondence of the 3rd Duke of Portland, which complements other papers of the 3rd Duke remaining at Welbeck, Nottinghamshire and now forming part of the University's Portland (Welbeck) Collection.

The Cavendish-Bentinck Dukes of Portland trace their line through Hans Willem Bentinck (1649-1709), who accompanied King William III from the Netherlands and, in recognition of his services, was made Earl of Portland in 1689. He was granted a large number of estates which were added to by following generations, often through advantageous marriages. A considerable part of the archive concerns these inherited estates, ranging in territory from the south coast of England to the north coast of Scotland. In addition, the collection reflects other financial investments of the the Earls and Dukes of Portland, and legal efforts to recoup the finances of the family which at various points were seriously embarrassed.

The solicitor's archive ceases around 1927 when the extant estates were brought together under the Welbeck Estates Company Limited. The records remained with the firm in London until the 1940s, when during the war the premises suffered bomb and subsequently water damage. Salvage efforts enabled the rescue of, apparently, most of the archive, but in a very disordered state. Many papers were irretrievably damaged; those which remain were for the most part in fragile condition and requiring extensive conservation treatment.


The Collection has been arranged into five series, describing correspondence, estate papers, family and financial papers, legal papers and miscellaneous papers. These series are subdivided, generally by correspondent, name of estate, or subject matter.

Access Information

Accessible to all registered readers, but access is restricted to many individual documents because of their extremely damaged or fragile condition. Researchers are advised to ensure that material can be made available before visiting.

Other Finding Aids

Copyright in all Finding Aids belongs to the University of Nottingham.

In the Reading Room, King's Meadow Campus:

Typescript Catalogue at series level only, 174 pp.

At the National Register of Archives, London:

Typescript Catalogue at series level only, c. 130 pp. [please note that the catalogue at King's Meadow Campus is more up to date]

On the World Wide Web:

Full and detailed catalogue available through the website of Manuscripts and Special Collections, Manuscripts Online Catalogue. This catalogue is more detailed than the typescript catalogues. Due to the size of this collection the sections Pl and Pl C are delivered separately on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue.

Family and Estate Resource relating to the Cavendish-Bentinck family and their records, published on the Manuscripts and Special Collections website.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending the condition of the documents.

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections (email

Custodial History

The collection was given to the University of Nottingham by the 7th Duke of Portland in 1947, the British Records Association acting as intermediary.

Related Material

The University of Nottingham, Manuscripts and Special Collections: The Portland (Welbeck) Collection (Reference: Pw)

The University of Nottingham, Manuscripts and Special Collections: Papers of the Bentinck family of Terrington St Clement, Norfolk, c.1700-c.1800 (Reference: BK)

The University of Nottingham, Manuscripts and Special Collections: Papers relating to the Bentinck family and Hoare's Bank, 1704-1774 (Reference: MS 376)