Did the eccentric duke live a double life?

The two faces of Thomas Charles Druce

The strange and mysterious case was fodder for sensationalist newspapers of the day. 

There is a strange case from Edwardian England that re-surfaces from time to time.  Over the years at least three books have been written about it, the most recent in 2014.  The facets of the story are too tantalizing to resist.  

     It seems the Duke of Portland—5th Duke of Portland of Welbeck Abbey— was obsessed with privacy.  He was so obsessed that it is reported that he would only interact with his household staff by sending them written letters.

     In order to get around on his estate without coming into contact with anyone, he had an extensive network of underground tunnels and halls constructed—a maze.  His estate was located in the Dukeries portion of Nottinghamshire.  

     There is an interesting hypothesis, that this eccentric Duke of Portland actually lived a double life.  That he somehow secreted himself away for extended periods and had a separate life as T.C. Druce, Victorian businessman, a merchant.  In his presumed life as Thomas Charles Druce, he had a secret wife who bore him a son.  If true, possibly no one would have ever been the wiser until…… until…

     In 1898 an elderly woman approached the British courts.  She was the widow of the son of T.C. Druce.  She was demanding to have the body of her father-in-law, exhumed so that she could prove her theory.  In fact, she claimed that T.C. Druce had faked his death years before, so he could return to being the Duke of Portland once again.  The Duke of Portland was extremely wealthy, and when he died, his estate stayed in the Dukeries.

     The elderly woman, Anna Maria, would not have it.  Since T.C. Druce had actually been the Duke, according to her, the son of Druce (her husband, Walter) would have been the rightful heir or partial heir to the fortune.  If there was no body in Druce’s grave, he must actually have been The Duke.

     The case was examined extensively and tied up in courts for over ten years.  It was fodder for sensationalist newspapers of the day.  Not only was it a juicy story, it was also all about the perennial saga of the struggle between the classes in British society.

     If you do not want to have the outcome of this tale spoiled, I urge you to read no further.  Let it remain a charming mystery.  If you wish to have some of the answers, continue reading.  I warn you, it is fraught with complications.

     Let us go to the Baker Street of London—made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  There existed The Baker Street Bazaar, halfway down its length.  It was an establishment that sold home furnishings, women’s needs, carriages and such.  The third floor once contained Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks.  This floor was later converted to The Portland Rooms, used for activities and dancing. 

The Baker Street Bazaar was once owned by T.C. Druce.  He had worked there for a time and he ran it when he had enough money to buy out his associates.  Eventually, some of his male offspring continued to run it.  Believe it or not, there was an underground passageway that connected the Bazaar to The Metropolitan Board of Works, London’s governing body, and in a round-about way, the tunnels possibly connected to some of The Duke of Portland’s secret passageways.  This passageway theory is some of what fueled the double-identity theory of the Duke.   If he timed it right, he could go back and forth, undetected, to live both lives.

     Druce was legally married twice and had several sons.  Herbert was the oldest son of his first wife.  Walter Druce was the son of his second wife and he had married a much-older woman against his family’s wishes.  Anna Maria was the governess of Walter’s sister.  Walter died young, leaving Anna Maria a widow, and he died in a state of financial instability.

     When Anna Maria Druce wanted to dig up the grave to confirm occupancy, Herbert Druce got a court order to prevent it.  He did not want his father’s grave disturbed.  The whole thing turned around again when offspring of Druce’s second wife got that court order overturned.  It was a wrangling back and forth in the courts between the children of his first and second wife.  We can imagine the elderly Anna Maria’s histrionics when all of these court proceedings were going on.  She had provided what she thought was legitimate documentation for her requests, and had gathered several witnesses.

     The grave was opened and there was Druce inside his box.  There could be no mistake that it was he.  Anna Maria’s case collapsed.  There were more court proceedings involving perjury charges for both sides.  Herbert was exonerated and returned to a respectable life.

     The Duke of Portland, John Bendick, was not doubling as Druce.  He was, in fact, childless and died in1879 several years after the 1864 death of Thomas Charles Druce.  His estate was passed on to various blood relatives.       

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.          


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