The Underwater Ballroom That Belonged to a Victorian Fraudster
Today, it’s stained with mildew and covered with leaves. But back in the 19th century, this manmade cavern served as an underwater ballroom/smoking room/man cave, and it was one of the most notable features of financier Whitaker Wright’s 9000-acre estate.
We say financier, but Wright’s resume took a decided turn toward the fraudulent after he floated a large bond for London's Baker Street and Waterloo Railway in 1900. Unable to pay for it, he ended up issuing himself a series of loans, transferring them among his various companies. Things went south, and, as Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura notes in the new video above, Wright ended up creating “his own little Victorian Lehman Brothers.” He went to trial, was sentenced to 7 years in prison, and then committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill before even leaving the courthouse.
In its heyday, the iron-and-glass ballroom allowed Wright and his friends to enjoy dancing, smoking, and other diversions while admiring the local fish 40 feet below the surface. It’s said that smoke from Wright's cigars could sometimes be seen coming from the Neptune statue’s mouth. Other features of the grounds included a 32-room, neo-Tudor mansion, plus a theatre, observatory, hospital, and stables with room for more than 50 horses. “Everything was swagger,” Blackwood’s Magazine supposedly said of the grounds. “The whole thing was a gorgeous vulgarity—a magnificent burlesque of business.”
The entire estate burned down in a fire in 1952, and the underwater ballroom is one of the few items that remain. Today, it’s private property—so don’t try to visit, but do watch the Atlas Obscura video above to learn more.