If you are visiting England, and are fed up with all the tourist-filled areas, and sight seeing tours, you might want to find something more discrete, less known, but still rare, and interesting – an submerged Victorian ballroom.
Finding it will probably prove to be a bit difficult, there are no markings on maps, and you won’t definitely by able to identify it by a crowd of people standing outside. So how to find it? Here goes: step one – get to England, step two – get to Surrey, step three – find the village of Witley…now comes the fun part – walk about an mile and a quarter west, into the woods and look for a stone wall surrounding an small kitchen garden. Lost yet? Great, because you almost found it. Now you just have to find a small building with and arched doorway and make your way inside. Take the spiral stairs down..don’t be afraid..and then go through the tear-shaped tunnel and voila, you can already see the flickering light of the underwater glass dome.
You just entered the secret ballroom of Whitaker Wright. Who was this fine gentleman you ask? No one lesser, than one of the biggest frauds, and swindlers from the turn of the century. And from this time comes also the mentioned ballroom, which was actually part of an much more bigger complex – an huge, 32-room neo-Tudor mansion, that was overlooking the lake. Mr. Wright swindled his way across the globe, and his speculative deals left many of his wealthy investors empty handed in the end. But on the other hand, Wrights wealth grew. He followed an rather simple pattern – when he exhausted the incomes from his supporters, or his shady businesses have been found out, he moved to another part of the world.
This went on and on, until the year 1904, where he was finally tried in England. It was found out, that he spent £5 million of investors money (which is about £400 million today), and also left the debt of £3 million (large portion of the money went on the costs of his gargantuan estate). He was sentenced for 7 years in jail, but Whitaker Wright took an different approach. Minutes after the trial, he went out of the courtroom, smoked a cigar, went to the bathroom, where he swallowed a cyanide capsule, killing him within minutes. Even his death, similar to his life, was extraordinary and stylish.
The mansion, containing many treasures from across the world (among others there was a bronze dolphin’s head so big, that it got stuck under the bridge from it’s way from Southampton. The workers had to lower to road to get it across), was destroyed by fire in 1952 and completely torn down soon after. The few smaller houses that remained was later sold, rebuild and turned to conference centrals.
The only true evidence of the former glory, is the empty ballroom with its glass dome under the murky waters of the lake, and with the statue of Neptune on it’s top, seemingly standing on water.