Once upon a time in Victorian England, there was a criminal by the name of Whittaker Wright, who built an ostentatious 32-room manor in Surrey on land he bought from an Earl. Unfortunately, all the money that Wright poured into his new trophy estate had been gleaned by swindling investors on both sides of the Atlantic through his seemingly prestigious financial holding company. Investors, including gullible aristocrats and members of the London Stock Exchange, had been asked to put up funds for gold mining operations in the U.S. and Australia. But they also ended up paying for 600 workmen to build this Victorian Bernie Madoff's opulent neo-Tudor mansion, which included a private hospital, stables for 50 horses, a theater, an observatory, and a velodrome. The pièce de résistance of Wright's excess, however, was a domed underwater ballroom made of iron and glass and installed 40 feet below the surface of a lake.
It was entered through a spiral staircase leading to a tunnel passing through the lake. "This underwater ballroom is the last, mad, magnificent fragment of a Victorian fantasy world that made Michael Jackson's Neverland look like a dull municipal park," writes the Daily Mail. Off the side of the ballroom, there is a smoking and billiards room, where visitors could puff cigars while watching fish swim by. "A giant statue of Neptune stands at the dome's peak, poking above the surface, apparently walking on water," writes the Daily Mail.
By 1900, Whittaker Wright had blown £5M ($627M today) of investor's money, and completely bankrupted several stock exchange members. He was put on trial and sentenced to seven years in prison. But he never served his sentence. Right after the judge ruled on the case, Wright smoked a cigar, and then swallowed a cyanide capsule.
The manor burned down in 1952, but the underwater ballroom still exists, as a relic of mad Victorian excess. Photos, below:
· The swindler, the cyanide pill and the underwater ballroom: The story behind Britain's most bizarre folly [Daily Mail]
· Witley Wonder Underwater Ballroom [Atlas Obscura]
· All Abandonment Issues posts [Curbed National]