We’ve previously pondered who was Filey’s most famous visitor during its heyday as a high-class resort. But, who was the wealthiest visitor? It’s probably an impossible task, especially given that Britain during the nineteenth century was the world’s industrial powerhouse. Additionally, how do you measure wealth? Many of the landed families would have been asset rich, but, in relative terms, cash poor. Royal’s famously don’t carry cash and Yorkshire’s industrialists were making so much money that they probably didn’t have the time to properly count it.
If we had to make an educated guess at who was Filey’s most wealthy visitor we would plumb for Henry Portman. He visited Filey during August 1867 and stayed at number 8 The Crescent. A politician and landowner, leases from properties he owned in West London gave him an income that, in today’s money, would be a staggering £12.9m a year.
So who was Henry Portman and how did he accrue such vast wealth? He was born in 1829 and was the son of Edward Portman, 1st Viscount Portman and Lady Emma Lascelles, daughter of Henry Lascelles, 2nd Earl of Harewood. He became a Liberal politician, entering parliament in 1852 as the member for Shaftesbury in Dorset. In 1888 he inherited his father’s title and entered the House of Lords as Lord William Henry Berkeley Portman, 2nd Viscount Portman.
Henry Portman married Mary Selina Charlotte FitzWilliam, daughter of William Charles FitzWilliam. This probably explains the holiday at Filey, as his father-in-law was the MP for Malton and the owner of the stately home Wentworth Woodhouse in south Yorkshire.
An already wealthy and well-connected man, Henry Portman’s income underwent a dramatic increase when the 99-year leases he owned on property in West London came up for renewal. As a result it gave him a colossal income of around £100,000 per year (around £12.9m in today’s money).
He used his wealth to build a palatial country house at Bryanston near Blandford Forum in Dorest, designed by the pre-eminent architect Norman Shaw. The house was built between 1889–1894 and was modelled on the chateau at Menars in the Loire valley. The building and estate was the biggest in Dorset and, it has been claimed to have been, the last of the grand stately homes to be built in England.
After Portman’s death in 1919 the house became uneconomic for the family to run. The family sold it to pay Death Duties and it was converted into a public school; a function it performs to this day as the Bryanston School.
The current, and tenth, Viscount Portman is Christopher Edward Berkeley Portman. He is a regular in the Sunday Times Rich List and has been estimated to be worth £1.2bn. As far as we know, he has yet to holiday at Filey, but perhaps one day he will follow in his family’s footsteps and promenade on the Crescent Gardens.