At the height of his wealth and influence in the late 1890s, the financier – or, as Henry Macrory would have it, swindler – Whitaker Wright enjoyed the sort of opulence that would put a modern banker to shame. Not for him merely excavating a basement in Notting Hill. He had a house in Park Lane and a 220-foot yacht called the Sybarite with a crew of thirty-three and was in the process of building a mansion near Godalming with thirty-two bedrooms, eleven bathrooms, a ballroom, a velodrome and a small private hospital, all situated on a 9,000-acre estate. Even the stables had central heating. The pièce de résistance, built under one of his three artificial lakes, was a submerged, glass-domed smoking room.
Wright made his money through speculation, mainly on gold and silver mines in Australia, Canada, South Africa and the western USA. Potential investors fell over themselves to buy shares in his forty-one companies in London, pushing stock prices higher and higher. Since none of them had ever seen a silver