Witley Court and the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain
|Location||Great Witley, Worcestershire, England|
|Architect||John Nash, Samuel Daukes|
|Governing body||Historic England|
|Official name: Witley Court and Link to Church of St Michael, Great Witley|
|Designated||12 November 1951|
Witley Court, Great Witley, Worcestershire, England is a ruined Italianate mansion. Built for the Foleys in the seventeenth century on the site of a former manor house, it was enormously expanded in the early nineteenth century by the architect John Nash for Thomas Foley, 3rd Baron Foley. The estate was later sold to the Earls of Dudley, who undertook a second massive reconstruction in the mid-19th century, employing the architect Samuel Daukes to create one of the great palaces of Victorian and Edwardian England.
The declining fortune of the Dudleys saw the sale of the court after the First World War to a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer. In 1937 a major fire caused great damage to the court, the estate was broken up and sold and the house was subsequently stripped of its fittings and furnishings. Forty years of decay followed before the house and grounds were taken into the care of The Department of the Environment in 1972. Since that point, significant restoration and stabilisation have secured the house as a spectacular ruin.
The earliest building on the site was a Jacobean brick house constructed by the Russell family. After the Civil War the house was sold to Thomas Foley (1616-1677), an ironmaster. He erected two towers on the north side of the house and his grandson Thomas Foley, 1st Baron Foley (1716–1777) added the wings which enclose the entrance courtyard. In 1735 the Thomas Foley, 2nd Baron Foley (1742–1793) constructed a new private chapel to the west of this courtyard, an undertaking begun by his father. The chapel was given a baroque interior in 1747, when he commissioned James Gibbs to incorporate paintings and furnishings acquired at the auction of the contents of Cannons House. Once reconstructed, the Chapel interior included painted panels by Antonio Bellucci, and ten hand painted windows by Joshua Price of London, based on the designs of Francesco Slater.
In the second half of the 18th century the park was landscaped. This included the relocation of the village of Great Witley, which came too close to the south front (rear) of the house. In about 1805 Thomas Foley, 3rd Baron Foley (1780–1833) employed John Nash to carry out a major reconstruction of the house, including the addition of huge ionic porticoes to the north and south fronts.
In 1837 serious debt forced Thomas Foley, 4th Baron Foley (1808–1869) to sell the estate to the trustees of William Ward, 11th Baron Ward (1817–1885, later 1st Earl of Dudley), who had inherited a great fortune from the coal and iron industries in the Black Country.
From 1843 to 1846 Witley Court was loaned to Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV. Whilst at Witley Court she had two chaplains – Rev. John Ryle Wood, Canon of Worcester and Rev. Thomas Pearson, Rector of Great Witley.
In the 1850s, William Ward, 11th Baron Ward (later 1st Earl of Dudley) engaged the architect Samuel Daukes, who had already altered his London house, Dudley House on Park Lane and the church at Great Witley, to remodel the house in Italianate style using ashlar stone cladding over the existing red brickwork. He also commissioned the garden designer William Andrews Nesfield to transform the gardens.
In 1920 Witley Court was sold by the 2nd Earl to Sir Herbert Smith, a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer. Sir Herbert maintained only a skeleton staff to manage the house whilst he and his family were away, and many areas were left unused. A major accidental fire broke out in September 1937, whilst Sir Herbert was at another of his houses. It started in the bakery situated in the basement room of the now least preserved tower. The staff tried to put the fire out with the ancient fire pump, which was connected to the fountain, but it failed to work as it had not been maintained for many years. Although only one wing of the house was gutted by the fire and the rest of it was almost intact, the insurance company declined to cover the major damage, so Sir Herbert resolved to sell the property.
The estate was broken up and sold in lots. The house was bought by scrap dealers who stripped what they could from the house, leaving it an empty shell. In 1972 the remnants of the house and garden (excluding the church) were taken into care by the government, via a compulsory guardianship order. The ruins today are still spectacular, and the property is in the care of English Heritage.
Saint Michael and All Angels Church Church, which is attached to the ruins, survived the fire.
In 2003 Witley Court's owners, the Wigington family of Stratford-upon-Avon, who had acquired it in 1953 for £20,000, placed the freehold for sale on eBay for £975,000. The management arrangement with English Heritage was to remain unchanged. The sale was re-launched 2008 and Witley was sold for less than £900,000.
A video made in 1967 by the band Procol Harum for their song "A Whiter Shade of Pale", used Witley Court as the location. At this time the site was completely derelict. The video link is given below under "External Links".
The ruins were featured prominently in the 2016 British TV miniseries Close to the Enemy.
The original manor of the Russell's was a medieval house. This was replaced by a brick mansion to an H-plan in the mid-seventeenth century. The Foleys, who bought the estate in 1655 massively expanded the house over the next 150 years. Thomas Foley (IV) may have used Henry Flitcroft to add Palladian service wings in the mid-eighteenth century. In the early nineteenth century, Thomas Foley (VII) used John Nash to design the enormous North and South porticos. The final transformation of the mansion was undertaken by Samuel Daukes for the Wards in the mid-nineteenth century. This saw the encasement of the mansion's central block and wings with Bath Stone and the creation of lavish interiors in a revival French Renaissance style.
The two immense fountains survived the fire and subsequent despoliation of the house. They were designed by Nesfield and executed by James Forsyth and William Forsyth, who were carrying out sculpture in the house and the church. The largest, the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain, has been restored to working order by English Heritage. For working times, see the Witley Court English Heritage website (link below). The remnants of Nesfield's parterres can also be seen. James Forsyth also made the large triumphal arch style drinking fountain in Dudley market place, adorned with sea horses and dolphins, presented in 1867 to the town by the Earl of Dudley.
In more recent times, the original plans and designs for the formal gardens have been discovered, and they are in the process of being restored. The main area of the gardens, the South Parterre, between the house and the Perseus and Andromeda fountain, has already been completed. Meanwhile, work on the East Parterre region is ongoing.
These gates still exist and are now the entrance to the London Bridge site in Lake Havasu City, Arizona in the USA
William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley who bought Witley Court in 1837
William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley who inherited Witley Court when his father died in 1885
Rachel, Countess of Dudley, wife of the 2nd Earl of Dudley.
Garden Party in front of the Perseus and Andromeda fountain circa 1900. The Countess of Dudley is seated in the center; her daughter, Edith, is in the boat; her daughter, Lady Mackenzie is 2nd from right; the Marquess of Bath is 5th from right, and next to him Violet Mordaunt (daughter of Harriet Mordaunt and later Marchioness of Bath).
A carriage outside Witley Court circa 1900. The couple on the far side are the 2nd Earl of Dudley and his wife Rachel.
Shooting party at Witley Court in 1894. The Prince of Wales is in the centre of the photo. The couple to the left of him are the Countess of Dudley (with the fur collar) and the 2nd Earl of Dudley (with the white cap)
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