Saturday, 31 December 2016

Witley Court - a spectacular ruin

Happy New Year!

As I escaped to the Cotswolds from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, here is a post I prepared earlier, from our visit to Witley a couple of weeks ago.

As much as I love National Trust properties, with their sometimes lavish interiors and opulent decor, I equally enjoy a spectacular ruin.  Thanks to membership of the Civil Service recreational association, HASSRA, I have corporate membership to English Heritage.

Our nearest English Heritage property is the Grade I listed building and Scheduled  Monument, Witley Court. 

Witley Court started life as a brick built Jacobean mansion, built on the site of an earlier medieval manor house.  It was bought by Thomas Foley, son of a prominent Midlands ironmaster, in 1655 just after the Civil War, and he and his descendants remodelled it substantially over the next 200 years, creating much of the familiar footprint that we see today.

During their term of ownership the Foleys also built the attached church, with paintings by Antonio Bellucci, and remodelled the gardens, which included relocating the village of Great Witley, as it came too close to the south side of the house. Don't you just love that idea, neighbours too close?  Just move their house back a bit!  

Church interior 

The brook was dammed to create this lake.  

On a visit a few weeks ago, the lake was part drained for work to be carried out, and thousands of freshwater oysters were revealed along the shoreline 

In the early 1800's, when family coffers were bolstered by an advantageous marriage, noted Regency architect John Nash was commissioned to build two great Ionic porticoes at either side of the property, said to be the largest on any privately owned house in England.

  Not unexpectedly, the family finances took a turn for the worse, and the 4th Baron Foley was forced to sell the property to the trustees of a minor, William Ward, 11th Baron Ward and later 1st Earl of Dudley

Ward set about remodelling the house to his own tastes and it was soon clad in Bath stone, the finish that can still be seen today.

From 1843 to 1846 Witley Court was home to Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV and after requesting the piano to be re-tuned, the young son of the tuner, a certain Edward Elgar, became a regular visitor, entertaining guests in the ballroom by playing the piano for them. 

 The ballroom, as it would have looked to Edward Elgar

The ballroom today

In the late 1800's the house was the scene of many parties, the then Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, attended frequently.

In 1920 the house was sold again, this time to a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer, Sir Herbert Smith.  The house was never properly maintained or lived in after Sir Herbert bought it and a skeleton staff was employed to keep it ticking over.  In September 1937, a gardener noticed flames coming from the roof above servant's rooms and a strong wind carried the fire throughout one wing of the property.  An attempt was made by staff to put out the fire, there was a clever pumping system connected to the Perseus and Andromeda fountain for just such an event, which, due to lack of maintenance, failed to work.

Perseus and Andromeda fountain

The house was still liveable as only one wing was damaged, but Sir Herbert was not properly insured and so sold the house at auction to scrap merchants, who stripped the house of all the finery and valued items, some of which are scattered all over the world.

Even though the fire was almost 80 years ago, the charred wood in the ballroom still leaves a distinctive charcoal residue when you touch it.

Roofless and windowless, the house is a ghost of its former self.  Walking around you can almost hear the chinking of glassware and rustling of ballgowns, it really is an almost disturbing yet captivating place

Ornate plasterwork still intact on the wall and open to the elements

The huge curved wing joining the main house to the conservatory, designed by William Daukes for Lord Dudley.  Those empty plinths were once home to magnificent lion statues in solid marble. 

South view, church cupola visible over the massive conservatory, which had the largest curved glass roof of the time

Remains of the plate glass can still be seen embedded in the stone columns 

Conservatory where grape vines and lavender still grow 

East wing, which was the only part of the house destroyed by fire

The Perseus and Andromeda fountain has been fully restored and is currently undergoing maintenance, it will fire up again in the Spring, and is the second highest fountain in Britain, behind the fountain at Stanway House.  At the moment you can walk onto the scaffolding set up for the masons and view the fountain close up.  We could see the detail on the dragons foot and Andromeda's new hand

Andromeda is once again shackled to the rocks 

 An interesting local website here with more information about Witley and old photographs of how it once looked.

In 1967 Witley was considered to be the perfect backdrop for Procol Harum's video for their song A Whiter Shade of Pale, and historians have been poring over the video's grainy images for glimpses of the state of the building then to compare how much of it has been saved.

More information can be found on the English Heritage site here

I hope you enjoyed the tour of Witley, I may revisit my Summer photographs and blog some more about the places we visited during the year.


  1. As fascinating as the ruins are, I almost am angry that a beautiful space was stripped and left to rot. I suppose if there was no money, there was no choice. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Yes, it certainly is a shame, Sam. Still, it is standing and being looked after as much as you can look after a ruin.

  2. What a spectacular ruin that is. Just my kind of thing. I would have gone mad with my camera. The thing is, we holidayed in the area (well, just above Hereford) a couple of years ago, and somehow we never visited. I think we did all the NT and EH properties except for Witley Court. Anyway, thanks for taking me with you and showing me what I've missed out on! xxx

    1. You need another Worcestershire and Hereford holiday to catch up on all the things you've missed! xxx

  3. What a beautiful ruin! I love a dilapidated building, so evocative. One for the list!
    Great idea to escape to the Cotswolds! xxx

    1. Oh you need to visit, Vix, great backdrop for some photos, lots to see xxx

  4. What a checkered history. What a shame about the fire, it ruined something beautiful! Still, it has grandeur still!

  5. Goodness, I really do need to visit. Witley Court has been on my must visit list for years now and your post is just making my desire stronger. Thank you for the virtual tour x


Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I'd love it if you left a comment too!