It’s been a while since I visited a ruin, so Witley Court and Gardens was on my list of things to see. I love ruins, I find them romantic and a bit sad, but in a lovely way. Witley Court is now managed by English Heritage.
In the 1890s Witley Court was visited by the fashionable society. One of the frequent visitors was the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.
Witley Court started as a medieval manor house and it was transformed into a substantial Jacobean mansion by 1655 when it was bought by Thomas Foley. The family started their business by manufacturing nails. Gradually they abandoned the industrial base and went on concentrating on being landed aristocrats and politicians. The 1st Baron Foley (1673–1733) enlarged the house by adding wings on either sides.
In the mid-18th century the lake was created to the north of the house. In the late 18th century, an ornamental woodland was planted to the north-east, with walks laid out along the banks of the lake and brook. The family fortune started to slip away, but Thomas Foley VII made a good marriage and he was able to commission John Nash to design two massive porticos among other additions to the house. After Foley’s death in 1833, the house was sold to William Ward, a very rich coal mines owner.
Ward upgraded the house even more, recasting the exterior in Bath stone and by adding a new curving wing that lead to a vast glass-roofed conservatory.
The house began its decline at the beginning on the 20th century. Sadly, on the night of 7 September 1937 a fire started in the kitchen and destroyed the house while the owners were away in holiday. The staff in the house couldn’t do anything to stop the fire. Due to strong winds, the fire spread rapidly and by next day the house was a shell. One of the sides of the house wasn’t affected, but the owner, Sir Herbert Smith, decided to sale the property. Witley was never lived in again, was stripped and abandoned.
In the gardens, the south and east parterres have been restored by English Heritage as they would have looked in the Victorian era. The Perseus and Andromeda fountain is one of the grandest in Europe. Recently, after a 7 months restoration project was completed, the beautiful fountain is now working and it can be seen daily in the summer.
The address is Witley Court and Gardens, Worcester Road, Great Witley, Worcestershire, WR6 6JT, £8.30 for adults, free for members.