The romantic ruins of Witley Court stand with the imposing Worcestershire Hills of Woodbury and Abberley in the background, while to the east distant views extend beyond the formal gardens and deer park across the countryside towards Worcester. This once magnificent house, destroyed by fire, retains a haunting atmosphere of its former grandeur, the Perseus and Andromeda fountain a spectacular Italianate centrepiece, sending water 100 feet into the air, celebrating a lost Victorian heyday.
When William Ward, the Earl of Dudley, moved into Witley Court in 1851 he began a major transformation of the house and gardens. An earlier medieval manor house had been rebuilt on a grand scale in the seventeenth century by Thomas Foley, and for two centuries Witley was the home of the Foley family.
The Jacobean Foley mansion was built of brick, but in the early nineteenth century the architect John Nash was commissioned to make a series of ambitious alterations. He added the massive stone porticos to the north and south fronts which survived intact the great fire of 1937 and give the ruins their impressive grandeur today.
When the eighth Thomas Foley sold Witley Court to William Ward in 1837, it was already a grand mansion. But as Ward was immensely wealthy, having inherited more than 200 coal mines, iron works and chemical factories in the Black Country, he determined to spend some of his industrial fortune on Witley Court.Ward had the house remodelled in the new Italian style, made fashionable by Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, built for Queen Victoria, and called in the leading garden designer, William Andrews Nesfield, to create an appropriately magnificent setting. In front of Nash's portico, Nesfield added a vast curving staircase on each side and the grand conservatory with thirteen stone arches which was one of the largest in any English Country house. It would have had glazed windows and a great curved glass roof, protecting the exotic plants beloved of the Victorian era.
Below the great staircase, the ground slopes down to the spectacular Perseus and Andromeda fountain. The central sculpture of the fountain, now restored, was carved in Portland stone by James Forsyth. Andromeda has been chained to a rock by the sea god Poseidon, and a sea monster threatens to devour her, but Perseus, on his winged horse, Pegasus, rescues her.The gardens as well as the fountain at Witley Court have been restored by English Heritage, who carried out garden archaeology to establish the original layout. The formal layout to the south around the fountain includes clipped yews and beds bright with rhododendrons.
Beyond the fountain, the ground slopes up again to a low balustrade and ha-ha protecting the gardens from the animals in the parkland beyond.To the east of the house is a second fountain, still to be restored, and an intricate French-style parterre which could be admired from the windows of the ball-room, its ornate patterns in box filled with coloured gravels and flowers.The unique baroque church adjoining the house, created for the Foley family, and consecrated in 1735, survived the fire and still displays its stunning white and gold interior with ceiling paintings by Antonio Belucci.In front of the house is a lake, created in the eighteenth century by damming a stream. Visitors would once have reached the house by a causeway across the lake, but now the path wanders through woodland and across a small bridge, filled with rhododendrons planted in the 1870s. Admire the colours, breathe the scented air, and re-live the history of an extravagant Victorian past.