By Gail Braznell
A century ago, Witley Court was one of England’s great country houses, hosting many extravagant parties. In 1937, a disastrous blaze severely damaged part of this historic stately home, the once magnificent country mansion was under threat of being totally wiped from the Worcestershire landscape because from then on, it had been allowed to fall into ruin.
The Domesday Book records the Manor of Witley firstly belonging to William the Conqueror’s cousin, Urso d’Abetot. But from the 14th Century, it was the former family seat of the Foleys and the Earls of Dudley. The first Lord Dudley’s immense wealth, generated through industrial enterprises across the West Midlands, enabled his family to live an extraordinarily opulent life. The Foleys sold Witley Court in 1837 to Baron Ward (later Earl Dudley) and for a time Ward was content to loan the house to Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV, but in 1846, he embarked on an ambitious rebuilding program which transformed Witley Court into an opulent neo-Palladian mansion.
If you find yourself at Witley, I highly recommend viewing the spectacular Perseus and Andromeda “fountain firing”. Once likened to the ‘noise of an oncoming steam train’, the spectacular fountain at Witley Court comes to life on the hour every hour at this time of year, leaving you feeling like you’re in the garden of a great country house rather than just the garden of an old ruin.
Built in the 1860s, the Perseus and Andromeda fountain at the Italianate mansion is one of Europe’s largest, with 120 jets hidden among shells, sea nymphs, dolphins and a monstrous serpent. The sculpture weighs 20 tonne and sits in a 54-metre wide pool with the central plume shooting water 100 metres into the air, whilst the jets send droplets cascading over the top of the pool. This monumental fountain, based on a greek legend is a national showpiece and has been compared to both the famous fountains at Versailles and the smaller Trevi fountain in Rome.
Bing Crosby and Stewart Grainger actually tried to acquire the fountain in the 1950s for their racecourse in Chicago but failed.
In 1984, English Heritage took the estate over and opened it to the public.
Consecrated in 1735, the Church untouched by the fire is also a must visit. One cannot put into words how beautiful the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels actually is–whilst boasting the most stunning interior of any Baroque church in England the ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci take your breath away, the stain glass windows and the wood and stone sculptures just add to the wonderment and there’s the organ which was once used by Handel when he was a music director for the Duke of Chandos. This is an absolute gem, hidden away in the Worcestershire countryside, although it is not part of English Heritage’s Witley Court, It still holds regular services and entry is free. The upkeep of the church is dependent upon the generosity of visitors and volunteers.
The church has a neighbouring cafe open daily from April to October, with its very own picnic garden where you can enjoy delicious light lunches and cakes.
Witley Court, Worcestershire WR6 6JT is ten miles NW of Worcester off the A443.