Witley Court is the stunning skeletal remains of what was once one of the finest mansions in the English Midlands, until gutted by fire in 1937. The gardens and lakes that surround this palace are breathtaking and add to the feeling of awe as one reaches the ruined house, the way the landscape slopes down towards the lake and then rises again as one approaches the house is intentional and powerful.
Originally a Jacobean brick house built by the Russell family occupied the site, however after the English Civil War the house was sold to Thomas Foley, an ironmaster (the owner of a forge/furnace). Foley erected the two towers to the north side of the house. His grandson Thomas Foley, the 1st Lord Foley, added the wings which gut out from side of the building as you approach it. The 2nd Lord Foley completed the building of a church attached to the west of the house, at the same time he also relocated the village of Great Witley to its present location! He wished to landscape the park and gardens and felt the village came to close to the rear of his palatial home!
In 1805 the third Lord employed one of the most renowned architects of his time John Nash to carry out reconstructions on the house, this is when the giant porticos to the north and south of the house were erected. Nash was responsible for much of the layout of Regency London. Trafalgar Square, Regent Street, Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus are just some of his accomplishments, he designed houses throughout Ireland and Britain, and even found time to design the layout for several gaols!
In 1837 due to serious debt the house was sold to Lord Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley who had inherited a great fortune from family wealth the coal and iron industries. After he died his son William Humble Ward inherited the property. In 1920 William sold the house to Sir Herbert Smith. Sir Herbert only kept on a fraction of the staff employed whilst his family were absent. In September 1937 a fire started in the bakery, the servants tried to put it out by using an old water pump which was attached to the main fountain but it failed. One wing was gutted by fire and after the insurance company refused to pay out the house was auctioned off, and it was bought by scrap dealers who stripped all they could from the remaining buildings and left the skeleton we see today.
The house was taken into the care of the English Government in 1972 and under the management of English Heritage who continue their Herculean efforts to maintain this vast house and surroundings. If you are to visit this site try and catch the hourly firing of the stunning Perseus and Andromeda fountain to the rear of the building and make sure you wander down into the woods by the lake to see the unusual and quaint little boathouse.
GPS: 52.28239, -2.33866