Witley Court: One of Europe’s most lavish Victorian estates, now a fabulous ruin

Witley Court, an Italianate palace built for the Foleys on the site of a medieval manor house, was long regarded as one of England’s finest country mansions. For generations, the estate functioned as a home for members of the British nobility as well as a venue for royal entertaining. The settlement of Great Witley, which gave rise to the estate’s name, was relocated in the 18th century to make way for significant landscaping of the grounds.

Witley Court is the culmination of multiple construction periods that spanned more than 300 years. The Russell family enlarged the property in the early 1600s to incorporate a substantial Jacobean brick mansion. It was purchased and expanded by several generations of the Foley family, who had possessed Witley Court for almost 180 years, half a century later. It is said that Thomas Foley paid for the Jacobean home with proceeds from his father’s company, which began with the manufacture of nails.

For nearly two centuries Witley was closely associated with the Foley family. They massively expanded the house over the 180 years it was in their ownership. Author: Steve p2008 – CC BY 2.0.

The Foleys sold the Witley estate in 1833 to William Ward, the 11th baron of Birmingham and eventually the Earl of Dudley, who renovated the Georgian home into a bigger, more ornate structure. It was greatly enlarged in the early nineteenth century by British architect John Nash, a pioneer in the use of the picturesque in architecture who, together with Edward Blore, was responsible for extending Buckingham Palace. He built colonnades between the towers as well as along the South Front.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Samuel Daukes completed the mansion’s final alteration for the Wards, designing extravagant interiors in a revival French Renaissance style.,

Witley Court was one of England’s great country houses, reaching its peak in the Victorian period when it was the setting for extravagant parties. Author: Nick Hubbard – CC BY 2.0

In the 1850s, William Andrews Nesfield was hired to design a magnificent garden encircling the home, which contained one of Europe’s greatest fountains, the majestic Perseus and Andromeda fountain, said to be Europe’s largest. Unfortunately, the home was destroyed by a terrible fire in September 1937. Most of the rooms in the central and eastern parts were destroyed by the fire.

The most impressive fountain is dedicated to Perseus and Andromeda. It was recently restored to working order by English Heritage. Author: Stephen Jones – CC BY 2.0.
In 1937, after a fire destroyed most of the rooms in the central and eastern sections, the mansion was turned into a ruin. The rest of the property, including the church, gardens, and Orangery, were spared. Author: Nick Hubbard – CC BY 2.0.

The Great Witley Church (also known as the parish church of St. Michael and All Angels) is attached to Witley Court and is largely recognized as one of Britain’s best baroque churches. The church was given a stunning baroque interior in 1747, richly painted in red, yellow, and cream, and ornamented with carvings, sculptures, and paintings obtained at the auction of the contents of Cannons House, the Middlesex house of the Duke of Chandos. It was not harmed by the fire and continues to provide normal services.

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