The Bloke and I have taken to going out on day trips mid-week as of late, taking advantage of the general working day and term-time schedules to visit places that would be busier at the weekends. We’ve got Annual English Heritage passes which allows us unlimited free entry into English Heritage sites and discounts on other places like Blenheim Palace, and living in the West Midlands means that we are lucky enough to be a short drive away from some stunning stately homes, castles and historical places of interest.
One such place is Witley Court.
A hidden gem, I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of it before (despite living in Birmingham since 2001), and it is just a forty minute drive away from where I live.
Situated in Great Witley in Worcestershire, Witley Court is a ruined mansion built in an Italianate style. Built in the seventeenth century on the site of a former manor house, it was enormously expanded in the early nineteenth century, sold to the Earls of Dudley and this was followed by a second massive reconstruction in the mid nineteenth century. It became known as one of the most impressive houses in the country, and in the 1890’s fashionable society attended the lavish parties held at Witley Court, including the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII.
After the decline in the fortune of the owners after the First World War, the court was sold to a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer. Unfortunately, in 1937 a major fire caused enormous damage to the court and consequently the estate was broken up and sold and the house was stripped of its fittings and furnishings, where it was left to decay for forty years. In 1972 the Department of the Environment took over the building and grounds and Witley Court has undergone significant restoration. Both the court and the church within the grounds – the Church of St Michael and All Angels are now Grade I listed buildings.
Exploring the Ruins of Witley Court
The Bloke had visited before and I had seen some of his pictures, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how stunning the court and the grounds are.
The large house is a small maze of gutted ruins, complete with remnants of plasterwork and even some of the charred timbers from the fire which destroyed part of the building. Perhaps the most impressive area is The Ballroom, which extends almost the full length of the east wing. It was decorated in the style of Louis XV, with high ceilings, gold leaf on the plasterwork and lit by eight crystal chandeliers. There are information boards situation around the ground floor, complete with images of the court at it’s peak of opulence, and it is possible to explore much of the ground floor in your own time.
Click on the images for the full size.
The Conservatory at the side of the building escaped the fire but was gradually stripped down, leaving it totally open to the sky. It was once one of the largest buildings of its type in any English country house and had an enormous curved glass roof. Its self-controlled heating system was fuelled by coal, which allowed them to grow a large range of exotic plants and palms.
The Grounds and Fountains
The two large fountains in the grounds survived the fire and breakdown of the house. Designed by Nesfield and created by James and William Forsyth, the Perseus and Andromesa fountain has now been restored back to working order by English Heritage after a seven month project, and it is possible to see it ‘firing’ every day from April to the end of October. The remnants of Nesfield’s parterres can also be seen, along with two stone temples in the formal gardens and the damaged Flora Fountain.
It is a beautiful setting- The Bloke and I visited during the winter months and it was a tranquil place to walk around.
Great Witley Church
Great Witley Church, or the Church of St Michael and All Angels, is situated right next to the main building and is equally as stunning.
Built between 1732 and 1735, the church has never been a private chapel, used for regular services and owned and maintained by volunteers as a Church of England parish. It isn’t owned by English Heritage, and remained intact after the fire in 1937 and so wasn’t stripped of any furniture or fittings. The interior is beautiful and rather unexpected – particularly in the oil on canvas ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci (circa 1720). The three large paintings depic ‘The Descent of the Cross, The Ascension and The Nativity. There are twenty cherub paintings, ten of which illustrate the Instruments of the Passion.
Since the 1970’s it has undergone a series of enormous restorations. Most interestingly, the crypt beneath the church has been opened up to reveal a number of lead coffins and the 1st Earl of Dudley’s red granite sarcophagus.
Want to Know More?
Witley Court is open from Wednesday – Sunday, 10.00am – 4.00pm.
Entry for English Heritage members is free, and below is the entrance fee without and with gift aid.
|Child (5-17 years)||£5.20||£5.80|
|Family (2 adults, up to 3 children)||£22.40||£24.80|
A disabled access guide is available on site. Unfortunately there is no wheelchair access to the house, only to the visitor centre, exterior and grounds. Please note: one wheelchair available for hire.
What about you guys? Have you visited Witley Court before?
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