Witley Court is the impressive remains and grounds of what was one of Britain's major Victorian country houses, and home at one time of Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV.
Witley Court and the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain
Earlier houses on this site have developed over the centuries, we know of a manor around 1100, a 13th century manor house and part of its vaulted under croft is under the current building (section not open). Various expansions and redevelopments have occurred over time, with a major rebuild in 1498 by Robert Russell. It was modernised and extended between 1725 and 1730 largely built in brick, the architect was John Nash. Lord Foley spent much of the family funds on these alterations. When he died in 1833, his son had to sell Witley to clear the debt. The house was sold to William Ward, the eleventh Baron of Birmingham. The price was £890,000 equivalent to over £32million today
In 1843 Witley Court was lent to Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV. She requested the pianos in the house to be tuned and a local man, who had recently moved from London to set up his own music dealership and piano-tuning business, was recommended. That man was William Elgar (Edward Elgar's father), who was then to display the Royal warrant on his business stationery.
By the mid 1800's this was out of fashion, a hybrid of Gothic revival and 16th century Italian designs had become popular and Samuel Daukes took on the modernisation, cladding the building in bath stone and extending it. The gardens were also redeveloped by William Nesfield, this involved a major fountain, box hedges and lawns. The end of the 1800's and early 1900's saw lavish living, parties, Royal guests and more. At this time it had 50 household staff, 25 gamekeepers and a large staff of gardeners.
All came to a sudden end with the drowning of the wife of the 2nd Earl of Dudley in Ireland in 1920, within 3 weeks it was sold and the new owner lived in it the next 17 years until a major fire that started at 8pm on the 7th September 1937, that destroyed part of the house. The owner Sir Herbert Smith was away at the time. A newspaper report from the time says that the main building and east wing fell in but the major part of the west wing escaped.
As the insurance company would only cover a quarter of the cost of repair it was decided to sell, contents and garden ornaments were sold in a sale in 1938, and the house and farm sold off separately. In 1954 a salvage dealer bought the house and striped out all that remained and its was near demolition. In 1972 the Department of the Environment came to the rescue, and the building consolidated to avoid further collapse. Later in 1984 management passed to English Heritage.
The fountains have been restored and work at set times. They were designed to provide shows rather than constant flow. When the Dudley's were in residence, at the height of its time, the fountains worked twice a week. The main jet reached 36m, 120ft into the air. Water was pumped from pools and a reservoir. The fountain shows Perseus on the winged horse Pegasus rescuing the lady Andromeda from a sea monster.
Today the restored Perseus and Andromeda fountain, with even the original high cascades operating, can be seen firing between April and October, weekdays, 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. Weekends, on the hour every hour from 11am to 4pm.
We can get a view of what life at Witley could be like, from an account in Berrows Journal of the second Earl Dudley's 21st birthday in 1888:-
What you can see today
An impressive largely outwardly complete roofless burnt out ruin, restored gardens, restored fountains, several extra rooms in the west wing have recently been made accessible. Showpiece woodland walk with many types of trees. Church in excellent condition next door.
The fountain runs to a programme, firing for a short period a number of times each day.
There are other events check their website for details.
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