Woolly says – I’d spent the week basking in the British sunshine and avoiding the drooling jowls of my arch enemy, I was less than pleased to wake up to clouds and splatters of rain on Jo’s day off. Having kicked my carer several times to show my indignation I set about organising my snacks while she got herself ready for our day. Witley Court in Great Witley, Worcestershire, is a ruined Italianate mansion. Built for the Foleys in the seventeenth century on the site of a former manor house, it was enormously expanded in the early nineteenth century by the architect John Nash for Thomas Foley, 3rd Baron Foley. The estate was later sold to the Earls of Dudley, who undertook a second massive reconstruction in the mid-19th century, employing the architect Samuel Daukes to create one of the great palaces of Victorian and Edwardian England. The declining fortune of the Dudley’s saw the sale of the court after the First World War to a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer.
In 1937 a major fire caused great damage to the court, the estate was broken up and sold and the house was subsequently stripped of its fittings and furnishings. Forty years of decay followed before the house and grounds were taken into the care of The Department of the Environment in 1972. Since that point, significant restoration and stabilisation have secured the house as a spectacular ruin. Well we all know I love a good ruin; I mean I have to live with one!
Ignoring my small furry companions’ cheek as well as the moans and sighs that were constantly emitting from him in regards of the weather, we drove through the Worcestershire countryside and I was able to pass a couple of little known facts to my friend. A video made in 1967 by the band Procol Harum for their song “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, used Witley Court as the location and rumour has it that the late George Michael had considered buying the building to create a home for himself. The look on his grubby face was a picture as he absorbed this information and proceeded to start singing his version of A whiter Shade of Pale much to my ears distress.
Woolly says – I have a lovely voice; she just has no musical appreciation! Having parked the car, I left Jo in the ticket office as I set off through the grounds to find the building. Tree’s of all colours and hues and huge rhododendron bushes with colourful flowers lined the pathway and if the sun had been out it would have been glorious, I sighed, the weather gods are so unfair. A gentle slope upwards took me to a gate which I was able to squeeze through and I was given my first sight of the large court building. It was impressive, although no glass sat in the windows and the roof wasn’t in existence the remaining structure was defiantly a beautiful sight. A set of steps sat centrally between the east and the west wing where once the grand ladies and gents would have pulled up in their carriages and wandered up them to be greeted by the lord of the manor, the windows arches had wonderful mouldings and would have provided huge amounts of light to the interior. As I stepped into what had once been the Grand Hall where intimate dinners and entertainment would have been the order of the day, I was able to see small areas of paintwork, wooden and in some cases concrete beams that would once have supported the upper floors, Mr Michaels would have needed am awful lot of paint to being this place back to being a home but I’m sure it could have looked incredible.
As I caught up with my small friend, I realised that he had missed one of the most impressive views and wondered how long it would be before he spotted it.
Woolly says – We wandered into the rooms that were set to the sides of the hall, fire places were still set into the walls which looked slightly comical for those on the higher levels with their missing floors.
With access denied to a large portion of the ruin I turned my attention to the grounds which was when I caught my first glimpse of the fountain, wow what a piece of work. The Perseus and Andromeda fountain is one of the grandest in Europe and has now been restored to working order, which means that it’s one nozzle is capable of shooting water one hundred feet in the air. I raced down the steps to get a better look and arrived slightly out of breath just as the magnificent feature burst into life and jets of water tried to reach into the skies, it was amazing. We walked around the poolside which gave us an excellent view of the house, sadly it also gave me a good splattering of water as the wind blew the fountains supply in my direction, water is not my friend and having shaken myself I retreated by several paw strides to a safer distance.
As the water display started to die down, we wandered towards the area that had once been the houses conservatory.
Woolly says – It must have been a beautiful place to sit once upon a time, now with the glass and frames missing it still made for a lovely area to spend some time. Old vines grew from the beds and I wondered if these were the same ones that would have provided grapes for the early families who had inhabited the house. Having admired the fountain once more, I could feel my tummy demanding attention and realising that my last snack had been several hours ago suggested that it might be a good idea to feed me before I starved to death.
It was a good idea and having spotted the tea shop sign I followed the mammoth towards coffee and cake.
Woolly says – You can’t beat a homemade teacake slathered in butter and jam although the sticky consequences might stay around for a while. Jo sighed as she realised that I had more jam on my head than on my plate and promptly set about cleaning me up. Once deemed satisfactory and at no risk of trotting sticky paws through everything we retraced our steps to the church. St. Michael and All Angels is the Parish Church for the villages of Great Witley and Little Witley, many have assumed that it is part of the court but It has never been a private chapel. Started in the early 1730’s it wasn’t completed until 1735. Originally the interior was plain and modest but in 1747 the 2nd Baron acquired the stained glass windows and many oils on canvases from the Duke of Chandos’ Canons Palace, Edgeware, near London. A huge wooden door opened into a small vestibule which provided us with another immense door to get through, certainly way too heavy for someone of my size, I left my carer using brute force to give us access. As the door creaked open and I had my first glimpse of the interior I found that I was speechless at the incredible sight that greeted my eyes. The ceiling and walls were exquisite, with gilded patterns and hand painted pictures I decided to be sensible, rolled onto my back to enable me to see it in all its glory.
It really did have a wow factor and even though I had seen it many many years ago I had forgotten quite how wonderful it was.
Having checked out each of the cherub paintings and admired the finery, I wandered towards the altar with its marvellous red background and stood taking in the massive family memorial to the Foley family. Turning to the rear of the church I was able to admire the organ pipes but my eyes couldn’t stop from turning back to the ceiling once again. A real gem and defiantly worth a visit but maybe wait until the sunshine is out!