Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great Witley, Worcestershire

I enjoy it when my explorations of buildings coincide with things I’m doing in other parts of my life. At the moment, I’m writing a book about mythology, so I was pleased to visit Witley Court in Worcestershire, with its fountain based on the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda.

Perseus has recently killed the Gorgon Medusa, and is flying through the sky on the winged horse Pegasus when he sees Andromeda chained to a rock. She’s been left there because her mother, Cassiopeia, has insulted some sea nymphs by saying that she, Cassiopeia, is more beautiful than them. Poseidon, god of the sea, is angered by this insult, so sends a sea monster to ravage the coast of Ethiopia, where Cassiopiea lives, and the beast will only be satisfied with the flesh of Andromeda. In the fountain sculpture, Perseus is about to dispatch the monster, before carrying off Andromeda and marrying her.

Witley Court itself is a fascinating building, now an evocative ruin. It began as a Jacobean country house, but was massively extended in both the Regency and Victorian periods to become one of the largest houses in the country. It was the famous scene of lavish house parties hosted by the owners, the Earl of Dudley, until the house was gutted in a fire in 1937. The ruin has now been stabilized and, courtesy of English Heritage, one can walk through the empty shells of rooms open to the skies, admiring fragments of wall decoration (a lot of it in carton pierre, which is rather like papier mâché) and meditating on charred timbers and lost glory.


Anonymous said...

I agree Great Witley is a truly evocative place. Let loose with my camera my son (then aged 5) captured many charred timbers, scorched bricks and a spiral staircase clothed in moss, while I admired the fountains, orangery and clock tower!

Philip Wilkinson said...

I, too, have many photographs of charred timbers, plus one of a whole cache of architectural fragments spotted over a garden wall. It's a remarkable place indeed.