Until a catastrophic fire spread throughout the house in 1937 and destroyed it, Witley Court could declare it one of the best homes in the country. However, after the catastrophic fire of 1937, it became one of the most spectacular ruins in the country. It is still possible to gain an understanding of the prosperity and scale of the 19th century interior as well as to see how the previous layers of the building’s history were burned by fire.
Whitley had been closely associated with the Foley family for nearly two centuries, and his wealth was originally based on the iron industry. When Thomas Foley bought the Witley estate in 1655, Witley Court was a notable Jacobean mansion that grew out of a medieval manor house. Follies, who began producing nails – gradually abandoned the industrial base they had enriched and turned their attention to becoming aristocrats and politicians.
The 1st Baron Foley (1673–1733) enlarged the house considerably and added wings on either side. In the middle of the 18th century a pool was built to the north of the house. It is said that from 1772 to 1794 an ornamental forest was planted in the northeast.
By the early 19th century, family fortunes were eroding. However, Thomas Foley VII (1780-1833) helped with a favorable marriage – and John Nash Whitley, a prominent Regency architect, was able to appoint successive changes to the plan.
In 1833, Foleys sold the Witley Estate to William Ward’s trustees (1817–85). Although still a minor, Ward is one of the richest men in England. Witley Court culminated in the 1850s when Dudley’s 1st Earl, Ward, commissioned architect Samuel Daukes to redesign it. The translation, largely completed by 1860, included a remodeling of the ornate Italian-style Bath stone used to create the Osborne House on the Isle of Wight for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Created by William Andrews Nesfield in the 1850s, Witley’s Ornamental Formal Garden was funded.