Left: the fountain cost the equivalent of £1m when it was built as nineteenth century garden designer WA Nesfield's centrepiece. Photo: Andrew Fox.
Once likened to the 'noise of an on-coming steam train', the spectacular fountain at Witley Court is firing again for the first time in 70 years following a £1 million restoration project.
Built in the 1860s, the Perseus and Andromeda fountain at the Italianate mansion in Worcestershire is one of Europe's largest with 120 jets hidden among shells, sea nymphs, dolphins and a monstrous serpent.
Around 5000 people made the most of the Easter weekend to get a glimpse of the magnificent structure, which has been fully restored along with surrounding paths, steps and flower beds.
Right: a stonemason removes a broken foot for repair at the start of the resoration work in May last year. Photo: David Burges.
£727,500 of the million pound project came from the Heritage Lottery Fund with English Heritage making up the remainder.
Site Manager Mark Badger told the 24 Hour Museum how brief pauses before the fountain explodes into life sent waves of anticipation through the many people who came to see it.
“When the fountain is firing up you can feel the change in the air,” said Mark. “It just looks fantastic and the spray that's coming down, you can actually feel the air becoming cooler and moist.”
“You feel like you're in the garden of a great country house rather than just in the garden of a ruin.”
Left: the central plume of water can reach an incredible 100 metres into the air, while 120 jets send droplets cascading over the pool. Photo: Andrew Fox.
The 20 ton sculpture sits in a 54 metre wide pool and has been compared both to the famous fountains at Versailles and the smaller Trevi fountain in Rome.
A Grade I listed Scheduled Ancient Monument, Witley Court was first recorded in 1086 as the residence of the Sheriff of Worcester. During the 1800s under the Earl of Dudley it dominated the Terne Valley, its John Nash-designed porticoes making it one of the most fashionable residences in the country.
Abandoned in 1937 after a huge fire ripped through the mansion Bing Crosby and Stewart Grainger tried to acquire the fountain in the 1950s for their racecourse in Chicago. They failed and in 1984 English Heritage took the estate over and opened it to the public.
Right: Witley Court's Perseus and Andromeda fountain, taken in its full 1880s glory. © The Graham Stansfield Collection.
Restoration work on the fountain and south parterre began in May last year. As well as restarting a cascade of 120 jets around the central plume of water (which can reach up to 100 feet high), missing stonework was returned to the fountain and stone masons re-carved the wings of Perseus' rearing horse, which were damaged during a direct lightning strike in the 1960s.
“This monumental fountain is a national showpiece,” explained Margaret Oakden, Regional Historic Properties Manager for English Heritage in the West Midlands.
“In their heyday the gardens were a sight to behold. By restoring paths, steps and balustrades and replanting the south parterre we hope to reveal fully the garden's former glory.”
The 600 acre estate is also home to the Jerwood Sculpture park, created in 2000 in partnership with the Jerwood Foundation and featuring a number of important contemporary works.