Witley Court, now a romantic ruin at the foot of Woodbury Hill near Worcester, was once ranked as one of England's most noble houses. Its early days can be traced to the Jacobean period, a red brick and sandstone house belonging to the Russell family. The property was sold to Thomas Foley, son of a Stourbridge ironmaster, in 1655. Thomas Foley's grandson, also Thomas, and 1st Baron Foley, was the first of a series of owners to undertake ambitious alterations. When his son, 2nd Lord Foley inherited the estate in 1733, he commissioned James Gibbs to build a new parish church on the property with a remarkable baroque interior. Gibbs was instructed to purchase paintings and furniture from the 1747 auction of Cannons, the palatial home built by the 'Princely' Duke of Chandos, also under the aegis of Gibbs. The 2nd Lord Foley was childless and when he died in 1766 Witley was bestowed to his distant cousin Thomas Foley of Stoke Edith, for whom the Foley title was revived in 1776. Its new owner employed John Nash to carry out major reconstruction of the house including the addition of its Ionic porticos. The Entrance Hall was transformed into a double-height space whose upper galleries granted access to the state rooms, while the lower floors joined the private apartments. This 'immense white house' (as it was described in 1814), was sold to William Humble Ward, the future Lord Ward of Dudley, in 1837, who embarked upon a grandiose scheme of rebuilding and modernization, an endeavor that lasted until the early 1860s. Lord Ward earned his title as 1st Earl of Dudley in 1860 and married in 1866. Thus began the most glamorous chapter at Witley. The heyday at Witley came to an end in 1920 with the tragic drowning death of Lady Dudley. At this time it was sold to the Kidderminster carpet manufacture, Sir Herbert Smith (d. 1943). Tragedy struck again on 7 September 1937 when the building broke out in flames and local villagers flocked to Witley to remove valuable paintings and furniture.