St Michael and All Angels


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Five miles to the west of Ombersley, in the village of Great Witley is one of Britain's finest Baroque Churches completed in 1735, which displays a splendour unique amongst country churches with exquisite gilded decorations and numerous paintings by Antonio Bellucci, ten painted glass windows and a large monument by Rysbrack. Adjoining the Church is the ruins of Witley Court owned by English Heritage who together with the Jerwood Foundation, have created a sculpture park in the gardens famous for their magnificent fountains. 


The church of St Michael and All Angels is the parish church for both Great Witley and Little Witley

As the parish church for both villages it is used regularly for services and concerts.

(References above are to the church's own web site, from which pictures and some text have been reproduced)


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Reproduction of front page of Parish Church Guide, on sale in the church

Whilst Witley Court was inhabited, the church was used regularly, but after the fire at the Court in 1937 most services were held in the chapel in the village. The church suffered a period of neglect until the dedicated efforts of parishoners in recent years helped restore the building to its former glory.

The church, now almost fully restored, displays a splendour which is unique amongst country churches in Britain, with exquisite gilded decorations throughout, numerous paintings by Antonio Bellucci, ten painted glass windows depicting scenes from the New Testament, highly decorative carving and a large monument by Rysbrack. It also has a fine organ, its case being from the instrument on which Handel played.   Many musicians consider its acoustics for music to be as fine as any building of its size outside London.  (Quote from, and links to, Church web site)


The West Gallery and the Organ

The west gallery is still in use and contains the casing of the organ from Cannons which would have been played by Handel during his time of employment with the duke. The organ itself is a 19th century replacement, the internal workings being enlarged and rebuilt by Nicholsons, Worcester, for the Earl of Dudley around 1860.

The pews, reading desk and pulpit were installed in the 19th century by the Earl of Dudley, who had bought Witley Court from the Foleys.  Under the Earl of Dudley Witley Court itself was expanded and the brick walls were faced with Bath stone, as was the church.

Witley Court is now in the care of English Heritage and the church is usually open at times when the court is open.  Although seemingly a private chapel to Witley Court (the families at the court had their private entrance and pews in the east end of the church), the church has always served the parish and responsibility for its upkeep is that of the PCC who have done a splendid job in restoring it to its former glory after it had fallen into disrepair.

The church has a regular programme of music, though not as yet WG I think, although it would make for a splendid venue for Evensong with 18th century settings.  Near the church the local people provide a good tea-room, a proportion of the profits going to the upkeep of the church.


History of the church

"Enter and you are transported into a different climate.  Here is the most Italian ecclesiastic space in the whole of England."  (BofE:W quoted in the English Heritage guide to Witley Court).

This church, which was built between 1733 and 1735, is a magnificent example of Italianate baroque set within the English countryside.  The church adjoins Witley Court, which was destroyed by fire in 1937.  It replaced an earlier medieval church that had fallen into disrepair and was built by the Lords Foley, the owners of Witley Court in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  The first Lord Foley was a commissioner for the construction of churches in the reign of Queen Anne and it is thought that Great Witley church was based on a design by James Gibbs.

Thomas Foley of Stourbridge in Worcestershire bought the estate in 1655. At that time a sandstone medieval church stood to the west of the current site. His grandson Thomas III decided to build a new church but died in 1732 before work started.   It was left to his widow Mary and son Thomas IV, the second baron Foley, to pay for the new church, which was built closer to the court, was of similar size and had access to the court through a door in the east transept. 

The church was completed in 2 years, probably to designs of James Gibbs. It was plain with a brick exterior and stone dressings matching the facade of the court at that time.  Built of brick encased with sandstone, it has wide semicircular-headed windows and balustraded stone parapets with vase finials at the angles. The west facade is square and of two stories with large gallery windows above those of the vestries, and a central Doric porch with a pediment. The tower rises in two stages above the parapet, the first square, and the second octagonal. The whole is surmounted by a cupola, and the triangular spaces at the angles between the stages are occupied by vases.

Internally the church was built in the Renaissance style and was thoroughly restored about 1850. The interior of the church was plain with a flat ceiling, plain windows and walls, box pews and a high pulpit that had a sounding board above. The reredos panels were of wood with the Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments and the Creed.

Lady Foley died in December 1735, before the church was opened for worship, but had already commissioned the huge monument to her late husband which stands in the south transept. The memorial, sculpted by John Michael Rysbrack commemorates Lord and Lady Foley and the five children who predeceased them. It was completed in 1735 at a cost of 2000 and is the tallest funerary monument in the country.  


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The Georgian church

The Georgian church was transformed in 1747 when the second Baron Foley acquired at auction the windows, ceiling paintings and organ from the chapel of the great house of Canons, Little Stanmore, near Edgeware, Middlesex.  The gilded stucco mouldings were originally created by Giovanni Bagutti who also worked at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. Instead of transporting all the plasterwork to Witley, papier mache moulds were taken from the original designs, a method which had just been perfected by Henry Clay of Birmingham a short time before the sail. The barrel-vaulted ceiling was suspended below the original flat ceiling, so the lightness of using papier mache was very important.

The owner James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, had lost most of his money in the South Sea Bubble in 1720 and his son had to auction the contents of his mansion built between 1713 and 1743 after his father's death in 1744.

The outside of the court and church were covered in Bath stone.  James and William Forsyth were sculptors who worked on the house, fountains in the gardens and in the church.    The box pews were replaced, and a new pulpit was added in place of the plain Georgian one but the original wrought-iron stair railing was reused.    The marble floor that was laid was identical to the one provided by the Earl in Worcester Cathedral.  The font carved by James and William Forsyth is in white marble with a black base. The oak wooden cover has a figure of St. John the Baptist on the top.  The communion rails are of wrought brass and ironwork and the three sanctuary lamps were a gift from Lady Dudley after the safe return of her husband and his brothers from the Boer War.  The mosaic panels of the reredos were brought from Venice by Rachel 2nd Countess of Dudley in 1913.


The organ is regarded as one of the finest in the Worcester diocese, combining the best of the classical traditions with romantic tone colours.

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It is probable that some of the original pipes from Handel's time were used in the restored organ.

The bells

In the tower are two bells, the treble by Richard Saunders, 1738, and the tenor by Abraham Rudhall, 1734.


Map reference

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Great Witley, is located off the A443 Worcester - Tenbury Wells road, about 10 miles north-west of Worcester.    

The church is open to visitors daily.

In recent years, this church has become part of a larger United Benefice which includes the neighbouring parishes of Shrawley, Astley and Abberley.




Details of this church kindly supplied by Robin King, and amplified from information on the church's web site.


Photographs: with the permission of and © 2002,  R. L. J. Smith




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