Sea monster arises from the ruins

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The Independent Online
The sea monster in Britain's biggest fountain should soon feel more at home as a pounds 1.5m restoration project gets underway at Witley Court, near Worcester.

Jets of water 100ft high used to play over the great stone fountain which depicts Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the depredations of the mythological monster.

But over the decades since the Witley Court mansion was devastated by fire in 1937 - some said the pyrotechnic work of the butler - the Victorian garden has lost much of its glory and the fountains have dried up.

This afternoon, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage which manages the property, will announce a pounds 1.5m project to turn the clock back in the gardens by end of the millennium. The house itself will remain a romantic, if cared for, ruin.

Witley Court was converted in the 19th century from a Jacobean manor house into a vast a Italian-baroque palace for the 1st Earl of Dudley. The equally elaborate gardens were the inspiration of the landscape architect William Nesfield who referred to it as his "monster work".

Created between 1854 and 1860, it was one of the most spectacular country house gardens in the land with clipped box hedges, immaculate lawns and colossal fountains.

But the Dudley fortunes declined and at the time of the fire "the Court" was owned by Sir Herbert Smith, a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer. During the 1950s and 60s, the house was stripped of all saleable material and came close to demolition.

Guardianship passed to the Department of the Environment in 1972 and then, in 1984, to English Heritage, which has made the ruin safe and restored decorative stonework.

The Poseidon fountain, as it is known, though the god of the sea is only represented by his monster, is reputed to be the biggest in Europe. It has 140 jets, the most powerful of which spouts from the mouth of the monster.

An observer writing in 1873 described the water rising to a height of 120 feet. This has not been matched since the fire. Some pounds 120,000 will be spent on new pipes, a pumping system, and repairing stonework. A similar sum will be spent on a smaller fountain featuring the goddess Flora.

The ornamental gardens will be reinstated and urns planted with ivy.