DiCamillo Companion

Witley Park (Lea House) (Lea Park) (South Park)

  • Earlier Houses: There was at least one earlier house on the site. Before the Norman Conquest, the Estate was owned by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, father of Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. By the 13th century the Estate was owned by the earls of Pembroke, ending up in royal ownership by 1268. By the 17th century the Witley Estate, then named Lea Park, was owned by the Bell family.

    House & Family History: Witley Park was mostly the creation of Whitaker Wright, a financier and self-made man of dubious character. He purchased the Estate 1890 for £250,000, approximately £27 million in 2019 inflation-adjusted values using the retail price commodity index, and massively enlarged the existing 18th century house. By the time Wright was finished, Witley had 32 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two dining rooms, a palm court, an observatory, and a private hospital. After he was sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud in 1904, Wright committed suicide by swallowing cyanide before being taken from the Old Bailey. In 1909 Witley was purchased by William James Pirrie, who lived here until his death in 1924. Pirrie, one of the designers of the "Titanic," was chairman of shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, who built the doomed ship.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: Whitaker Wright employed 600 workers and spent over £1 million (approximately £113 million in 2019 values) to reshape the landscape at Witley in the early 20th century. He created an amazing collection of follies, four lakes, a forest and the unique and unbelievable Underwater Ballroom, all of which still exist today. After Wright's 1904 suicide, parts of the Estate, including the Devil's Punch Bowl, were sold at auction and purchased by concerned locals, who donated the land to the National Trust in 1906. The Grade II-listed Stables, which once had stabling for 50 horses, has been converted into a conference center.

  • Country Life: CXXXIV, 1693 plan, 1963.

  • Title: Follies, Grottoes and Garden Buildings
    Author: Headley, Gwyn; Meulenkamp, Wim
    Year Published: 1999
    Publisher: London: Aurum Press Ltd.
    ISBN: 1854106252
    Book Type: Softback

  • House Listed: Demolished

    Park Listed: Not Listed

  • Past Seat / Home of: SEATED AT EARLIER HOUSES: William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, 13th century. Peter of Savoy, 13th century. Henry Bell, 17th century. Anthony Smith, 17th century; Smith family here until 1763. SEATED AT 18TH-19TH CENTURY HOUSE: Carteret-Web family, 1763 until 1890. Whitaker Wright, 1890-1904. William James Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, 1909-24. Sir John Leigh, 1925-52. Ronald Huggett, 1950s.

    Current Ownership Type: Demolished

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Demolished

    Ownership Details: The former Stables are today a conference center.

  • House Open to Public: No

    Historic Houses Member: No