The history of Warley Woods has fascination for many of us I think.  Even though the Abbey was knocked down 10 years before I was born, I still pore over images of it, and like to show people where it used to stand.  Even though the Abbey was not in the position, or of the design that Humphry Repton suggested for it, the landscape we have today would still not be there, if a house hadn’t been intended for the site and it provided a focus point for the public park for many years.  You understand the landscape by understanding where the house was within it.  The posts about it on Facebook are certainly the most commented on.

Recently I was given a set of slides by a visitor who in previous years had done presentations on this history of the site.  While there were many images which I had seen before, there were a good cluster of them which were totally new to me and this had been looking at lots of our other images and using them to make new sense of what I had seen.  I’ve also been looking at floor plans of the house to be able to orientate myself and be sue exactly where I am looking.  Sometimes you look at images, but you don’t actually see the detail.  I sometimes find myself looking past the main subject of the photograph and at the background detail – at the trees, the paths, the houses in the background – I am rarely disappointed.  I have noticed that the style of benches in the park changed over time, and so the ones with rustic benches must have been taken earlier than the ones with straighter sides.  The front door of the Abbey loses its light/lamp posts at some point which helps date photographs of the front.  I’ve started to recognize the different shapes of windows and chimneys.  Oh yes, my friends, I have become a little obsessed.

Floor Plans

First of all, here are some images of the floor plans of the Abbey.  We have both the originals, as drawn by a visitor and then the later floor plans- so you can see how much was extended.  Most of the images we have of the Abbey are of that later building with its additions and turrets.


As you look at this image (sorry the text is at different angles, but I’ve orientated them so they visually make sense as a quartet), we have the east side at the bottom.  These were the poshest public rooms, that looked over the landscape.  We have lots pictures of three sides, north (front door), south, (back door onto garden/rose garden/winter garden) and the east.  Absolutely nothing of the West side, which looks as if it was all the service areas and probably backed into dense shrubbery.  The most photographed side of the Abbey – the money shot, was clearly the south east corner.  We have 33 images of that angle in our undoubtedly incomplete collection.

The North Side

So first the northern side.  The front door, onto the carriage driveway, opposite the stables.  This one with the lampposts on the steps and rustic benches showing it is an early image.  You can see the extensions all to the right of the image, including a tower.  When it was a public park, the key park staff lived in those rooms to the right over two stories.


The East Side - the main public rooms

Then we can walk around on the main drive and look up towards those rooms which were designed to have the best views.  Originally the drawing room and the dining room.  When the building was used by the Golf Club within the public park, they were the men’s and ladies locker rooms.  The photos we have suggest they were more club room/tea room lounges with competition boards on the walls, rather than actually home to physical lockers.  If you want to follow up in my obsessed footsteps, you can work out which room was which, by matching up the design of the windows from inside and outside photographs.


It was clearly a popular side to have photographs – but these two of the home guard and the golf club, show what a terrible state the building had fallen into already.  They might have posed proudly in front of it, but it was becoming a very shabby back drop.


The South East Corner

Then you’d reach that photogenic south east corner.  I was amazed to realise that one of the key parts of the building in these pictures, often covered in vines, or roses, had a glass roof.  Going back to the plans you can see it marked in blocked lines.  Also the building part next to this, also had a glass roof.


We have a lot of photos of this corner and you can see the date order throughout them indicated by the type of benches.  Starting with rustic benches and then simpler replacements.  Even when being demolished all the photos were taken from this angle.

This is the image that revealed to us that that back door led in a glass roofed conservatory type building, with grilles on the floor.  A very shabby and poor photo, but incredibly fascinating for what it revealed.


The South Side

If you then keep walking around and stand in the old rose garden you’d be looking directly at the south side.  We have this one new photo of this aspect and it was incredibly helpful to help identify lots of other photos we had of different parts of it.


That overhanging upper story “bay” window can be seen on other images. You can see the backdoor into the conservatory and to the left of the back door, you can see a second glass roofed building.  A set of windows that are completely lost to view from this next image, which we verified by checking the style of chimney stacks.

 The West Side: the service areas

And finally the west side that we do not have great photos of, as it would’ve been the service areas, we do have a photo which shows the left corner of the building disappearing into shubbery and I know you won’t be able to see it, but there is a sign behind the peacock on the gate that that says private.

And then our final part of the tour – the back of the building – so shabby you might think it was the stables, but that turreted roof tells you that you are looking to the front of the building from behind it.  You can see the tower on the very first image of the article, and  with all the window and door openings, I have been able to identify exactly on the plan where the photographer would’ve been standing.

I hope you have enjoyed this little whistlestop tour around the outside of the Abbey.  I know it is no longer there, but it forms such an important part of our heritage and having these images really helps us appreciate the building and its use, even though it is long gone.

Warley Woods Community Trust exists to ensure we have Warley Woods in fine fettle for visits today and for future generations.  Please join your community in supporting the Trust in its work by becoming a member - Just £4 to £12 a year to help preserve our special place.

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