Estate History



William Orme Foster

The Estate, largely as we know it today, was originally in the ownership of Sir William Whitmore who acquired it around 1600. He and his descendants were very much involved in politics and had an almost unbroken run in Parliament from 1660 – 1870.Thomas Whitmore who had been educated at Eton and was a Captain in the Royal Horse Guards sold Apley in 1868 for a record sum to William Orme Foster in order to purchase a London home and a house in Leicestershire.James Foster, William Orme’s uncle, produced blast furnaces, rolling mill equipment, sugar mills and steam locomotives and was a hugely successful businessman, consequently the Foster family became very wealthy and important ironfounders.

Apley Estate had been allowed to deteriorate over a good many years and the Foster family spent an incredible amount of money in a very short time in improving both the cottages on the Estate and the farm buildings at Apley Home Farm which were considered to be the pinnacle of design and innovation of their time. The buildings were commenced in 1873 to a plan by a Mr Griffiths of Stafford. The standard of workmanship was extremely high and the design contained innovations way ahead of the time, such as a blue brick damp proof course, laminated Weymouth pine trusses and a separate drainage system for storm and foul water.

The age of steam was at its zenith and the new buildings were equipped with their own boiler and furnace in the cellar which drove the engine which in turn drove shafting with pulleys and belts for the root pulper, chaff cutter, roller mill, flour and provender mill and sack hoists, threshing machine and straw walk. The steam engine was replaced by an oil engine about 1910 which was itself replaced by electricity in 1936, but the factory type chimney stack remains as a fine example and record of the age.

The parklands had been landscaped in circa 1820 by a William Webb of Armitage but in the early 1940’s were given over to food production for the war effort.

In 2009 the Estate featured in a major new television series presented by Griff Rhys-Jones. Following on from the success of his very popular programme “Mountain”, Griff has filmed at various locations in Britain for a series highlighting the diversity and historical importance of our inland waterways. Griff’s production company, Modern TV, chose Apley because it is a beautiful, unspoilt stretch of the River Severn. The filming featured a druid ceremony which involved Rhys-Jones being immersed three times in the river. Further filming took place in a cave close by where Griff sampled the life of a hermit.

Griff Rhys Jones in his Rivers programme said “this is a complete rarity in Britain, if I listen really really hard I can just hear a noise which I think might be a road”.