History and Heritage
Ragley was given to Evesham Abbey by the King of Mercia in AD 711. Seven hundred years later the Abbey sold Ragley to the Rous family who built an embattled castle thought to be on the site of what is the Rose Garden today.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir John Conway came from Conway Castle in Wales to marry the heiress to Arrow, just outside Ragley Park. He then bought Ragley Castle and its lands: the last time Ragley has changed hands by purchase. It was Sir John’s grandson, the first Earl of Conway, who engaged Robert Hooke to design the Palladian House which can be seen today. Hooke, a contemporary of Christopher Wren, was a notable architect and scientist and of the several great houses he built only Ragley remains.
The building was not completed until the middle of the 18th century. James Gibbs designed the baroque plasterwork in the Great Hall in 1750 and Wyatt added the portico, as well as decorating the Red Saloon and Mauve Room, in 1780.
The title of Marquess of Hertford was created in 1793 for Francis, 2nd Lord Conway who was rewarded for services to his country mainly rendered in governing Ireland.
Each period in Ragley’s history has made its mark on Ragley Hall and the Ragley Estate and each Marquess has had varying passions from art to theatre and careers ranging from military to agricultural.
One man who made a notable contribution to the art world was Richard Seymour-Conway, the 4th Marquess, who never visited Ragley and lived his entire life in Paris. Both he and his father were avid art collectors and he devoted his life and income to buying pictures to add to his collection. He did not marry and left everything except Ragley, Conway Castle and some property in Coventry, to his illegitimate son Richard Wallace. The 4th Marquess was, by all accounts, an extremely bad landlord and left Ragley sadly neglected, however anyone who has seen the Wallace Collection at Hertford House in London will find it difficult to condemn him.
Since then Ragley faced mixed fortunes until the 1950s when the 8th Marquess and Marchioness, made the decision to open to the public. Lord and Lady Hertford worked tirelessly to restore Ragley Hall, which had not been fully occupied since 1912 and was used as a hospital during the Second World War.
Ragley Hall was first opened in 1958 and over the coming years the State Rooms were gradually restored to their former glory. The 8th Marquess made his mark on Ragley by commissioning Graham Rust to create a modern mural, The Temptation, in the South Staircase Hall which took fourteen years to complete and features several family members and pets.
Ragley of the 21st century is a thriving country estate with a successful Farm, Butchers and Sawmill as well as a portfolio of Properties. Ragley Hall, Park & Gardens are run as a tourist attraction and events venue as well as being a family home to the 9th Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford and their four children.