Though the plans were drawn up in 1680 by Robert Hooke for the magnificent Palladian mansion you see today, it took almost another 100 years for the project to come to fruition, and my family continued to live in The Old Hall which stood where our Rose Garden is now laid out.
No doubt the family was busy managing its estates in Wales and Ireland to concentrate on the immense building project but, because my ancestors' hearts lay deep in the Warwickshire countryside, the final result was worth the wait.
The Great Hall
We’re certain you’ll agree that James Gibbs’ baroque plaster decoration in the Great Hall, completed in 1750, was worthy of patience. The Red Saloon and two Mauve Rooms, also created by Gibbs have remained the same for nearly 300 years.
Like many stately homes at the time, Ragley was being used as a hospital during World War II when my father inherited it in 1940, then it fell into bad repair.
The restoration of the building, gardens and estate finally began when my father moved into the house in 1956 and since 1991, when the house and estate was passed to me, it has been an on-going labour of love, with sensitivity to the heritage of the past but with an eye to its future.
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 Marquess of Hertford
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.
Ragley's Contribution to Art
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 didn’t 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. The late Lord, and Lady Hertford worked tirelessly to restore Ragley, 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.
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