Many people enjoy welcoming friends and family into their homes, but the Conwy-Seymour family welcome relatives, friends and thousands of strangers into their house each year. Ragley Hall, a Palladian-style stately home in Warwickshire, has been in their, family for hundreds of years. And what makes it a delightful place to visit is the fact that it’s a much-loved home – the house feels alive; historical but current at the same time. The present owners are the 9th Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford, a couple who have four children, as well as umpteen dogs and horses. They’ve continued to build on the work of the 8th Marquess and his wife, who devoted 35 years to restoring the house and grounds.
During the war years the Hall had been used as a hospital, and much of it had fallen into disrepair. Sitting within 450 acres and perched on a hill, Ragley Hall was designed by Robert Hooke in 1680. The family didn’t move into it for around 50 years, and so it was not fully furnished and decorated until the 18th century. The Prince Regent (who later became George IV) was a regular visitor in the 19th century, as a friend of the 2nd Marquess of Hertford, and it was he who suggested the view from the front of the Hall would be enhanced by a castle. The family took up his idea and built castellated towers on Oversley Court on the hill opposite. “I think Ragley has warmth – it has never ceased being a home to our family,” says Lady Hertford. “I also love that it is a very friendly house – it doesn’t close for business when the visitors leave as it’s our family home and we always treat it as that. We have the perfect balance of being open to the public, yet retaining the warm friendliness of a family home.
” TAKE A FASCINATING TOUR As you wander through the state rooms you’ll see beautiful antique furniture, together with rare and priceless ceramics and paintings. The knowledgeable guides will tell you stories about the rooms, who stayed where, who dined in the dining room, and point out a secret door or two. In many rooms you’ll notice informal framed photographs of the current family, and modern art has been added to the 18th and 19th century paintings. Your tour will take you through the Great Hall, the Red Saloon, the State Dining Room, Prince Regent’s Bedroom, the Mauve Room, Music Room, Breakfast Room and Green Drawing Room. A particular highlight for me is the south staircase and hallway, which is filled with a magnificent tromp l’oeil mural depicting family members as well as dogs, a cat, parrots and monkeys.
Painted by artist Graham Rust and titled The Temptation, it really is a feast for the eyes. Be sure to ask your guide about the couple at the very top of the mural looking down on everyone! NEW AND EXCITING PLANS Hilary Philpott joined Ragley as House Manager last November and, along with new and longstanding staff members, is busy planning new and exciting activities for the Hall. She told us: “Ragley is the place to watch!” New Head Gardener Mark Morrell will be leading a Capability Brown walk to look at the Parkland and discuss what involvement Brown had at Ragley in June, July, August and September. Tours a cream tea and discussion with Mark are priced at £14 per person. Smaller groups may be interested in cookery classes, including bread making and cake decorating, with new Head Chef Rachel Tudor. There will be Cookery Masterclasses in ‘How to Prepare and Cook Game’ as soon as the shooting season begins, and other courses will be added to the list.
Dates for literary talks, craft days and events are being added to Ragley’s events calendar so please keep an eye on the website. Take a look at the website for dates and prices too. ■ TIME FOR TEA? Afternoon tea will complete your experience at Ragley Hall. Enjoy a wide choice of teas, but also coffees and indulgent hot chocolates with cream and marshmallows. Groups have the option to eat in the Terrace Café, in the Lakeside Lodge or in the state dining rooms. KEY EVENTS Classic Car Show, May 29-30 Great British Food Festival, June 11-12 Battle Proms, Aug 13 Festival of Flight Spectacular, Oct 1-2 DID YOU KNOW? Ragley Hall was used as a location for TV’s Flog It! Dr Who and The Scarlet Pimpernel were also fi lmed here. ESSENTIAL INFORMATION Ragley Hall is in Alcester, Warwickshire, eight miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s open Wednesday to Sunday, including Bank Holiday Mondays, from March until October, but will open on alternative days for pre-booked groups and tours. Coaches can drop off in front of Ragley Hall before parking in the dedicated coach park by the Lake. Coach drivers receive complimentary refreshments or a free lunch alongside their group (wheelchair access to the tours and cafe is available). For more information and to book your group tour, call 01789 762090, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.