Raby Castle has weathered tumultuous times during a history that spans more than 600 years, and this is reflected in the building itself. Built by the powerful Nevill family in the 14th century, most of the exterior dates to this period. After a series of changes in ownership due to political turmoil, the Castle was acquired by the family of the current owner, the 12th Lord Barnard, in 1626.
It was not until the 18th century that the first major alterations were made to the medieval castle. Angered by his son’s marriage, the 1st Lord Barnard partially dismantled the Castle early in the century to spite his heir. The 3rd Lord Barnard (later 1st Earl of Darlington – yes, the peerage is confusing), son of the spited heir, hired architect James Paine to repair and improve the castle. His son, the 2nd Earl, hired architect John Carr in 1768 to continue the renovations, most notable of which were the transformation of the medieval entrance hall into its current Gothic design and the stable courtyard.
The entrance hall is an impressive example of architectural problem solving. Carriages had trouble turning around in the courtyard, so in 1787 the roof of the medieval hall was raised 3 meters so that carriages could drive right into the Hall. Even after the advent of the horseless carriage, the entrance hall continued to be a hub of equine activity as the 10th Lord Barnard (1888-1964) and his family had their horses brought there before riding off to join the local hunt.
The third and final period of significant rebuilding began in 1843 when the 2nd Duke of Cleveland (son of the 3rd Earl who became the 1st Duke of Cleveland) hired architect William Burn to work on the Castle. Burn remodeled the medieval hall and chapel and altered many of Carr’s interiors. His most notable alteration was the addition of an Octagon Drawing Room in 1848. Few architectural changes have been made since then.
Time does take a toll, however, especially on textiles. By the start of the 20th century, the curtains in the Octagon Drawing Room had lost their swags and sunlight had damaged the curtains and several of the silk panels covering the walls so severely that they had begun to disintegrate. In 1993, the 11th Lord Barnard began a five-year program of restoration. Fabrics were conserved where possible and rewoven to match the originals where it was not. Although the shutters would have been opened during the day when the room was in regular use, they are now kept shut to protect these delicate textiles. The ceiling fared much better and only a gentle washing was required to restore the gilding and painting to its original opulence.
To finance this significant undertaking, some furniture and art works were sold from the collection. The current steward of the property, the 12th Lord Barnard, discussed his father’s decision during my visit with the Attingham Summer School. It is an excellent reminder that even at properties much grander than the Chancognie House, there are always difficult decisions to make with respect to preservation and restoration. We had the privilege of going behind the scenes to see the collections storage (no photography allowed). There are many fantastic pieces here awaiting conservation when funding can be secured. I appreciated Lord Barnard addressing such issues and admire his stewardship of this fantastic property.