Fair play

The Game’s on at Ra­gley Hall.


There are dogs ev­ery­where at Ra­gley Hall. As I come through the back door, a labradoo­dle stands alert; up­stairs, the lift smells de­li­ciously of wet dog and then, through the green baize door in the Mar­quess and Mar­chioness of Hert­ford’s flat, a dal­ma­tian called Emma rushes to­wards me, Lady Hert­ford in tow. It’s not the dogs I’m here to see but their papa, Lord Hert­ford, whose study, hung with por­traits of his an­ces­tors and with a ta­ble cov­ered in maps, has the tell­tale signs of a new ar­rival: news­pa­per pages down in cor­ners and a dinky lit­tle crate by the win­dow. “We’ve just got a puppy, a red labrador,” he says, by way of ex­pla­na­tion.

Dogs are de rigueur at Ra­gley, which is just as well as the es­tate will be host­ing the ex­tremely dog-friendly Game Fair at the end of July. This year marks both the 60th Game Fair and Lord Hert­ford’s 60th birthday. Since the CLA re­lin­quished re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Game Fair in 2015, there’s a new set up in place that has the Hert­fords al­ter­nat­ing with the Mar­quess of Sal­is­bury at Hat­field House in Hert­ford­shire. This ar­range­ment is now in its third year and, so far, has been a suc­cess. In 2016, Ra­gley hosted 107,000 vis­i­tors, which Lord Hert­ford was pleased with. “If we had had less than 90,000 that would have killed it, so that en­cour­aged us to go at it again.” Last year, 115,000 turned up to Hat­field.

This year’s di­a­mond Game Fair has all the usual at­trac­tions, from gun­dog shows to birds of prey demon­stra­tions, fly-fish­ing com­pe­ti­tions and, of course, miles of shop­ping. All of this will fit in nicely on the Hert­fords’ 6,500-acre es­tate, nine miles from Strat­ford-upon-avon, off the A46. The house, a hoof­ing great stately, 15 win­dows wide, was built in 1680 and has been in the fam­ily since it was res­cued from de­mo­li­tion by Lord Hert­ford’s fa­ther in 1940. Its lo­ca­tion will, yet again, prove at­trac­tive to vis­i­tors. “Ra­gley is su­perbly si­t­u­ated,” he grins. “I can get from here to the M25 is about two hours.”

Harry Sey­mour, the 9th Mar­quess of Hert­ford, was born in 1958 and ed­u­cated at Har­row. He es­chewed univer­sity and in­stead took up a job on the Duke of Buc­cleuch’s es­tate at Boughton, 70 miles from Ra­gley, first as a shep­herd then a game­keeper. Af­ter that, he went to Cirences­ter Agri­cul­tural Col­lege, as it then was – “I think they made an er­ror when they rein­vented them­selves as a univer­sity” – to learn about land man­age­ment. There, he found a gap in his con­tem­po­raries’ knowl­edge: “I was miles ahead when it came to any prac­ti­cal work but a coun­try mile be­hind when it came to book work.” Af­ter Cirences­ter, he moved to Texas to be­come a cow­boy. “I wanted to do some­thing agri­cul­tur­ally based but com­pletely dif­fer­ent, out of my com­fort zone, and it was enor­mous fun.” As for what his fa­ther, Hugh, the 8th Mar­quess of Hert­ford, made of this: “I al­ways took the at­ti­tude with my par­ents that I would tell them, not ask them, it’s eas­ier that way.” He chuck­les. “My wife and I got mar­ried 28 years ago – I just in­vited them to our en­gage­ment party.”

With Beatriz, his Brazil­ian wife, he has four chil­dren: Lady Gabriella, 26; Wil­liam, Earl of Yar­mouth, 24; Lord Ed­ward, 23; and Lady An­to­nia, 19. Wil­liam lives on the es­tate,

and, his fa­ther says, is ter­ri­bly keen to get in­volved. “He’s very in­ter­ested in the es­tate – it would be dif­fi­cult if he wasn’t.” The trick for get­ting a fa­ther-son es­tate re­la­tion­ship to work is to find your own niche, Lord Hert­ford says. “My strength has al­ways been my agri­cul­tural back­ground and that has prob­a­bly meant that I have not ex­plored other av­enues, whereas my fa­ther ran a busi­ness in cen­tral London as his main ac­tiv­ity. He set up the farm­ing op­er­a­tions here and em­ployed a man­ager to run them. There are as­pects of land man­age­ment that are now con­sid­ered im­por­tant but were not im­por­tant at all in those days, such as prop­erty. I doubt my fa­ther would have [un­der­stood] EPC rat­ings.”

Lord Hert­ford and his son do have some things in com­mon – a love of hunt­ing, for ex­am­ple, though Lord Hert­ford gave up rid­ing five years ago. In 1987, he had a trike ac­ci­dent on the es­tate, break­ing part of his back. Later, he was di­ag­nosed with ataxia, a con­di­tion that af­fects co-or­di­na­tion, bal­ance and speech. This has left him wheelchair­bound. “Rid­ing a horse when you can’t walk is an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he smiles. “If you don’t ex­pect to dis­mount very quickly, you shouldn’t mount in the first place.” But he’s very cheer­ful about the whole thing. “I was once sit­ting lean­ing against a fence, my horse hav­ing dropped me off and then bug­gered off, and I had a phone call to make. I was go­ing to wait un­til I got back home and do it on the land­line, but I made it sit­ting there. I called [him] up, and half way through he said, ‘How come I can hear bird­song, where are you?’ And I said, well I’m sit­ting out in the West Park, I’ve just been dumped by my horse, some­one has gone to get a ve­hi­cle to pick me up, so I thought I’d make this call.”

Be­fore all of this, he was a keen hunt­ing man and re­mains a di­rec­tor of the Croome & West War­wick­shire. Ra­gley’s por­tion of Eng­land is ter­ri­bly good for hunt­ing, he says. “We are blessed by be­ing within 20 miles of about six or eight hunts and here, we’re in the Croome coun­try.” His par­ents hunted with the War­wick­shire. “I’m not quite sure why, and when I was a teenager I was mostly hunt­ing with the War­wick­shire and had a few days with the Heythrop. The War­wick­shire’s soil is pre­dom­i­nantly heavy clay and the Heythrop is quite light. I had al­ways heard that a horse that can do a day with the War­wick­shire can do two days any­where else. One day I re­alised that was ac­tu­ally true was at the end of a day with the Heythrop. I looked around at what was a very di­min­ished field by that time, and re­alised I was the only per­son on the same horse that they had been on to start with. And my horse was still go­ing.”

He has never been into shoot­ing, although, “My fa­ther shot and my two sons shoot, my agent shoots, my farm man­ager shoots, some of my trustees shoot – pretty much ev­ery­body ex­cept me. But it’s very good to in­vite peo­ple to come and have a day’s shoot­ing.

“On the days when I was not able to go hunt­ing I’d be in­vited to go and shoot but be­cause I was more horse-ori­en­tated than gun-ori­en­tated I never got into it, and I was al­ways a hope­less shot. [Wil­liam] is into both but guns more than horses”, and his daugh­ters are the op­po­site, “more into horses, not guns”. Lady Hert­ford doesn’t shoot but can ride, though she doesn’t. “Her up­bring­ing,” Lord Hert­ford says, twin­kle in his eye, was “the po­lar op­po­site of this. She grew up in Rio. When women get mar­ried, they of­ten change their name but my wife has changed her en­tire life to be here.”

Like many coun­try folk, Lord Hert­ford is con­cerned that the anti-shoot­ing lobby might, like the anti-hunt­ing lobby, win the hearts and minds of the pub­lic. “Be­ing in War­wick­shire, we don’t have grouse moors but there’s a huge eco­nomic value in grouse shoot­ing, that’s why peo­ple do it. Equally there is a huge eco­nomic ben­e­fit to the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in pheas­ant and par­tridge shoot­ing, and the com­mu­nity needs to tell that story more. I think many shop­pers, though not all, are con­scious of food miles and an­i­mal wel­fare. I think the next big thing is go­ing to be plant wel­fare – peo­ple are in­ter­ested in where things come from.”

As for ed­u­cat­ing towns­folk about coun­try life, this skir­mish con­tin­ues. “I think it might be un­winnable,” he says, “but that’s why it’s im­por­tant to hold events such as the Game Fair and to have them in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion.” Es­tates are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing “fam­i­ly­ori­en­tated,” he adds, “very few farms and es­tates em­ploy other peo­ple, so it’s im­por­tant to show that we’re open, to show­case what we do.”

The 60th Game Fair will be held at Ra­gley Hall, War­wick­shire from 27-29 July

It’s im­por­tant to hold events such as the Game Fair, and in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion

The Mar­quess of Hert­ford (above) will be host­ing the Game Fair at his Ra­gley Hall es­tate (top)

The mu­ral on the South Stairs at Ra­gley Hall; the Game Fair is re­turn­ing to the War­wick­shire es­tate again in 2018 as part of a new ar­range­ment whereby it al­ter­nates with Hat­field House, Hert­ford­shire

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