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Hagley Hall and Park are among the supreme achievements of eighteenth-century English architecture and landscape gardening. They remain largely the creation of one man, George, 1st Lord Lyttelton (1709-73), secretary to Frederick, Prince of Wales, poet and man of letters and briefly Chancellor of the Exchequer. Before the death of his father in 1751, he began to landscape the grounds in the new ‘picturesque’ style, and between 1754 and 1760 it was he who was responsible for the building of the house as it is seen today. Many of Lord Lyttelton’s friends, Horace Walpole in particular, gave advice, but the final designs were drawn up by the gentleman-architect Sanderson Miller of Radway in Warwickshire. After the death of his first wife, Lucy Fortescue, George married Elizabeth Rich, a lady with firm views on this new project. She found little sympathy with the plans by Chute for a Gothic house, and it was largely on her recommendation that Miller was employed. He was assisted by another amateur, Thomas Prowse, and a professional draughtsman, John Sanderson, who had previously designed Kirtlington Park near Oxford.
Hagley, last of the great Palladian houses, was perhaps influenced by nearby Croome Court, but it ultimately derives from Colen Campbell’s designs for Houghton in Norfolk. The original estimate for building the house was £12,000 but the actual cost was £25,823 with a further £8,000 for decoration. On Christmas Eve 1925 a disastrous fire swept through the house destroying much of the Library and many of the pictures. Despite boiling lead pouring from the roof through the house, all those within managed to escape. At the height of the blaze when nothing more could be salvaged from inside, the 9th Viscount was heard to mutter ‘my life’s work destroyed’. It was thus to universal amazement that he and his wife lovingly and painstakingly restored the house, complete, save for the staff quarters on the top floor. There has been a park at Hagley since the reign of Edward III but the present outstanding landscape was created between 1747 and 1758 with follies designed by Lord Camelford, Thomas Pitt of Encombe, Henry Keene, James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, and Sanderson Miller. Horace Walpole, notoriously hard to please, wrote after a visit in 1753, ‘I wore out my eyes with gazing, my feet with climbing and my tongue and vocabulary with commending’.
In 1749 the stable block was erected near the house and in 1754-6 Miller rebuilt the ancient church to form a consciously ‘picturesque group of buildings’ at the heart of the park. Hagley Cricket Club was formed in 1834 and has since been in active use by the family and its members.
The church was again remodelled by G.E Street between 1858 and 1865, but it still contains Roubiliac’s beautiful monument to Lord Lyttelton’s first wife, Lucy.
Hagley Hall, with its rich Rococo decoration surrounded by picturesque parkland, is a remarkable tribute to the artistic achievements of the great eighteenth-century amateurs but still remains a much loved family home.