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Past & Present


Standing on the site of an ancient woodland, Ray Wood has undergone several transformations during the past three centuries. In the 18th century it was renowned for its natural style: the 3rd Earl refused to tame it with a geometry of straight rides on a star shaped pattern. Instead, he favoured a design of irregular, serpentine pathways – in fact so mazy were these pathways that members of the Howard family are known to have got lost in them. Ray Wood was filled with statues, cascades, fountains, pavilions and summerhouses, but all of these features had disappeared by the middle of the 18th century. All that remains of these sophisticated waterworks is the Reservoir, which was rebuilt in the 1850s to supply both of Nesfield’s fountains.

In the 1940s Ray Wood was clear felled, but in the 1970s George Howard and his designer, James Russell, decided to reinstate these winding pathways as a framework for new ornamental plantings in a woodland setting.

Today there are nearly 800 species of Rhododendron in the Wood, as well as glades of Pieris, wild roses, magnolias, hydrangeas, viburnums and maples and rowans. The collection is of national importance and many of the plants have come here from across the globe and were brought back to Ray Wood by some of the great plant hunters of the 19th and 20th centuries.