Sophie joined the Leisure and Tourism team in December 2019, during our incredibly busy festive season. We caught up with her to find out how she has been settling in, and what her first six months with Raby has been like.

Where did your career take you before you joined Raby?

I joined the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG) in 2011 and went on to travel working on sporting events such as the Rio 2016 Olympic games and Commonwealth Games both in Glasgow (2014) and Gold Coast (2018). After 8 years travelling, I felt it was time to come home to County Durham. I’m delighted to be able to use my extensive events experience right here in County Durham in my new role at Raby.

You joined Raby at one of the busiest times of the year – what were your first impressions?

I think people have the impression that Raby is a bit of a sleeping giant whereas the reality is it is an incredibly vibrant and exciting place to work. There is always something different going on across the Estate, and so much goes on behind the scenes to deliver the incredible variety of events that happen throughout the year.

Starting at Christmas was a really good thing – I got stuck in straight away and it meant I got to know the rest of the team very quickly. It is such a busy time of year – but I thrive on being busy! I adore Christmas – it is such a magical time, especially at Raby. I loved being part of our Fireside Stories experience and seeing the faces of our visitors as they met Father Christmas in the Grand Entrance Hall. We’ve been busy making preparations for Christmas during lockdown, and hope to be able to offer some really special experiences this year.

What has surprised you most about working at Raby?

Probably the variety of events I get to work on – it’s fantastic getting to work on so many different types of events; one day it could be a stargazing event at High Force, or a children’s activity trail, the next it could be an Italian car show at Raby Castle, a new special interest tour or a huge sporting event. So many of our events require input from different teams across the Estate – whether it’s the garden team or the forestry team, the sporting team or colleagues in the Estate office – delivering a fantastic visitor experience is very much a team effort.

I also love discovering more about the place where I work – I am incredibly lucky to based at the Castle and am fascinated by its incredibly rich history.  With over 120 rooms to explore, Im discovering something new every week!

Earlier this year I was involved with a new tour ‘The Women of Raby’ – which was fascinating. I’m looking forward to running more events like this in the future and sharing more of the untold stories of the Castle and its inhabitants.

What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on events at Raby?

There is always so much to see and do at Raby, and we started 2020 with a jam-packed events calendar which had to put on hold in March when lockdown began.

As we have gradually reopened to the public we’ve been following government guidance and it’s great that we are now able to resume some of our events activity. Visitor and staff safety is our priority so we’ll be focusing on outdoor activities, and new experiences for our visitors. We’ve been opening the Park and Gardens for our series of Summer Late evenings which have been fantastic – such a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and I’ve been blown away by the lovely comments we’ve had from visitors.

I’m really excited about the activities we’ve got lined up for the rest of the Summer, especially our very exclusive yoga and wellbeing sessions in the garden. I’ve also had a sneak preview of the new Terrace and Towers tours which is just fascinating – visitors are in for a treat!

What do you enjoy most about working at Raby?

The fact that I get to work in a Castle – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of my walk into work! I also enjoy working with the people here at Raby, we all support each other – it’s great to be part of such a close-knit and proactive team. Despite recent events, I really feel that I have joined Raby at a very exciting time, and I am looking forward to watching it develop as a tourism destination.

To find out what’s happening at Raby visit out What’s On page. If you would like to be the first to hear about upcoming news and events sign up to our newsletter

Raby Castle’s magnificent Walled Gardens are a peaceful haven for Raby’s visitors as they amble along its well-kept paths, watch the butterflies and bees busy in the borders, listen to the melodic birdsong and take in some remarkable panoramas across the Castle and Deer Park.

The ambience is always restful yet is constantly changing through the seasons, particularly in the vibrant Spring and Summer months when the colours and vistas alter almost on a daily basis.

Throughout lockdown our garden team worked hard to keep the gardens looking their best, ready for visitors to enjoy. We hope those of you who have not yet been able to visit us since we reopened will enjoy this video tour which gives a fabulous bird’s eye view of our gloriously peaceful gardens.

The History of the Gardens

The gardens at Raby date back to the Middle Ages when the plants grown here would have provided food for cooking and medicines for treating common ailments. A formal garden was established much later, in the mid 18th century.

Our committed gardeners nurture every plant and take great care to maintain the historic features of the Gardens. The walls were all built using locally sourced hand-made bricks and remain a key feature of the Gardens, along with the two fine old yew hedges and ornamental pond. Other features include the Conservatory, rose gardens, formal lawns and informal heather and conifer garden.

Look out for the White Ischia Fig, brought to Raby in 1786, which still survives in its specially built house and bears fruit every year.

The East Garden contains the main herbaceous border and various species of tree within the lawns, including a Tulip tree. In the summer months the spectacular rambling Wedding Day Rose, with its large clusters of creamy white roses, is in full bloom.

The Walled Gardens are open seasonally and our Annual Pass holders often tell us how much they appreciate being able to visit on a regular basis so that they can see the seasons change.

With plenty of places to sit and relax and lots of space to enjoy a socially distanced walk with family or friends, we look forward to welcoming you soon.

The Walled Gardens and Deer Park are open daily from 10am to 4pm. During the summer months we hold occasional Summer Lates, when the Park and Gardens open in the evenings, with candlelight and soft music in the Walled Gardens. Find out more about Summer Lates.

Our next Summer Late in the Park and Gardens will be held on Saturday 11th July from 6pm to 10.30pm. Tickets are limited. Book now.


Back in the 1600’s a young and adventurous Henry Vane, ancestor of Raby Castle’s current Lord Barnard, emigrated to join the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Our curator Julie Biddlecombe-Brown reveals who he was, why he went and what happened next.

First, a bit of background about the Vane family at the time

In 1626 Henry Vane the Elder, MP and official in the Royal Household, bought Raby Castle for the princely sum of £18,000.  His marriage to Frances Darcy brought the wealth that secured his rise in Court and should have guaranteed a life of relative ease for their children. This was not to be for his first-born.

Henry Vane the Younger had a remarkable life and witnessed events that shaped nations and the world. His life ended in the Tower of London in 1662, described by Charles II as “…too dangerous a man to let live …”.

We’re going to explore the life of the twenty-something Henry, in Puritan New England, and how his legacy can still be seen today  

Henry Vane the Younger was born in Essex in 1613, the eldest of eleven children. Less than one hundred years after the break from Rome, the early 17th century was a time of religious turmoil. Henry was a man of strong religious convictions and by his mid-teens he had made the conscious decision that his faith would play a central part in his life; following his conscience and devotion to God.

After completing his education at Magdalen College, Oxford, he travelled in Europe, where he visited the intellectual Protestant hubs of Geneva and Leiden.  His travels continued during his late teens as an aide to the Ambassador at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II. On his return to England his prospects seemed bright and it appeared certain that he would follow his father’s career in the royal household. But the young Henry had other plans.

So, what inspired him to make his long and dangerous Trans-Atlantic journey?

He had never lost the spiritual resolve of his earlier teenage years and became increasingly disillusioned with what he viewed as the restrictive ceremonies and practices of the Church of England. Henry looked to the Puritan colonies of the New World as a kind of utopia. Here, he believed he would be surrounded by people who had committed to create the kind of world he aspired to; people with similar beliefs and values.  So, in 1635, at the age of 22, with his father’s eventual blessing and a three-year release from court from the King, he emigrated to New England.

Was it everything he expected it to be?

Young Henry arrived in Boston, Massachusetts on 6 October 1635, one of an estimated 20,000 English people believed to have emigrated to New England in the 1630s. He found a community that was developing rapidly and a mixture of settlers, from devout Puritans to commercial entrepreneurs.  Governance centred around the church and strict Puritan ideals that occasionally clashed with the commercial activity of the new colony. Henry was made welcome; his background and strong convictions held him in good stead, as did his advantageous connections back in England. He quickly settled into Boston life where his social rank and experience of diplomacy were put to use in in resolving disputes and supporting the governance of a growing community. Within a few months he became a freeman of the Massachusetts Corporation; perhaps more surprisingly, he was elected as Governor in May 1636 at the tender age of 23; the highest office in the colony.

Henry quickly established himself as a leader …

The Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was elected annually, and Henry set out to use his diplomatic and administrative experience to create new laws and resolve disputes amongst the colonists. During his short time as Governor, legislation was passed to establish a higher education college in the colony; an institution that would later be named after the wealthy clergyman and benefactor, John Harvard.

…although it wasn’t all plain sailing

But Henry’s passionate conviction (probably combined with his youth and inexperience) resulted in a very challenging term as Governor. Tensions were quickly escalating with the local Native American population for whom the impact of the arrival of the European colonists had many devastating consequences. Within the colony the harmonious Puritan utopia that he had dreamed of was becoming fragmented. The relationship became strained between some of the more orthodox members of the community (characterised by Henry’s deputy, John Winthrop), and others who supported greater religious freedoms, including Henry himself.

 He made friends with people who held “dangerous opinions”

Two of Henry’s close acquaintances from his short time in Massachusetts provide an insight into Henry’s beliefs and personality. Both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson are important, yet controversial figures in the complex history of early English settlement in the New World.  Their own stories are fascinating but here we look at their relationship with the young Governor.

Roger Williams was an English clergyman with a firm belief in religious freedom. He was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 for spreading  “new & dangerous opinions”, including a  belief that church and state governance should be kept separate, and for his disapproval of colonists who confiscated land from Native Americans. On leaving Massachusetts, he purchased land from the Narragansett people to establish the Rhode Island Colony, based on principals of religious tolerance. Ten years Henry’s senior, Williams’ conscience-led decisions clearly appealed to the young governor who supported him both in the New World and, later, back in England.

Anne Hutchinson became synonymous with a group known as the Antinomian Party. Her lifelong commitment to the Puritan cause and radical ideas meant that when she arrived in New England she began to push boundaries. Contrary to the norm, she led a Bible Study Group – sometime attracting as many as 80 people, in an age in which women were not permitted to take leadership roles. Her classes were perceived as a threat to some of the more orthodox factions of the colony who feared religious separatism. Henry is known to have attended her groups, no doubt attracted once more by the ideals of religious freedom.

However, Henry was an idealist and his days in New England were numbered

This was a step too far for many in the community who regarded his actions as compromising the position of the Governor. It was one dispute that Henry was unable to resolve and he was pressured to make a choice between his position and his ideals. Unsurprisingly his ideals won out; he attempted to resign as Governor, initially citing pressure to return to England before admitting the conflict between his political and spiritual life. He was persuaded to finish his term, but his former deputy, John Winthrop was elected for the year ahead. Anne was banished from Massachusetts and along with around 30 other families followed Roger Williams to the Rhode Island Colony.

Henry left Massachusetts for England three months later, but not before finally opposing the new Governor ‘s legislation to exclude settlers like his friends who were said to hold ‘dangerous opinions’. His time in New England taught Henry valuable lessons and despite remaining a man of strong conviction, in his later life he attempted to focus on politics rather than spirituality in his public life.

The story of Henry’s later years back in England is equally fascinating, but we will save that for another day

One final note relates to an intriguing item in the castle collections, dating from this period. Pictured here, this little volume titled THE LAWES, RESOLUTIONS OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS OR The Women’s Lawyer.  It was printed in London in 1632 and is the first work devoted exclusively to laws relating to women. It covers diverse topics from marriage to land ownership, wooing to widowhood. We don’t know when the book came to Raby Castle but it is interesting to speculate as to whether it, along with other radical 17th century pamphlets, might have belonged to, or have been read by Henry and in this case,  how much his encounter with Anne Hutchinson in the New World might have kindled an interest in the law and the position of women in particular.

Julie Biddlecombe-Brown

Sources and further reading:

  • Sikes, G., The Life & Death of Sir Henry Vane Kt. 1662
  • A Vindication of that Prudent and Honourable Knight, Sir Henry Vane. London: 1659
  • Hosmer, James K. Sir Henry Vane.  London: 1888
  • Mayers, Ruth E. Vane, Sir Henry the Younger. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, May 2015
  • N. E. Adamova, S. V. Shershneva, Discourse of early migration to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 2017


Sir Henry Vane the Younger. Oil on Canvas. School of Robert Walker (1599-1658) ©Raby Estate


Sir Henry Vane the Younger, commemorated in a statue of 1893 in Boston Public Library. The inscription quotes John Winthrop, who despite their differences describes Henry as “a true friend of New England and a man of noble and generous mind”.


The Lawes, Resolutions of Women’s Rights, or The Women’s Lawyer. London 1632 ©Raby Estate

If you enjoyed this fascinating story from Raby’s past, check out our recent blog on the Grand Entrance Hall at Raby Castle for the Historic Houses Feature Friday campaign.


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