Stowe House

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Stowe House – south façade

Stowe House is a grand country house at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, set in a broad, famed garden. It was built by the Temple family and over the generations built to its current grandeur. Today the house is a school, and the gardens are owned by the The National Trust.

Stowe House is the home of Stowe School, an independent school and is owned by the Stowe House Restoration Trust who have to date (March 2013) spent more than £25m on the restoration of the house. The house is opened to the public on 280 days a year with tours during the school holidays, and during term time.

The gardens (known as Stowe Landscape Gardens), are a significant example of the English garden style, and they along with part of the surrounding parkland of the estate passed into the ownership of the National Trust in 1989 and are opened to the public.


The north or entrance front in 1750
The south or garden front from Jones' Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen (1829)
Stowe c. 1880

The Temple family fortune was based on sheep farming, they were first recorded as such at Witney in Oxfordshire. Later from 1546 they had been renting a sheep farm in Burton Dassett in Warwickshire. The Stowe estate was leased from 1571 by Peter Temple, his son John Temple bought the manor & estate of Stowe in 1589 and it became the home of the Temple family. In the late 17th century, the house was completely rebuilt by Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Baronet, (c.1683) on the present site. This house is now the core of the mansion known today. The old mediæval stronghold was located near Stowe Parish Church that is about 100 yards to the southeast of the current house. Having been redesigned subsequently over the years, the whole front is now 916 feet in length and can be seen as you approach from the direction of Buckingham. A long, straight driveway ran from Buckingham all the way to the front of the house, passing through a 60-foot Corinthian arch on the brow of the hill on the way. The driveway approach to the house is still in use today, although it no longer runs through the arch.

Many of the cream of the aristocracy stayed at Stowe at its height, and foreign monarchs too. Frederick, Prince of Wales along with other friends of Lord Cobham were frequent guests, and The Prince Regent (the future King George IV) came in 1805 and 1808. In 1754 Count Stanisław August Poniatowski, the future King of Poland, visited the gardens, and King Christian VII of Denmark was a guest in 1768. King Louis XVIII of France, then in exile, came in January 1808 for several days, his party including the Comte d'Artois, Louis's brother and successor as Charles X, Louis-Philippe Duc d'Orléans, who would be France's last King, and the Prince of Condé.

In 1810 visitors included King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden and Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and in 1814 Grand Duke Michael of Russia. In 1818, Grand Duke Nicholas, the future Tsar, visited, as did The Duke of Clarence; the future King William IV, and several princes and princesses followed him as guests. Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (later the first Emperor of Germany) would stay at Stowe. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed at the house for several days in 1845.

Due to financial problems, the family let the estate to the Comte de Paris from 1889 to 1894. The Count died that year in the house, his body was laid in state in the Marble Saloon, during which The Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), paid his respects.

The Temple-Grenville family

The Temple family held Stowe for many centuries. Their dynastic habit of marrying heiresses required a number of changes of name as a condition of inheritance, which is shown by the family's becoming Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville by the late 18th-century.

Sir Thomas Temple first purchased a knighthood in 1603 from James I then purchased from the same monarch the baronetcy in 1611. He was the first member of the family to serve as a Member of Parliament in 1588-9. Sir Peter Temple was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell and served as a colonel in the parliamentary army during the Civil War.

The 4th Baronet was created Baron Cobham in 1714 by King George I, then in 1718 Viscount Cobham by the same king. In 1715. He was a member of the Kit-Cat Club where he probably first met fellow members John Vanbrugh and Joseph Addison whose writings on garden design influenced the development of the gardens at Stowe. Cobham was the centre of the Whig party grouping of Cobhamites. His sister Hester was created Countess of Temple in her own right in 1749 by King George II, from which her son, heir to the estate inherited his title as 2nd Earl Temple.

Richard Grenville the future 2nd Earl Temple, married Anna Chamber in 1737, an heiress with a £50,000 fortune.[1] He was leader of the Whig group known as the Grenvillites. King George II made Earl Temple a Knight of the Garter in 1760. Earl Temple was an active supporter of John Wilkes. When the Earl's cousin George Dodington, 1st Baron Melcombe died in 1762 he left his Vanbrugh designed house Eastbury Park and estates in Dorset to Earl Temple. Who attempted to sell the house, but as no buyer could be found, so demolished most of the building using the marble from the house in the Marble Saloon at Stowe. The Eastbury estate was finally sold in 1806.

The 2nd Earl Temple's sister Hester married William Pitt the Elder who became Prime Minister of Great Britain, as di their grandson, William Pitt the Younger, and the earl's brother, George Grenville and William Grenville youngest brother of the 1st Marquess of Buckingham. William Ewart Gladstone was of the family by marriage, having married Catherine Glynne the granddaughter of Catherine sister of the 1st Marquess of Buckingham.

The Grenville Armorial, produced between 1822 and 1839, showsing 719 quarterings of the family

George Nugent-Temple-Grenville married a wealthy heiress and was created 1st Marquess of Buckingham in 1784 by King George III. The 2nd Marquess married another heiress with broad estates in Hampshire and Middlesex and sought elevation to a dukedom: up until 1822 the family had been staunch Whigs, but now the family became Tories and the Dukedom was bestowed in 1822 by King George IV]] on Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, the 2nd Marquess of Buckingham, who thus became the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The deal was to support the then Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool. The family spent a great deal of money to control several rotten boroughs, including Old Sarum, whose Members of Parliament switched their support to the prime minister, although the 1832 Reform Act would soon end this practice.

The 2nd Duke through his mother Anna was descended from the House of Plantagenet and was an active member of the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry, his support of which added to the debts of £1,464,959 (well over £100,000,000 in 2003 terms) he had accrued by 1845, he was called the Greatest Debtor in the world.[2] The Duke left to live abroad in August 1847 to escape his creditors. That year saw the sale of the family's London home Buckingham House[3] in Pall Mall. In March 1848 the family estates in Ireland, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Middlesex some 36,000 acre of land, were sold. Followed by the most valuable of the paintings, furniture and other art works at Stowe, over 21,000 bottles of wine and over 500 of spirits in the wine cellars below the Marble Saloon, were all sold from 15 August to 7 October 1848 by Christie's. The auction was held in The State Dining Room, but only raised £75,400.[4] At the end of the sales the estate had contract to the core 10,000 acres in Buckinghamshire. The garden staff were cut from 40 to 4.

The 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (10 September 1823 – 26 March 1889) was Richard Plantagenet Campbell Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, known as simply Richard Temple-Grenville, a leadinhg 19th century statesman and a close friend and subordinate of Benjamin Disraeli. At his death in 1889, there remained no heirs-male to the dukedom, so it became extinct, and ownership of the estate was separated from the title 'Earl Temple of Stowe', which passed through the female line to a nephew of the 3rd Duke. The fall of the family engendered Lord Rosebery's comment "The glories of the House built up with so much care and persistence, vanished like a snow wreath".

The 3rd Duke's heir, Lady Mary Morgan-Grenville, tried unsuccessfully to sell house and estate, so it was rented out until 1894 and remained unoccupied until 1901 when Lady Mary returned as a widow until 1908 when she passed it onto her unmarried son as he came of age. The last inheritor of the estate Rev Luis C F T Morgan-Grenville, due to prodigious debts, sold the house, gardens and part of the park in 1921 to a Mr Harry Shaw for £50,000[5] who intended to present the house to the nation. But being unable to pay for an endowment to maintain the building it was sold again in 1922 to the governors of what became Stowe School, this opened on 11 May 1923. The rest of the estate was sold as separate lots, Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the Grand Avenue to prevent its felling to create building plots, later he gave it to the school. The gardens remained in the ownership of the School until 1989 when an anonymous donor provided funds for an endowment and the National Trust assumed ownership. In 1997 the ownership of the house passed to the Stowe House Preservation Trust, the major aim of which is to restore the building.

The House

The centre of the North Facade

The house is the result of four main periods of development[6] beginning in 1677-1683 under Sir Richard Temple, then 1720s–1733 under Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham and finally in 1770–1779 under Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple, for whom Robert Adam produced a design for the south front, which was adapted and made more uniform by Thomas Pitt in 1779. The interiors of the new state apartments were not completed until 1788. At the same time, the final remodelling of the North Front was taking place; this involved the erection in 1770–1772 of the two twin quadrant colonnades of Ionic columns that flank the facade, these may be to Robert Adam's design. The northern ends of the colonnades are linked to screen-walls containing gateways by William Kent which were moved from the forecourt to this position and heightened in 1775 by Vincenzo Valdrè.

The exterior of the house has not been significantly changed since 1779 although, in the first decade of the 19th century, the Egyptian Hall was added beneath the North Portico as a secondary entrance.

Stowe Library

In 1793, George, 1st Marquess of Buckingham, converted The East Gallery into The Large Library and, in the first decade of the 19th century, on the ground floor created the Gothic Library to the designs of Sir John Soane. This is a rare example of Soane using the Gothic style.

The 1st Duke inherited the library of Lord Grenville, his uncle, described in 1824 as

in history, philosophy, political economy, mathematics, diplomatic state papers, both printed and manuscript, is the most perfect collection in this country. [7]

Following the bankruptcy of the 2nd Duke, much of the valuable collection was sold. The library has provided provenance to many valued manuscripts [8] including the Stowe 2 Psalter, Stowe 54, the Stowe Breviary and the "Stowe manuscripts".

The south facade

The South Facade
The centre of the South Facade

The showpiece of the House is the south facade overlooking the gardens. This is one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in Britain. The main front stretches over 460 feet. Divided into five major sections, these are: the central block around 130 feet in width, the lower linking sections 75 feet wide that contain on the west the State Dining Room and on the east The Large Library, then at the ends the two pavilions the same height as the central block about 90 feet in width. The central block and the end pavilions are articulated at piano nobile level with unfluted Corinthian pilasters over 35 feet tall which becomes a hexastyle portico supporting a pediment in the middle of the facade, there is a minor order of 48 Ionic columns over 20 feet high that runs the length of the facade. The portico fronts a loggia that contains the doorway to the Marble Saloon, flanked by large niches that used to contain ancient Roman statues and more. A flight of thirty-three steps the full width of the portico descends to the South Lawn, with solid parapets either side that end in sculptures of lions. Either side of the portico are two tripartite windows separated and flanked by Ionic columns enclosed with an arch that contains a carved Portland stone tondo in the tympanum with carvings of the four seasons, in turn flanked by twin Corinthian pilasters the same size as the columns of the portico. The facade is surmounted by a balustraded parapet, in the centre of the parapet of the east pavilion is a sculpture of two reclining figures of Ceres and Flora; the corresponding figures on the west pavilion are of Liberty and Religion. The end pavilions each have three tripartite windows matching those on the central block, the tondos of which are each carved with a sacrificial scene. The ground floor is lower than the floor above, about 15 feet in height and visually acts as a base to the facade, it is of banded rustication with simple arched windows beneath each window on the upper floor. In 1790 a balustrade was added parallel to the façade that ran from the bottom of the steps the full length of the house and then returned at both ends, there are a series of 30 pedestals along the balustrade, that until their sale in 1921 were topped by bronze urns, these were replaced by replicas in 2013. This was probably added to keep visitors from the lower windows of the house, and formal flower beds were laid out in the area.

Within the house

The house contains over 400 rooms. The ground floor rooms to the east of the Gothic Library were used by the family as personal rooms including the Billiard room, Sitting room, Water closet, Manuscript room, Gun room and Plunge pool. The rest of the ground floor was given over to the service areas. The house has low wings that are set back and project from the east and west pavilions of the south front. These extend north before projecting even further east and west. The full length of the house being over 900 feet. These wings to the east included the riding school, coach houses and at the extreme east the stables designed by Vanbrugh. The west area includes the kitchen (still used as such by the school), the laundry, the dairy and at the extreme west the 138-foot long orangery, designed by Vanbrugh. Although the Central Pavilion of the south front appears to be only two floors high, there are in fact bedrooms over the State Music & Drawing rooms, these are lit by windows facing respectively east and west. The centre is filled by the Marble Saloon which rises to the full height of the building. There are more bedrooms on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors of the north front, and the west and east pavilions of the south front, where the 2nd floor is disguised in the same way as in the central pavilion.

The restoration of the house and gardens

Since the 1848 sale the maintenance of the house and gardens was neglected. Though the school tried its best it was obvious by the 1980s that a major restoration was needed. On taking over ownership of the gardens the National Trust commissioned a survey on which to base a restoration strategy. Individual trees, boundaries, buildings, lakes, paths and fences were mapped. The first principle was to keep all buildings and planted features that were in existence by the time the last plan of the garden in 1843 was created. Another was to restore the main views and axes of the garden. The process was greatly helped by the Stowe Papers, some 350,000 documents that are now in the collection of the Huntington Library, containing extensive and detailed information on the creation of both the house and gardens.

The Ha-Ha surrounding the gardens

The first large-scale operation was to dredge the lakes and other water features. 320,000 tons of silt had to be removed. The wall of the ha-ha had largely collapsed and had to be rebuilt by hand. It was also found that very few trees survived before the 3rd Duke's time; he had all the mature trees felled to sell for their timber in order to raise cash. There had been a few plantings of commercial softwood, including a spruce plantation on the site of the Saxon Deities. These were felled. Further thinning was carried out, including reopening views between the various buildings and monuments. Replanting of 20,000 trees and shrubs followed, using species present in the original garden. Paths which had become overgrown were re-excavated and eventually covered in gravel from local pits.

Over 100 pieces of statuary had been sold from the gardens in 1848, 1921 and 1922, so it was decided to replace them gradually with replicas as and when funds could be raised. In 1989-90 Peter Inskip assessed the condition of the buildings. Work on the restoration of the buildings, based on this survey, was then prioritised. The major restorations have been the Grenville Column (1991), the Temple of Ancient Virtue (1992), the Oxford Gates and Lodges (1994), the Temple of Venus (1995) and the Temple of Concord & Victory (1996). This last had been severely compromised when 16 columns had been removed to build the new school chapel in 1926. Replacement columns were carved and the building re-roofed at the cost of £1,300,000. The cost of this first stage was £10,000,000, the money coming from several sources: a public appeal, the Heritage Lottery Fund and grants from English Heritage as well as private donors and other grant-giving bodies. The restoration process adopted an approach where each building, or element of the gardens was informed by archaeology. In order to make informed decisions about what to restore and why, archaeological techniques such as geophysics, excavation, building recording and monitoring in the form of an archaeological watching brief were all utilised.

Stowe Landscape Gardens

The history of the gardens

In the 1690s, Stowe had a modest early-baroque parterre garden, owing more to Italy than to France, but it has not survived, and, within a relatively short time, Stowe became widely renowned for its magnificent gardens created by Lord Cobham. The Landscape Garden was created in three main phases, showing the development of garden design in 18th-century England (this is the only garden where all three designers worked):

From 1711 to c.1735 Charles Bridgeman was the garden designer,[9] and John Vanbrugh from c.1720 until his death in 1726 the architect,[10] they designed an English baroque park, inspired by the work of George London, Henry Wise and Stephen Switzer. After Vanbrugh's death James Gibbs took over as architect in September 1726,[11] he also worked in the Baroque style.

In 1731 William Kent was appointed[12] to work with Bridgeman; Kent had already created the glorious garden at Rousham House, and he and Gibbs built temples, bridges, and other garden structures. Kent's masterpiece at Stowe is the Elysian Fields with its Temple of Ancient Virtue that looks across to his Temple of British Worthies, Kent's architectural work was in the newly fashionable Palladian style.

In March 1741, the famous Capability Brown was appointed head gardener.[13] He worked with Gibbs until 1749 and with Kent until the latter's death in 1748. Brown departed in the autumn of 1751 to start his independent career as a garden designer.[14] In these years, Bridgeman's octagonal pond and 11 acre lake were extended given a "naturalistic" shape, and a Palladian bridge was added in 1744 probably to Gibbs's design. Brown contrived a Grecian valley which, despite its name, is an abstract composition of landform and woodland and developed the Hawkwell Field, with Gibbs's most notable building the Gothic Temple (now one of the properties owned and maintained by the Landmark Trust). As Loudon remarked in 1831, "nature has done little or nothing; man a great deal, and time has improved his labours".

After Capability Brown left, Richard Woodward, who had been gardener at Wotton House the Earl's previous home, came in and continued Brown's work. At the same time Earl Temple turned his attention to the various temples and monuments. He altered several of Vanburgh's and Gibbs's temples to make them conform to his taste for Neoclassical architecture, to accomplish this he employed Giovanni Battista Borra from 1752 to 1756, also at this time several monuments were moved to other parts of the garden. Earl Temple made further alterations in the gardens from the early 1760s, this is when several of the older structures were demolished and this time he turned to his cousin Thomas Pitt, 1st Baron Camelford who was assisted by Borra, whose most notable design was the Corinthian Arch.

View north over the eastern branch of the Octagon Lake
View south over the Octagon Lake towards the Corinthian Arch

The First Marquess of Buckingham made relatively few changes to the gardens; he planted the two main approach avenues, added 28 acres to the garden east of the Cobham Monument and altered a few buildings, Vincenzo Valdrè was his architect, most notably the Queen's Temple and built a few new structures, such as The Menagerie with its formal garden and the Buckingham Lodges at the southern end of the Grand Avenue. He also created the formal gardens within the balustrade he added to the south front of the house and demolished a few more monuments in the gardens.

The last significant changes to the gardens were made by the next two owners of Stowe, the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos; in 1826 he succeeded in buying the Lamport Estate immediately to the east of the gardens, adding 17 acres to the southeast of the gardens to form the Lamport Gardens, this work was overseen by the head gardener, James Brown, he remodelled the eastern arm of the Octagon Lake and created a cascade beyond the Palladian Bridge, from 1840 2nd Duke of Buckingham's gardener Mr Ferguson created rock and water gardens in the new garden, the architect Edward Blore was also employed to build the Lamport Lodge and Gates as a carriage entrance, he also remodelled the Water Stratford Lodge at the start of the Oxford Avenue.

As Stowe evolved from an English baroque garden into a pioneering landscape park, the gardens became an attraction for many of the nobility, including political leaders. Indeed, Stowe is said to be the first garden for which a guide book was produced. Wars and rebellions were reputedly discussed among the garden's many temples; the artwork of the time reflected this by portraying caricatures of the better-known politicians of history taking their ease in similar settings. Stowe began to evolve into a series of natural views to be appreciated from a perambulation rather than from a well-chosen central point. In their final form the Gardens were the largest and most elaborate example of what became known in Europe as the 'English garden'. The main gardens, enclosed within the ha-has (sunken or trenched fences) over four miles in length, cover over 400 acres,[15] but the park also has many buildings, including gate lodges and other monuments.

Many of the temples and monuments in the garden celebrate the political ideas of the Whig party and include quotes by many of the writers who are part of Augustan literature, also philosophers and ideas belonging to the Age of Enlightenment.

Poetry and literature of the Augustine Age

Alexander Pope first stayed at the house in 1724 and wrote lovingly of it in a work entitled An Epistle to the Right Honourable Richard Earl of Burlington, Occasion'd by his Publishing Palladio's Designs of the Baths, Arches, Theatres, &c. of Ancient Rome. James Thomson published his poem Autumn in 1730, part of his four works The Seasons, and included within it a praise of Stowe:

Alexander Pope:

To build, to plant, whatever you intend,
To rear the Column, or the Arch to bend,
To swell the Terras, or to sink the Grot;
In all, let Nature never be forgot.
But treat the Goddess like a modest fair,
Nor over-dress, nor leave her wholly bare;
Let not each beauty ev'ry where be spy'd,
Where half the skill is decently to hide.
He gains all points who pleasingly confounds
Surprises, varies, and conceals the Bounds.

Consult the Genius of the Place in all;
That tells the Waters or to rise, or fall,
Or helps th' ambitious Hill the heav'n to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the Vale,
Calls in the Country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks or now directs th' intending Lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

Still follow Sense, of ev'ry Art the Soul,
Parts answ'ring parts shall slide into a whole,
Spontaneous beauties all around advance,
Start ev'n from Difficulty, strike from Chance;
Nature shall join you, Time shall make it grow
A Work to wonder at--perhaps a STOWE.

James Thornton:

Oh! bear me then to vast embowering shades,
To twilight groves, and visionary vales,
To weeping grottoes, and prophetic glooms!
Where angel forms athwart the solemn dusk
Tremendous sweep, or seem to sweep along;
And voices more than human, through the void
Deep-sounding, seize the enthusiastic ear.

Or is this gloom too much? Then lead, ye powers
That o'er the garden and the rural seat
Preside, which shining through the cheerful land
In countless numbers blest Britannia sees,
Oh lead me to the wide-extended walks,
The fair majestic paradise of Stowe!
Not Persian Cyrus on Ionia's shore
E'er saw such sylvan scenes; such various art
By genius fired, such ardent genius tamed
By cool judicious art -- that in the strife,
All-beauteous Nature fears to be outdone.
And there, O Pitt, thy country's early boast,
There let me sit beneath the sheltered slopes,
Or in that temple where, in future times,
Thou well shalt merit a distinguished name;
And with thy converse blest, catch the last smiles
Of Autumn beaming o'er the yellow woods.
While there with thee the enchanted round I walk,
The regulated wild, gay fancy then
Will tread in thought the groves of Attic land;
Will from thy standard taste refine her own,
Correct her pencil to the purest truth
Of Nature, or, the unimpassioned shades
Forsaking, raise it to the human mind.
Or if hereafter she, with juster hand,
Shall draw the tragic scene, instruct her thou,
To mark the varied movements of the heart,
What every decent character requires,
And every passion speaks -- oh! through her strain
Breathe thy pathetic eloquence! that moulds
The attentive senate, charms, persuades, exalts,
Of honest zeal the indignant lightning throws,
And shakes corruption on her venal throne.
While thus we talk, and through Elysian vales
Delighted rove, perhaps a sigh escapes;
What pity, Cobham, thou thy verdant files
Of ordered trees shouldst here inglorious range,
Instead of squadrons flaming o'er the field,
And long embattled hosts! when the proud foe,
The faithless vain disturber of mankind,
Insulting Gaul, has roused the world to war;
When keen, once more, within their bounds to press
Those polished robbers, those ambitious slaves,
The British youth would hail thy wise command,
Thy tempered ardor, and thy veteran skill

In 1732 Lord Cobham's nephew Gilbert West wrote a lengthy poem The Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Viscount Cobham that is actually a guide to the gardens in verse form. Charles Bridgeman commissioned 15 engravings of the gardens from Jacques Rigaud, these were published in 1739. In 1744 Benton Seeley published A Description of the Gardens of Lord Cobham at Stow Buckinghamshire.

In 1748 William Gilpin produced the Views of the Temples and other Ornamental Buildings in the Gardens at Stow followed in 1749 by A Dialogue upon the Gardens at Stow. A Pirated copy of all three books was published in 1750 by George Bickham as The Beauties of Stow. To cater to the large number of French visitors in 1748 a French guidebook Les Charmes de Stow was published.

In the 1750s Jean-Jacques Rousseau had visited the gardens and his writings about the gardens helped spread their fame and influence throughout Europe, he had this to say[16] 'Stowe is composed of very beautiful and very picturesque spots chosen to represent different kinds of scenery, all of which seem natural except when considered as a whole, as in the Chinese gardens of which I was telling you. The master and creator of this superb domain has also erected ruins, temples and ancient buildings, like the scenes, exhibit a magnificence which is more than human'. George Louis Le Rouge published in 1777 Détails de nouveaux jardins à la mode that included engravings of buildings at Stowe as well as at other famous gardens in Britain. In Germany Christian Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld published Theorie der Gartenkunst in 5 volumes in Leipzig 1779–1785, that included Stowe. The last edition of the Seeley guide was published in 1827. In 1805-9 John Claude Nattes painted 105 wash drawings of both the house and gardens.

Plan of gardens, 1910

The main divisions of the garden are:

The south vista

South vista, looking north

This includes the tree-flanked sloping lawns to the south of the House down to the Octagon Lake and a mile and a half beyond to the Corinthian Arch beyond which stretches the Grand Avenue of over a mile and a half to Buckingham. This is the oldest area of the gardens, there were walled gardens on the site of the south lawn from the 1670s that belonged to the old house. These gardens were altered in the 1680s when the house was rebuilt on the present site. It was again remodelled by Bridgeman from 1716. The lawns with the flanking woods took on their current character from 1741 when 'Capability' Brown re-landscaped this area.

The buildings in this area are:

  • The Doric Arch, erected in 1768 for the visit of Princess Amelia
  • Statue of George II
The Western Lake Pavilion
  • The Lake Pavilions, designed by Vanbrugh

The Elysian fields

Is to the immediate east of the South Vista, designed by William Kent, work started on this area of the gardens in 1734. Covering about 40 acres. There is a series of buildings and monuments surrounding two narrow lakes, called the river Styx, that step down to a branch of the Octagon Lake. The adoption of the name alludes to Elysium, and the monuments in this area are to the virtuous dead of both Britain and ancient Greece. The main species of trees originally planted included alder, elm, chestnut & pine also ivy was planted and encouraged to grow over dead tree-trunks to create a suitable melancholy mood. The buildings in this area are:

St Mary's Church
The Temple of Ancient Virtue
The Temple of British Worthies
The Cook Monument
  • Saint Mary's Church; Stowe's parish church and the only surviving structure from the old village of Stowe.
  • The Temple of Ancient Virtue in the form of a Greek tholos, containing life size sculptures of Epaminondas (general), Lycurgus of Sparta (lawmaker), Homer (poet) and Socrates (philosopher).
  • The Temple of British Worthies, with busts of sixteen chosen worthies. The choice of who was considered a 'British Worthy' was very much influenced by the Whig politics of the family, the chosen individuals falling into two groups, eight known for their actions and eight known for their thoughts and ideas: Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Locke, John Hampden, Sir Francis Drake, King William III, Queen Elizabeth I, The Black Prince, King Alfred, Sir Francis Bacon, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, Sir Thomas Gresham, Inigo Jones, Sir John Barnard.
  • The Shell Bridgem decorated with shells.
  • The Grotto
  • The Seasons Fountain
  • The Grenville Column
  • The Cook Monument; a monument to Captain James Cook

The Hawkwell Field

The Hawkwell Field

The Hawkwell Field is to the east of the Elysian Fields, also known as The Eastern Garden.

The buildings in this area are:

The Gothic Temple

The Gothic Temple

The Gothic Temple was designed by James Gibbs in 1741 and completed about 1748; this is the only building in the Gardens built from ironstone, all the others use a creamy-yellow limestone. It is a celebration of Anglo-Saxon identity. Above the door is a quote from Pierre Corneille's play Horace: Je rends grace aux Dieux de n'estre pas Roman ("I thank the gods I am not a Roman"). The interior includes a circular room of two stories covered by a shallow dome that is painted to mimic mosaic work including shields representing the Heptarchy. Dedicated 'To the Liberty of our Ancestors'. To quote John Martin Robinson: 'to the Whigs, Saxon and Gothic were interchangeably associated with freedom and ancient English liberties: trial by jury (erroneously thought to have been founded by King Alfred at a moot on Salisbury Plain), Magna Carta, parliamentary representation, all the things which the Civil War and Glorious Revolution had protected from the wiles of Stuart would-be absolutism, and to the preservation of which Lord Cobham and his 'Patriots' were seriously devoted.'[17]

The Temple was used in the 1930s by the school as the Officer Training Corps armoury. It is now available as a holiday let through the Landmark Trust.


The Pebble Alcove
The Temple of Friendship
  • The Pebble Alcove
  • The Chatham Urn
  • Congreve's Monument
  • The Temple of Friendship
  • The Palladian Bridge, a copy of the bridge at Wilton House, although that at Stowe is designed to be used by horse-drawn carriages
  • The Queen's Temple
The original Thuner, in the V&A Museum
  • The Saxon Deities: sculptures of the seven deities that gave their names to the days of the week. They were moved to their present location in 1773, (the sculptures are copies of the originals that were sold in 1921-2). They are arranged in a circle. Each sculpture (with the exception of Sunna a half length sculpture) is life size, the base of each statue has a Runic inscription of the god's name, and stands on a plinth. They are: Sunna (Sunday), Mona (Monday), Tiw (Tuesday), Woden (Wednesday), Thuner (Thursday), riga (Friday) and a Saxon version of Seatern (Saturday), the original Sunna & Thuner statues are in the V&A Museum, the original Friga stood for many years in Portmeirion but was sold at auction in 1994 for £54,000.

The Lamport Gardens

Is to the east of the Eastern Gardens, named after the vanished hamlet of Lamport, was created from 1826 by Richard Temple-Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The buildings in this area are:

  • The Chinese House, known to date from 1738 making it the first known building in Britain built in the Chinese style. It is made of wood and painted on canvas inside and out. Originally it was on stilts in a pond near the Elysian Fields. In 1750 it was moved from Stowe and was purchased by the National Trust in 1996 and returned and placed in its present position.
  • The Lamport Lodge in a Tudor Gothic style, with two bay windows either side of porch. It acts as an entrance through the ha-ha, there are three sets of iron gates, that consists of one carriage and two flanking pedestrian entrances. They lead to an avenue of Beech trees planted in 1941 that lead to the Gothic Temple.

Stowe on film

  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989, Steven Spielberg : The North Front portrayed Berlin; the scene was filmed at night and depicted a Nazi book burning.
  • The television series Inspector Morse used the gardens in the 1989 episode "Ghost in the Machine" to represent the grounds of 'Hanbury Hall'.
  • Vanity Fair, 1998 television series: used the gardens as London's Hyde Park
  • The World Is Not Enough (1999 James Bond film): The Gothic Temple appears (cleverly shot to double as a church) in the
  • Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham The 2001 Bollywood film used the house as a location.
  • Stardust of 2007 film The opening scene was shot in the Marble Saloon, the gardens were also used.
  • The Wolfman In 2010, the funeral of Talbot's brother in was filmed in the gardens.
  • In 2012 the Antiques Roadshow visited Stowe.

The house and gardens have also featured in documentary films:

  • In 2006 Simon Thurley's Buildings That Shaped Britain: The Country House.
  • In 2007 Jonathan Meades's Abroad Again, in the episode "Stowe Gardens".

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Stowe House)


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  2. page 81, Stowe Landscape Gardens, James Shurmer, 1997 National Trust
  3. London's Mansions The Palatial Houses of the Nobility, p144, by David Pearce, Batsford 1986
  4. pages 82, Stowe Landscape Gardens, James Shurmer, 1997 National Trust
  5. page 82, Stowe Landscape Gardens, James Shurmer, 1997 National Trust
  6. pages 11-13, Stowe House, Michael Bevington, 2002, Paul Holberton Publishing
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  8. The Morning Post, "SALE OF THE STOWE LIBRARY", 20 January 1849
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  16. page 111, Temples of Delight: Stowe Landscape Gardens, John Martin Robinson, 1990, George Philips
  17. page 102, Temples of Delight: Stowe Landscape Gardens, John Martin Robinson, 1990, George Philips
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