Friday, October 18, 2013

Stowe Landscape Gardens Part 1 of 3

Welcome to the first of three posts on Stowe House and its landscape gardens. This was the first of the Country Estates we visited on our UK tour. I had blogged about it in passing in several previous posts, due to my love of Neoclassical and Palladian Architecture. It is located just outside Buckingham. Not being quite sure how to organise this post, I have just arranged the photos in the order in which we encountered the subjects. We arrived via the grand avenue, and then proceeded clockwise around the 500 acres of garden...

Various forms of the house have stood on the site since 1677. The core of the house standing today dates back to Richard Temple and his house built in 1683. The house was in the hands of the Temple/Grenville Family until 1921, when the last heir Luis Morgan-Grenville could no longer afford to maintain it and had to sell it due to debts.

Cutting a long story short, it belonged to the Baronets Temple between 1578-1697; the Viscount and Earls Cobham between 1675 and 1779 (overlap due to change in titles), and the Marquesses, Earls and Dukes of Buckingham & Chandos between 1779 - 1889. It then passed to Baroness Kinloss, her eldest son and then her youngest son, Luis Morgan-Grenville.

Below: The Grand Avenue looking south from the Corinthian Arch. This was purchased by Mr Williams-Ellis on the dissolution of the estate in 1922, to prevent its felling. He later gifted it to the school. It was originally lined with Elms., These however succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s and were replaced with Beech and Chestnut. This was our approach to Stowe.

Below: The Corinthian arch, designed in 1765 by Thomas Pitt. It stands 60 feet tall by 60 feet wide. Either side of the arch houses a four story residence originally designed for game keepers, like a gatehouse.

Below: A view of Stowe House from the arch. The way the hills roll down and up again means that the Octagon lake in the hollow is invisible in this view, as are the temple follies on either side (behind the trees).

Below: The Ha-Ha wall that separates the 500 acres landscape gardens from the previous surrounding estate.

Stowe has the largest concentration of Grade I listed buildings in England. The first building we saw on entering the gardens was the Gothic Temple on a distant hill...

Below: The 11 acre lake that dominates the first part of the gardens. 

One gets a glimpse of several of the garden follies as one walks around this lake, through carefully planned gaps between woodland thickets. It has been very cleverly laid out.

Above: A glimpse of the Rotondo
Below: The lush bullrushes lining the banks of the 11 acre lake

Above: The Pebble Alcove

The Temple of Venus was the first folly we came up close to on our stroll west along the outer path of the gardens. It was designed by William Kent (his first commission for the gardens)...

Above and Below: Busts of Nero and Vespasian.

Below: The view of the Rotondo from the Temple of Venus - visible from a very narrow angle range, disappearing between the tress to the left and right very quickly. 

We then headed north down an avenue of trees to the Boycott Pavilions...

Above and Below: The Boycott Pavilions. They were named after the no longer extant village of Boycott.These flank the Oxford Drive to the South-West of the house. They were built in 1728-29 by James Gibbs, but altered from the pyramidal stone roofs to the lead domes you see today in 1758 by Giovanni Battista Borra. 

Below: The original design for the Boycott Pavilions.

The state of the gardens today is amazing considering the disarray that they had got into by the 1980s. In 1989 The National Trust took over the gardens from the school, which maintains some use of the house, (although the ownership of the house passed to the Stowe House Preservation Trust once an anonymous donor raised the money for an endowment to preserve it). 

The National Trust slowly and very carefully set about researching the original gardens, surveying what was left, and carefully restoring all the gardens to their 1848 condition. Also over 100 garden statues had been sold off between 1848 and 1922. These have slowly been replaced with replicas of the originals one by one as funds were raised.

Above and Below: The statue of Queen Caroline atop a tetrapylon of four fluted ionic columns. It is thought to have been designed by Vanbrugh.
Below: A goose wrecking the lawn!

The Venus Rotondo. Built by Vanbrugh in 1720.
From the field in which the Rotondo sits One has a few glimpses back over the lake to previous follies...
Above: The view back to The Hermitage
Below: The view back to The Temple of Venus

A slight jump forward now to the grotto. This was originally designed as a classical stone building, however, it was decided later to rusticate it and form a grotto.

Above and Below: The inside of the grotto with a small fountain

Below: Evidence of how they rusticated it after the fact - they used large nails to affix rough stone concretions to the original classical structure to hide the straight walls and ceiling. Where the rustication has fallen away you can see the large nails protruding from the masonry:

Below: The view out of the grotto, overlooking the little stream-like lake running down to Captain Cook's monument, the Shell Bridge and eventually the Temple of British Worthies.

Below: The Grenville Column commemorating the death of Lord Cobham's nephew Thomas Grenville, fighting the French aboard the HMS Defiance. 

Below: The Temple of Ancient Virtue
This was built in 1737 from William Kent's designs, possibly based upon the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.

Above: Homer
Below: Epaminondas
Above: Lycurgus
Below: Socrates

Below: The view of The Temple of British Worthies from the Temple of Ancient Virtue.

The Temple of British Worthies is a curved roofless exedra with multiple niches exhibiting busts of 'worthy' British figures, from Monarchs to Architects, Philosophers to Merchants.

The choice of British Worthies was influenced to a great extent by the Whig politics of the Temple-Grenville family.

Above: King William III, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake. 

Below: King Alfred, Edward Prince of Wales, QEI.

Above: John Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Francis Bacon.

Below: Inigo Jones, John Milton, William Shakespeare.

Above: A Bust of Mercury in the stepped pyramid over the centre.

Below: Sir Thomas Gresham.

Please visit again on Monday for part 2.


  1. Love it :)

    You mentioned that Stowe has the greatest concentration of Grade 1 listed buildings in the country. I had assumed that an estate was given a listing as a job lot, but clearly that is not so. Is each out building and folly listed individually?

  2. what an amazing house and grounds -can't wait for part 2!

  3. Yes, each building / folly, even in some cases a small piles of ruins, is given individual status based on its historical or architectural merit.

    I think it is probably because over centuries so many changes were made to various building prior to them becoming listed, and thus they may all be of differing grades.


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