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England

Stowe House (Stowe Park) (Stowe Landscape Garden)

  • House & Family History: One of the great estates of England, Stowe was settled by the Temple family in the late 16th century. With his fortune from sheep farming in hand, Peter Temple leased the Stowe Estate in 1571; his son, John Temple, purchased Stowe outright in 1589 and so began a 300-year odyssey of fantastic buildings and gardens. Between 1677 and 1683 Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt., created the core of current house. Temple's architect was William Cleere, who built for his client a four-story brick house that was 13 bays long. By the 18th century the Temples had been upgraded to viscounts Cobham; Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, was one of Marlborough's generals and a war hero. He commissioned improvements at Stowe between 1715 and 1749, using Charles Bridgeman and his old friend John Vanbrugh as architects, though Bridgeman worked almost exclusively on the grounds. Vanbrugh added the North Portico and rebuilt the North, West, and East facades. After Vanbrugh's death in 1726 William Kent was engaged to continue work on the House – he probably designed the now-demolished two-tier South Portico – but it was Kent's designs for the garden for which we remember his work at Stowe today: The Temple of Ancient Virtue, The Elysian Fields, and The Temple of British Worthies. These Kent-designed follies are world class and among the first of their kind in an English garden. In the late 18th century Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple (an upgrade from viscount!), began significant work on the House. In 1771 the famous Robert Adam presented a design for the South Façade (lord Temple had earlier rejected a design from Jacques-François Blondel); Adam's design was accepted and executed, though it was modified by Thomas Pitt and Giovanni Battista Borra. The interiors of the State Apartments were done up in a rich Continental style in 1788 by the famous Italian designer Vincenzo Valdrè. In 1793 George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (another upgrade in the peerage), converted the East Gallery into the Large Library and then, between 1805 and 1806, he engaged the famous Sir John Soane to create the Gothic Library on the ground floor to house his important collection of medieval manuscripts (a side table of ebonized mahogany and ivory with quatrefoil motifs designed by Soane for the Gothic Library is now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London). The 1st Marquess's son, Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, was created 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos in 1822; in 1824 he inherited his Uncle William Wyndham Grenville's important library, described at the time as extraordinarily rich "…in history, philosophy, political economy, mathematics, diplomatic state papers, both printed and manuscript, is the most perfect collection in this country." This library included the "Stowe 2 Psalter," the "Stowe Breviary," and the famous Stowe manuscripts (after the bankruptcy of the 2nd Duke, much of the library was sold). In 1847 Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, was declared insolvent, with debts of approximately £1.5 million, approximately £1 billion in 2016 values using the labour value commodity index. His spectacular bankruptcy (he was called the greatest debtor in the world) forced the auction by Christie's of the contents of Stowe House, which took place between August 15 and October 7, 1848. Surprisingly, after the auction of the contents, the Stowe Estate remained in the ownership of the dukes of Buckingham until 1889, when, with the death of the 3rd Duke, the dukedom became extinct. Stowe passed to Lady Mary Morgan-Grenville, daughter of the 3rd Duke. She put the House and Estate up for sale for £200,000, but couldn't find a buyer. As a result, Stowe was rented to tenants until 1894, after which it remained vacant until 1901, when Lady Mary returned as a widow to take up residency. At her death in 1908, Lady Mary's son, The Rev. Luis C.F.T. Morgan-Grenville, inherited Stowe. With the noose of huge debts around his neck, The Rev. Morgan-Grenville felt that the only thing to do was to sell, which he did in 1921, selling the House, Garden, and part of the Park to Harry Shaw for £50,000. Mr. Shaw intended to give Stowe to the nation, but, finding that he couldn't raise the required endowment, he sold up in 1922 to what would become Stowe School. The school opened on May 11, 1923 and has remained in Stowe House ever since. In 1997 the ownership of the House passed to the Stowe House Preservation Trust, which was established to preserve and restore the House. In 1999 Stowe was proposed as a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Heritage Lottery Fund granted £5 million to help preserve the House as part of a £40 million restoration program, which was completed in 2014. British and foreign aristocrats and royalty were frequent visitors at Stowe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In April 1786 John Adams, later second president of the United States, visited Stowe and other stately houses in the Home Counties. After his visits he wrote in his diary "Stowe, Hagley, and Blenheim, are superb; Woburn, Caversham, and the Leasowes are beautiful. Wotton is both great and elegant, though neglected." Queen Victoria and Prince Albert famously visited Stowe in January of 1845.

    Collections: In 1847 Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, was declared insolvent, with debts of approximately £1.5 million, approximately £1 billion in 2016 values using the labour value commodity index. His spectacular bankruptcy (he was called the greatest debtor in the world) forced the auction by Christie's of the contents of Stowe House, which took place between August 15 and October 7, 1848 (among astounding art treasures, over 21,000 bottles from the wine cellar went under the hammer). The Buckingham Vase (aka The Stowe Vase) was one of the objects sold at the 1848 sale. This large ancient Roman vase (it's 46 inches tall) was excavated by Gavin Hamilton in 1769 at Hadrian's Villa and sold to George, Lord Temple, later 1st Marquess of Buckingham. The vase was famously engraved by Piranesi in 1778 (see "Images" section) and is today in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A number of reproductions were made in various materials in the 18th and 19th centuries. A particularly notable reproduction of the vase is the vermeil Doncaster Cup of 1828, made by Rebeccah Emes and Edward Barnard and today in the collection of Lotherton Hall. In spite of all the publicity, the auction, which was held in the State Dining Room, raised only £75,400 (approximately £55 million in 2016 values). Events like the auction of the contents of a great house, especially on this scale, were rare in the 19th century, unlike in the 20th century, when the agricultural depression, increasing industrialization, and death duties made country house auctions common. There were further auctions of the contents in 1921 and 1922. A side table of ebonized mahogany and ivory with quatrefoil motifs designed by John Soane, probably made in London circa 1805 for the Gothic Library at Stowe, is today in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Sir John Soane acquired six antique gemstones from the Duke of Buckingham in 1834. A Worcester service, made circa 1813 for Richard, 2nd Marquess of Buckingham, is today in the collection of Kykuit, the Rockefeller mansion in New York State. George Grenville of Stowe paid £400 in 1774 for a cameo bust of the Athenian general Phocion that had belonged to Cardinal Albani. The state bed, designed by Giovanni Borra in an over-the-top rococo style, is today in the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This bed, possibly carved by Jean-Antoine Cuenot, shares design elements with Borra's Music Room at Norfolk House, London.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: With over 30 temples and monuments famously placed among its 250 acres, Stowe is considered Europe's most influential landscape garden. Between 1715 and 1749 Vanbrugh, Gibbs, Kent, and Leoni designed temples and follies that were carefully placed in pastures, wooded valleys, lakes, and open spaces for the 1st Viscount Cobham. The Elysian Fields, designed by William Kent during the 1730s, was one of the first "natural" gardens in England and is believed to have introduced the concept of "the English Garden." Kent's Temple of British Worthies is an internationally famous and extraordinarily important folly, as is his Chinese House. Completed in 1738, the Chinese House is the oldest surviving Chinoiserie folly in Britain. Made of painted pine panels on an oak frame, with painted scenes by Francesco Sleter, the diminutive folly has had a peripatetic existence. Originally mounted on stilts in the middle of the lake at Stowe, by 1757 it was installed on dry land at Wotton House, Buckinghamshire, where it remained until 1957, when it migrated to Harristown House in Co. Kildare. It finally came back home in 1992, when the National Trust acquired the Chinese House and reinstalled it at Stowe. Stowe is also home to one of only five Palladian bridges in the world (the others are at Tsarskoye Selo in St. Petersburg, Russia; Wilton House, Wiltshire; Prior Park in Bath; and Hagley Hall in Worcestershire—ruinous by the late 19th century and rebuilt in 2014). In 1922, when Stowe was put on the market, most of the estate was sold off in separate lots. The famous Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the Grand Avenue to prevent its destruction (it was going to be developed as housing) and later gifted it to Stowe School to be maintained as part of the historic landscape. The gardens remained in the ownership of the school until 1989, when an anonymous donor provided an endowment that enabled the National Trust to take over ownership of the historic garden. Between 1999 and the early 21st century conservation repairs were made by the National Trust to Dido's Cave, the Rotondo, the Cook Monument, the Gothic Umbrello, Cobham's Monument, and the Wolfe Obelisk. Sunna and Thuner were two of a series of seven Portland stone statues of Saxon gods that the 1st Viscount Cobham, commissioned from John Michael Rysbrack for the garden at Stowe (these two statues are today in the collection of the V&A—see "Images" section). There were seven gods to represent the seven days of the week (Thuner represented Thursday and Sunna was Sunday), all part of a garden that was filled with symbolism of Lord Cobham's liberal, Whig political views (he believed that the Saxons had championed a democratic spirit in public affairs). In 1744 the very first comprehensive guidebook to an English country seat was published; it was entitled "Description of the Gardens of Lord Viscount Cobham at Stow," and produced by a local man, Benton Seeley. A 1788 edition of the book is today in the collection of Stowe School. An interesting gardening side note is that Capability Brown, considered Britain’s greatest landscape designer, was the head gardener at Stowe for 10 years and was married in the estate church.

  • Architect: Charles Bridgeman

    Date: Circa 1720
    Designed: Grounds

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    Architect: Georges Francois Blondel

    Date: Post 1774
    Designed: Designs for 2nd Earl Temple, few of which were probably executed. May have remodeled Gibbs's Lady's Temple (today Queen's Temple).

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    Architect: William Kent

    Date: Post 1726 & 1730s
    Designed: After Vanbrugh's death Kent probably designed the 2-tier south portico (demolished). Kent designed the gateways on the North Façade (moved from the forecourt and heightened in 1775 by Vincenzo Valdrè), all post 1726. Temple of Ancient Virtue, The Elysian Fields, and the Temple of British Worthies for Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham (1730s).
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: Vincenzo Valdrè

    Date: Completed 1788
    Designed: Interior of State Apartments

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    Architect: John Vanbrugh

    Date: Circa 1719-24
    Designed: Additions to House, possibly including the North Portico, follies for for Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, including Lake Pavilions, Rotonda, Temple of Bacchus (dem), Temple of Sleep (dem), Nelson's Seat (dem), Cold Bath (dem), and the Pyramid (dem).

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    Architect: Edward Blore

    Date: 1839-43
    Designed: Lamport and Water Stratford Lodges; rebuilt Bellgate, remodeled Bourbon Tower; minor alterations to House for 2nd Duke of Buckingham.

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    Architect: Thomas Pitt (Camelford)

    Date: 1752-66 & 1772-77
    Designed: Temple of Concord and Victory (1752) and Corinthian Arch (1765-66). Together with Giovanni Battista Borra, altered Adam's design for the South Façade (1772-77).
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: Henry Flitcroft

    Date: Circa 1742
    Designed: Interiors of The State Gallery for Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham.
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: James Gibbs

    Date: 1726-48
    Designed: Alterations to South Side of House and follies, including Imperial Closet (1726-28, dem), Temple of Friendship (1739), Gothic Temple, aka Temple of Liberty (1741-44), Lady's Temple (1744-48, remodeled circa 1775 and renamed Queen's Temple), The Belvedere (demolished 1764 and re-erected as The Fane of Pastoral Poetry, now a ruin), Boycott Pavilions (later altered by Borra).

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    Architect: Giacomo Leoni

    Date: Circa 1740
    Designed: 2 gateways on North Front of House (originally led to the garden) for Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham.
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: John Soane

    Date: 1805-06
    Designed: Gothic Library for 1st Marquess of Buckingham

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    Architect: William Cleere (Cleare)

    Date: 1677-83
    Designed: Core of current house for Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt.

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    Architect: John Vanbrugh

    Date: 18th century
    Designed: Office Ranges and Orangery
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: Giovanni Battista Borra

    Date: 1760-77
    Designed: Redecorated State Bedroom and Dressing Room for 2nd Earl Temple (1760). Together with Thomas Pitt, altered Adam's designs for the South Façade (1772-77).

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    Architect: Robert Adam

    Date: 1771-79
    Designed: Rebuilt Facade Front for 2nd Earl Temple. Adam may have also designed the 2 twin quadrant Ionic colonnades on the North Façade.

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  • John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. I, p. 96, 1852.

    John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. I, 1818.

    Country Life: XVII, 522, 1905. XXXV, 18, 54, 1914. CII, [526, 578, 626, Buildings in Park], 1947. CVIII, 1002 [Temple], 1950. CXXII, 68, 1957. CXXV, 352, 1959. CXL, 260, 1966. CXLV, 78 [Queen's Temple], 1969. CLI, 1416 [Gothic Temple], 1972.

  • Title: Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century
    Author: Sloan, Kim; Burnett, Andrew (Editors)
    Year Published: 2003
    Reference: pg. 132
    Publisher: Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books
    ISBN: 158834164X
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Saving Wotton: The Remarkable Story of a Soane Country House
    Author: Palin, William
    Year Published: 2004
    Reference: pg. 26
    Publisher: London: Sir John Soane's Museum
    ISBN: 0954228472
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: William Kent: Architect, Designer, Opportunist
    Author: Mowl, Timothy
    Year Published: 2006
    Publisher: London: Jonathan Cape
    ISBN: 0224073508
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Buildings of England: Sussex, The
    Author: Pevsner, Nikolaus; Nairn, Ian
    Year Published: 1973
    Reference: pg. 466
    Publisher: London: Penguin Books
    ISBN: 0140710280
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Treasure Houses of Britain, The - SOFTBACK
    Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase (Editor)
    Year Published: 1985
    Reference: pgs. 417, 526
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press)
    ISBN: 0300035530
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: V&A Guide to Period Styles: 400 Years of British Art and Design, The
    Author: Jackson, Anna; Hinton, Morna
    Year Published: 2002
    Reference: pg. 77
    Publisher: London: V&A Publications
    ISBN: 0810965909
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age
    Author: Worsley, Giles
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pg. 219
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
    ISBN: 0300058969
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Country Life (magazine)
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Mar 27, 2003, pgs. 124-128
    Publisher: London: Future plc
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Magazine

    Title: In Ruins
    Author: Woodward, Christopher
    Year Published: 2001
    Publisher: London: Chatto & Windus
    ISBN: 070116896X
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Movie Locations: A Guide to Britain & Ireland
    Author: Adams, Mark
    Year Published: 2000
    Publisher: London: Boxtree
    ISBN: 0752271695
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pgs. 59, 129, 133, 145, 253, 368, 406, 610, 758, 910, 1008
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Historic Houses (magazine)
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Spring 1999, pg. 16
    Publisher: London: Historic Houses Association
    ISBN: 0260-8707
    Book Type: Magazine

    Title: Royal Oak Newsletter, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Spring 1999, pg. 14
    Publisher: New York: The Royal Oak Foundation
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Magazine

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade I

  • "Inspector Morse" (1989 - TV series, episode 3.1, as the gardens of Hanbury House in the episode "Ghost in the Machine"). "Jeeves and Wooster" (1990 - TV series - in the episode "Jeeves Takes Charge" [aka "In Court After the Boat Race," aka "Jeeves' Arrival"] the Oxford Bridge was used as part of the grounds of Ditteridge Hall). "The Avengers" (1998). "Vanity Fair" (1998 - BBC/A&E TV mini series, as Hyde Park and other London parks). "The World is Not Enough" (1999 - the Gothic Temple stood in for the Scottish chapel where the funeral of Sir Robert King was held and the grounds were used as the estate of the King family). "Proof of Life" (2000). "A History of Britain" (2000 - TV documentary series). "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" (2001). "Buildings That Shaped Britain" (2006 - TV documentary series by Simon Thurley, episode 4, "The Country House"). "The Wolfman" (2010 - funeral scene). "Pan" (2015). "The Crown" (2017 & 2019 - TV series, as the scene for the wedding reception in the 2017 episode "Beryl"; in the 2019 episode "Dangling Man" the queen laid a wreath of remembrance at the Temple of Ancient Virtue and spoke to a gathering in front of the Garden Facade of the House, all of which took place in France). "Slaughterhouse Rulez" (2018). "Bridgerton" (2020 - TV series, as Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens).
  • Past Seat / Home of: Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt., until 1697; Field Marshal Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, until 1749; Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple, until 1779; George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham, until 1813; Richard Plantagenet Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, until 1850.

    Current Ownership Type: Preservation Organization

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Mixed Use

    Ownership Details: The house is owned by Stowe House Preservation Trust, which leases it to Stowe School. Some rooms are open for limited hours. The National Trust owns the park and grounds, which are open to the public.

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01280-818-002

    Fax: 0128-081-886

    Email: sses@stowe.co.uk

    Website: http://www.stowe.co.uk

    Historic Houses Member: Yes