Stourhead is a prominent British stately home set in the Wiltshire countryside which is now run by the National Trust. Stourhead is famous for its impressive 2,650-acre estate and gardens, which attract tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Though much of the house dates back to the early eighteenth century, a devastating fire caused serious damage to the central block of the house in 1902 and therefore what you see today is a mixture of original and restored construction – albeit designed to entirely reflect the original design.
Inside Stourhead House itself much of the decoration and layout reflects the life of Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), grandson of the estate’s original owner, Henry Hoare II. Visitors glimpse into the life of a man burdened by grief after the loss of his wife and second child, he was a worldly man and scholar who poured his life and soul into his Wiltshire home – adding impressively to its stature. Highlights of the property include a spectacular library and picture gallery, all set overlooking a striking artificial lake.
Also situated at Stourhead is King Alfred’s Tower a historical attraction in its own right. Named after Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex who raised his standard here while the Battle of Ethundan was won nearby, the tower was built to celebrate the accession of George III to the throne after the end of the Seven Years’ War.
The true gem of Stourhead does not, however, lay hidden in its lavish interior but rather it is outside in the garden where the site truly comes into its own. The gardens, completed over decades, demonstrate the evolving aesthetic attitudes that bore so many great British gardens throughout the latter eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, inviting guests not just to look but to arrive and experience.
The classical gardens, born out of enlightenment inspiration, hark back to the perceived dignity of ancient Rome, evoking images of Vergil’s Aneid at every turn, boasting temples to Apollo and Flora, a Romanesque Pantheon and several grottos. Moreover, historians have often commented on the gardens’ biblical implications, suggesting that the ‘pilgrims’ who walk this path see it as a modern day Eden: A paradise given, lost and regained.
Set in these impressive parklands, Stourhead is an excellent example of British architecture, landscape and design. A full day is required to appreciate all that this fantastic National Trust site has to offer, so feel free to bring the family, pooches and picnics as well.
Contributed by Rebecca Lewis