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Stowe House and Landscape Gardens - Georgian House Restored for the Nation

By Edited Mar 21, 2016 1 1

Stowe House - Southern Aspect

Restoration Project at Stowe House

Store House - Southern Aspect
Credit: Kevin Gordon, Geograph.org.uk 4 February 2007

A Massive Restoration Programme Continues at Stowe House and Landscape Gardens Making this a Great Place to Visit

Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, is a fine example of neo-classical architecture.  Standing in a landscaped park, the house was once described as ″one of Britain's finest eighteenth-century houses″ by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. The House has 400 rooms featuring fine Georgian interiors and a 1/6 mile-wide façade. Stowe House is currently undergoing a major restoration project to restore it to its former glory. Much of the restoration programme is complete and Stowe House and Landscape Gardens are a great place to visit, especially during the long summer holidays.

The History of Stowe House

Stowe House and Landscape Gardens is one of Britain's most important architectural treasures. Building started in 1676 by Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Baronet, and the work was completed in 1683. The House passed to Earl Temple in 1747 who transformed into the palatial structure we see today. When it was first opened to the public it was an instant success and was the first English stately home to have its own guide-book. The who's who of famous architects employed at the house include Robert Adam, James Gibbs, William Kent, Thomas Pitt, Sir John Soane and Sir John Vanbrugh.

Important visitors to Stowe House have included members of European and Russian royal families including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1845. The cost of entertaining Her Majesty left the 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos with massive debts, forcing the so-called Great Sale of the House and Estate contents. As a result none of the original furniture remains in the house.

When the 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos died in 1889 and the Estate passed to his daughter, Lady Kinloss. With the death of her eldest son there was no one to inherit the property and in 1921 the Estate was bought by property developer Harry Shaw. Shaw had no money with which to keep up the property and the House was threatened with demolition. However, after the foundation of the prestigious Stowe School in 1923 the future of the building seemed to be guaranteed. However, in 1989, faced by spiralling costs the School was forced to hand over the picturesque gardens to the National Trust who have since restored more than forty temples and monuments within the grounds. The gardens form one of England's most beautiful parks surviving from Georgian times.

Stowe House – An Endangered Site in Need of Restoration

In 1989, the house itself, still occupied by Stowe School, was in urgent need of refurbishment and restoration both inside and out, as no restoration or refurbishment has taken place since the 1860s. In 2002, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) listed it as an endangered site.  A very necessary restoration programme is now being carried out by the Stowe House Preservation Trust (SHPT). The Trust was set up in 1997 with the specific task of restoring this magnificent House, not only for its value as a national monument, but also to ensure the continued success of Stowe School.

The restoration programme is being carried out in several stages:

  • North Front and Colonnades – This is the largest of the restoration projects, and the first to be completed.
  • Central Pavilion and Marble Saloon – Work on the south front and roofs of the Central Pavilion started in July 2003 and was completed three years later. Nineteenth and twentieth-century cast iron water tanks have been removed and the roofs restored with lead and slate coverings. The interior and exterior of the Marble Saloon were also restored. Plasterwork inside the Saloon, scagliola columns, as well as the marble floor have been repaired. Specialist lighting and heating have been installed to provide an environment that will safeguard the repairs.
    The Saloon, an oval version of the Pantheon in Rome, has a 57-foot-high dome and is one of the most spectacular rooms to be found in any of Britain's country houses.
    The restoration of the Marble Saloon has been funded by the World Monument Fund.
  • The Large Library –  The Large Library is also known as the State Library. The roof was in a sorry state, having been continually deteriorating since the turn of the twentieth century.
    The Library has a curious story: having been originally designed as ballroom it was divided into two separate rooms in the 1760s. The two areas were reunited in the 1790s when a visit from King George III was expected. The room was lavishly decorated and lined with books by the then owners of the house, the Temple-Grenville family. George III was known for his love of books – his comprehensive collection forms the core of the British Library's historic collection. Unfortunately, the anticipated visit never took place and the wealth of the Temple-Grenville family declined over the ensuing decades until they were forced to sell the library furniture.

    Restoration of the Library has involved repairs to roof timbers and the construction of a new Mansard roof. (Mansard: a
    four-sided roof with a double slope on all sides. The lower slope is always steeper than the upper.) Cracked plaster work has been repaired and the ceiling has been restored to its original grandeur. Analysis of conservation scrapings revealed that the ceiling was once decorated with gold leaf.  More than 15,000 gold leaves have been replicated by Cliveden Conservation Workshops, one of the UK's leading conservation companies. Lastly, the original mahogany bookcases and marble fireplace hearths have also been restored.
  • The South Front, West and Eastern Pavilions and State Rooms – Further work is being carried out to restore the South Front, the West and Eastern Pavilions and the State Rooms to their original state.

Tours of Stowe House

The House is open to the public for more than one hundred days every year, but opening times are complicated due to its use as a school. When the House is open during term times a tour takes places each day at 2 p.m. The hour-long tour is included in the price of admission and pre-booking is not necessary. The tour includes the eight State Rooms and the Interpretation Centre where visitors can learn more about the history of the House and its conservation.

It is essential to refer to The Stowe House Preservation Trust to confirm opening times, or telephone the House information line: 00 44 01280 818166.

Sources:

  • Stowe House
  • Stowe House Preservation Trust
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Comments

May 22, 2011 2:00pm
Lynsuz
Very interesting well written article on the Stowe House.
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