The Stourton family, the Barons of Stourton, had lived in the Stourhead estate for 500 years until they sold it to Sir Thomas Meres in 1714. His son, John Meres, sold it to Henry Hoare I, son of wealthy banker Sir Richard Hoare in 1717. The original manor house was demolished and a new house, one of the first of its kind, was designed by Colen Campbell and built by Nathaniel Ireson between 1721 and 1725. Over the next 200 years the Hoare family collected many heirlooms, including a large library and art collection.In 1902 the house was gutted by fire. However, many of the heirlooms were saved, and the house rebuilt in a near identical style. The last Hoare family member to own the property, Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, gave the Stourhead house and gardens to the National Trust in 1946, one year before his death. His sole heir and son, Captain "Harry" Henry Colt Arthur Hoare, of the Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry, had died of wounds received at the Battle of Mughar Ridge on 13 November 1917 in World War I. Captain "Harry" Hoare is commemorated by a plaque on the Memorial Hall at Stourhead. The last Hoare family member to be born inside the house is Edward Hoare on 11 October 1949.
Although the main design for the estate at Stourhead was created by Colen Campbell, there were various other architects involved in its evolution through the years. William Benson, Henry Hoare’s brother-in-law, was in part responsible for the building of the estate in 1719. Francis Cartwright, a master builder and architect, was established as a “competent provincial designer in the Palladian manner. ” He worked on Stourhead between the years of 1749-1755. Cartwright was a known carver, presumably of materials such as wood and stone. It is assumed that his contribution to Stourhead was in this capacity. Nathaniel Ireson is the master builder credited for much of the work on the Estate. It is this work that established his career, in 1720. The original estate remained intact, though changes and additions were made over time. Henry Flitcroft built three temples and a tower on the property. The Temple of Ceres was added in 1744, followed by the Temple of Hercules in 1754 and the Temple of Apollo in 1765. That same year he designed Alfred’s Tower, but it wasn’t built until 1772. In 1806, the mason and surveyor John Carter added an ornamental cottage to the grounds; at the request of Sir Richard Colt Hoare. The architect William Wilkins created a Grecian style lodge in 1816; for Sir R. Colt Hoare. In 1840, over a century after the initial buildings were constructed, Charles Parker was hired by Sir Hugh Hoare to make changes to the estate. A portico was added to the main house, along with other alterations. The design of the additions was in keeping with original plans.
The Genius of the Place
The lake at Stourhead is artificially created. Following a path around the lake is meant to evoke a journey similar to that of Aeneas’s descent in to the underworld. In addition to Greek mythology, the layout is evocative of the “genius of the place,” a concept made famous by Alexander Pope. Buildings and monuments are erected in remembrance of family and local history. Henry Hoare was a collector of art- one of his pieces was Nicolas Poussin’s Aeneas at Delos, which is thought to have inspired the pictorial design of the gardens. Passages telling of Aeneas’s journey are quoted in the temples surrounding the lake. Monuments are used to frame one another; for example the Pantheon designed by Flitcroft entices the visitor over, but once reached, views from the opposite shore of the lake beckon. The use of the sunken path allows the landscape to continue on into neighboring landscapes, allowing the viewer to contemplate all the surrounding panorama. The Pantheon was thought to be the most important visual feature of the gardens. It appears in many pieces of artwork owned by Hoare, depicting Aeneas’s travels. The plantings in the garden were arranged in a manner that would evoke different moods, drawing visitors through realms of thought. According to Henry Hoare, ‘The greens should be ranged together in large masses as the shades are in painting: to contrast the dark masses with the light ones, and to relieve each dark mass itself with little sprinklings of lighter greens here and there.’
The gardens were designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out between 1741 and 1780 in a classical 18th-century design set around a large lake, achieved by damming a small stream. The inspiration behind their creation were the painters Claude Lorrain, Poussin, and, in particular, Gaspar Dughet, who painted Utopian-type views of Italian landscapes. It is similar in style to the landscape gardens at Stowe.
Included in the garden are a number of temples inspired by scenes of the Grand Tour of Europe. On one hill overlooking the gardens there stands an obelisk and King Alfred's Tower, a 50-metre-tall, brick folly designed by Henry Flitcroft in 1772; on another hill the temple of Apollo provides a vantage point to survey the magnificent rhododendrons, water, cascades and temples. The large medieval Bristol High Cross was moved from Bristol to the gardens. Amongst the hills surrounding the site there are also two Iron Age hill forts: Whitesheet Hill and Park Hill Camp. The gardens are home to a large collection of trees and shrubs from around the world.
Richard Colt Hoare, the grandson of Henry Hoare II, inherited Stourhead in 1783. He added the library wing to the mansion,and in the garden was responsible for the building of the boathouse and the removal of several features that were not in keeping with the classical and gothic styles (including a Turkish Tent). He also considerably enhanced the planting - the Temple of Apollo rises from a wooded slope that was planted in Colt Hoare's time. With the antiquarian passion of the times, he had 400 ancient burial mounds dug up in order to inform his pioneering History of Ancient Wiltshire