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Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, England

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Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, England

Stowe House is a Grade I listed country house located in Stowe, Buckinghamshire, England. It is the home of Stowe School, an independent school and is owned by the Stowe House Restoration Trust who have to date (March 2013) spent more than £25m on the restoration of the house. The gardens (known as Stowe Landscape Gardens), a significant example of the English garden style, along with part of the Park, passed into the ownership of The National Trust in 1989 and are open to the public. The house is open to the public on 280 days a year with tours during the school holidays, and during term time. The parkland surrounding the gardens is open 365 days a year. National Trust members have free access to the gardens but there is a charge for all visitors to the house which goes towards the costs of restoring the building.


The Temple family fortune was based on sheep farming, they were first recorded as such at Witney in Oxfordshire. Later from 1546 they had been renting a sheep farm in Burton Dassett in Warwickshire. The Stowe estate was leased from 1571 by Peter Temple', his son John Temple bought the manor & estate of Stowe in 1589 and it became the home of the Temple family. In the late 17th century, the house was completely rebuilt by Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Baronet, (c.1683) on the present site. This house is now the core of the mansion known today. The old medieval stronghold was located near Stowe Parish Church that is about 100 yards to the south-east of the current house. Having been redesigned subsequently over the years, the whole front is now 916 feet (279 m) in length and can be seen as you approach from the direction of Buckingham. A long, straight driveway ran from Buckingham all the way to the front of the house, passing through a 60-foot (18 m) Corinthian arch on the brow of the hill on the way. The driveway approach to the house is still in use today, although it no longer runs through the arch.

British and foreign aristocrats and royalty frequently stayed at the house throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1725 The 3rd Earl of Carlisle and his wife stayed for a fortnight. The 1730s and 1740s saw visits by Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and The 1st Earl of Bath; The Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales, along with other friends of Lord Cobham (see the Temple of Friendship), were also frequent guests. In 1750 The 1st Earl of Bristol attended a reception at the house. In 1754 Count Stanisław August Poniatowski (the future King of Poland) visited the gardens. The 1760s saw two visits by Leopold III, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau, as part of his tours of English gardens in preparation for the creation of the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm. 1768 saw the visit of King Christian VII of Denmark. In July 1770[1] there was a house party lasting several days whose guests included Princess Amelia, The Hon. Horace Walpole, Lady Mary Coke and The 2nd Earl of Bessborough. The Prince Regent (the future King George IV) came in 1805 and 1808. King Louis XVIII came in January 1808 for several days, his party including: the Comte d'Artois, Louis's brother and successor as King of France; the Duc d'Orléans (who would be France's last ever King); and the Prince of Condé.

1810 saw the visit of King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden. Tsar Alexander I of Russia visited in 1810 and in 1814 Grand Duke Michael of Russia also visited. 1816 saw a visit by Hermann Graf Pückler. The Graf, a famous travel writer from Upper Lusatia, was later elevated in the Prussian peerage as Hermann, Fürst von Pückler-Muskau. Then in 1818 Grand Duke Nicholas (the future Tsar of Russia) visited. The same year saw the first of many visits by The Duke of Clarence (the future King of Great Britain and Ireland). Following King William IV's death, his widow Queen Adelaide stayed in 1840. That year also saw visits by The Duke of Cambridge and his son Prince George. In 1843 there were several visits by German royalty, with the British-born King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover and his wife, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, staying at the house. Later that year, both Crown Prince Johann of Saxony and Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (later the first German Kaiser) would stay at Stowe. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed at the house for several days in 1845 (the first year of the Great Famine in Ireland). Due to financial problems, the family let the estate to the Comte de Paris from 1889 to 1894. The Comte died that year in the house; his body was laid in state in the Marble Saloon, during which period The Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), paid his respects.

Famous non-royal visitors included: Alexander Pope, a frequent visitor from 1724 onwards, who, in 1726, visited in the company of Dean Jonathan Swift and John Gay; another writer and friend to Lord Cobham who visited in the 1720s was William Congreve; in 1730 James Thomson wrote the poem The Seasons after visiting the gardens; in 1732 Gilbert West a nephew of Lord Cobham's, wrote his poem Stowe after visiting the gardens; 1750 saw the first of eight visits by Sanderson Miller; the 1750s also saw visits by Jean-Jacques Rousseau; in 1770 Thomas Whately wrote an extensive description of the gardens; François-Joseph Bélanger visited in 1777-8 and drew the gardens. In April 1786 John Adams (the future second President of the United States on tour with Thomas Jefferson—who would serve as his vice president before becoming President himself) visited Stow and other notable house in the area, after visiting them 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".[2] However his diary he was also damming about the means used to finance the large estates, and he did not think that the embellishments to the landscape, made by the owners of the great country houses, would suit the more rugged American countryside.[2] William Crotch visited in 1805, as did Charles James Fox in the party that included the Prince Regent.


The Temple-Grenville family

The propensity to marry heiresses is shown by the family name being changed to Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville by the late 18th-century. The following family members were the owners of the estate and creators of the house & gardens as they now exist:

  • Peter Temple, ?-1578: leased the estate in 1571.
  • John Temple, 1542-1603: first inherits the lease from his father Peter then purchased the estate in 1589.
  • Sir Thomas Temple, 1567 - c. 1637: 1st Baronet, he inherited from his father John.
  • Sir Peter Temple, 1592–1653: 2nd Baronet, he was given the estate by his father the 1st Baronet in 1630.
  • Sir Richard Temple, 1634-1697: 3rd Baronet, he inherited the estate from his father, the 2nd Baronet.
  • Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, 1675-1749: 4th Baronet, later Baron Cobham and finally Viscount Cobham, he inherited from his father, the 3rd Baronet.
  • Richard Grenville-Temple, 1711-1779: 2nd Earl Temple, he inherited from his uncle, Viscount Cobham.
  • George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1753-1813: 1st Marquess of Buckingham, he inherited from his uncle, the 2nd Earl Temple.
  • Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 1776-1839: 2nd Marquess of Buckingham later 1st Duke of Buckingham & Chandos, he inherited from his father, the 1st Marquess of Buckingham.
  • Richard Plantagenet Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 1797-1861: 2nd Duke of Buckingham & Chandos, he inherited from his father, the 1st Duke.
  • Richard Plantagenet Campbell Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 1823-1889: 3rd Duke of Buckingham & Chandos, he inherited from his father, the 2nd Duke.
  • Lady Mary Morgan-Grenville, 1852-1944: 11th Baroness Kinloss, she inherited from her father, the 3rd Duke.
  • Richard G. Morgan-Grenville, 1887-1914: was given the estate in 1908 by his mother Lady Kinloss. He was killed fighting in the First World War.
  • Reverend Luis C.F.T. Morgan-Grenville, 1889-1944: inherited the estate on the death of his brother Richard, and sold it in 1921.

John Temple was the first member of the family to serve as High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire and also Justice of the Peace.

Sir Thomas Temple first purchased a Knighthood in 1603 from James I then purchased from the same monarch the baronetcy in 1611. He was the first member of the family to serve as a Member of Parliament in 1588-9.

Sir Peter Temple was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell and served as a colonel in the parliamentary army during the English Civil War.

When the War of the Spanish Succession broke out in 1702 the 4th Baronet was appointed a colonel by William III, he was later promoted to Lieutenant General. First created Baron Cobham in 1714 by King George I, then in 1718 Viscount Cobham by the same king. In 1715 he married Anne Halsey an heiress of a rich London brewer. She brought a dowry of (£2,790,000 as of 2015).[3][4] He was a member of the Kit-Cat Club where he probably first met fellow members John Vanbrugh and Joseph Addison whose writings on garden design influenced the development of the gardens at Stowe. Cobham was the centre of the Whig party grouping of Cobhamites. His sister Hester was created Countess of Temple in her own right in 1749 by King George II, from which her son, heir to the estate inherited his title as 2nd Earl Temple.


Richard Grenville the future 2nd Earl Temple, married Anna Chamber in 1737, an heiress with a £50,000 fortune.[5] He was leader of the Whig group known as the Grenvillites. King George II made Earl Temple a Knight of the Garter in 1760. Earl Temple was an active supporter of John Wilkes. When the Earl's cousin George Dodington, 1st Baron Melcombe died in 1762 he left his Vanbrugh designed house Eastbury Park and estates in Dorset to Earl Temple. He attempted to sell the house, but as no buyer could be found, he demolished most of the building using the marble from the house in the Marble Saloon at Stowe. The Eastbury estate was finally sold in 1806.

The 2nd Earl Temple's sister Hester married William Pitt the Elder who became Prime Minister of Great Britain. Their son William Pitt the Younger also served as Prime Minister. George Grenville the brother of the 2nd Earl Temple was also to serve as Prime Minister. William Grenville youngest brother of the 1st Marquess of Buckingham also served as Prime Minister, and it was during his premiership that the Atlantic slave trade was abolished. The final family member to be Prime Minister was William Ewart Gladstone. He married Catherine Glynne the granddaughter of Catherine sister of the 1st Marquess of Buckingham. Other notable politicians in the family included Thomas Grenville the brother of the 1st Marquess, Robert Nugent, 1st Earl Nugent the father-in-law of the 1st Marquess, Thomas Pitt, 1st Baron Camelford brother of William Pitt the elder, George Nugent-Grenville, 2nd Baron Nugent brother of the 1st Duke and the 1st Marquess's nephew Richard Griffin, 3rd Baron Braybrooke.

George Nugent-Temple-Grenville undertook the grand tour in 1774. In 1775 he married a Catholic heiress Mary Nugent, who had an income of £14,000 a year.[5] He was created 1st Marquess of Buckingham in 1784 by King George III. On the death in 1788 of the Marquess's father-in-law Robert Nugent, 1st Earl Nugent he inherited the Earl's Irish (8,900 acres (3,600 ha)) and Cornish estates.

The 2nd Marquess of Buckingham married in 1796 Anna Eliza Brydges the daughter and heiress of James Brydges, 3rd Duke of Chandos who had died in 1789. He thus acquired this wife's estates in Hampshire and Middlesex. Up until 1822 the family had been staunch Whigs, but in order to obtain the long sought Dukedom the family became Tories. The Dukedom was bestowed in 1822 by King George IV on Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville 2nd Marquess who became the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The deal was to support the then Prime Minister Lord Liverpool's administration. The family spent a great deal of money to control several rotten boroughs, including Old Sarum, whose M.P.s switch their support to the prime minister, although the 1832 Reform Act would end this practice. The 1st Duke was a Colonel in the Royal Buckinghamshire Militia (King's Own), he led his battalion in 1814 to France under the command of The Duke of Wellington.

The Grenville Armorial was produced between 1822 and 1839 for Richard Temple-Grenville, Marquess of Chandos, the son of the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The armorial shows 719 quarterings of the family. The 2nd Duke through his mother Anna was descended from the House of Plantagenet and was an active member of the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry. His support of which added to the debts of £1,464,959 (well over £100,000,000 in 2003 terms) he had accrued by 1845. He was called the Greatest Debtor in the world.[6] The Duke left to live abroad in August 1847 to escape his creditors. That year saw the sale of the family's London home Buckingham House[7] in Pall Mall. In March 1848 the family estates in Ireland, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire & Middlesex some 36,000 acres (15,000 ha) of land, were sold. Followed by the most valuable of the paintings, furniture and other art works at Stowe, over 21,000 bottles of wine and over 500 of spirits in the wine cellars below the Marble Saloon, were all sold from 15 August to 7 October 1848 by Christie's. The auction was held in The State Dining Room, but only raised £75,400.[8] At the end of the sales the estate had contract to the core 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) in Buckinghamshire. The garden staff were cut from 40 to 4.

Richard Plantagenet Campbell Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (10 September 1823 – 26 March 1889), usually shortened to Richard Temple-Grenville, was a British statesman of the 19th century, and a close friend and subordinate of Benjamin Disraeli. He was styled Marquess of Chandos until the death of his father in 1861.

With the death of the third Duke of Buckingham and Chandos in 1889, there remained no heirs-male to the dukedom, so it became extinct. After which ownership of the estate was separated from the title Earls Temple of Stowe which passed by special remainder in the letters patent, creating it through the female line to a nephew of the 3rd Duke William Temple-Gore-Langton, the son of Lady Anna Eliza Mary Grenville sister of the 3rd Duke. The fall of the family engendered Lord Rosebery's comment "The glories of the House, built up with so much care and persistence, vanished like a snow wreath".

After the death of her father the 3rd Duke, Lady Mary Morgan-Grenville tried to sell house and estate for £200,000, but nobody wished to buy it. It was then rented until 1894 after which the house remained unoccupied until 1901 when Lady Mary returned as a widow, her husband Major Luis Morgan-Grenville having died in 1896 and she lived in the house until 1908 when she passed it onto her unmarried son as he came of age at 21.

The last inheritor of the estate, Rev. Luis C.F.T. Morgan-Grenville, due to prodigious debts, sold the house, gardens and part of the park in 1921 to a Mr Harry Shaw for £50,000[9] who intended to present the house to the nation. But being unable to pay for an endowment to maintain the building it was sold again in 1922 to the governors of what became Stowe School. This opened on 11 May 1923. The rest of the estate was sold as separate lots. Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the Grand Avenue to prevent its felling to create building plots. Later he gave it to the school. The gardens remained in the ownership of the School until 1989 when an anonymous donor provided funds for an endowment and the National Trust assumed ownership. In 1997 the ownership of the house passed to the Stowe House Preservation Trust, the major aim of which is to restore the building.


The House

The architectural history

The house is the result of four main periods of development[10] these are:

  • 1677-1683 under Sir Richard Temple. This involved the building of the central block. The architect was William Cleare who worked for Sir Christopher Wren as his chief joiner. The house was of brick four floors high including the basement and attics and thirteen bays in length.
  • 1720s–1733 under Viscount Cobham, including the addition of the Ionic North tetrastyle Portico by Vanbrugh and the rebuilding of the north, east and west fronts. After Vanbrugh's death in 1726 work continued under William Kent it was probably he who designed the now demolished two-tier south portico that consisted of four Tuscan columns with four Ionic or Composite columns above.
  • 1740s–1760 under Viscount Cobham, the expansion of both the western and eastern state apartments.
  • 1770–1779 under Earl Temple having first obtained a design from Jacques-François Blondel for the new south front of the house, which did not meet with the Earl's approval, in 1771 Robert Adam produced a new design for the south front; this design was adapted and made more uniform by Thomas Pitt assisted by Giovanni Battista Borra and was finished in 1779. The interiors of the new state apartments were not completed until 1788, much of the interior work being by an Italian, Vincenzo Valdrè (1740–1814). At the same time, the final remodelling of the North Front was taking place: this involved the erection in 1770–1772 of the two twin quadrant colonnades of Ionic columns that flank the facade. These may be to Robert Adam's design. The northern ends of the colonnades are linked to screen-walls containing gateways by William Kent which were moved from the forecourt to this position and heightened in 1775 by Vincenzo Valdrè. The east gateway leads to the stable court the west to the kitchen court. At right angles to these walls stand the arches designed by Giacomo Leoni c. 1740; these were formal entrances to the gardens, they now lead to various buildings put up by the school.
  • The exterior of the house has not been significantly changed since 1779, although in the first decade of the 19th century, the Egyptian Hall was added beneath the North Portico as a secondary entrance.

Stowe Library

In 1793 George, 1st Marquess of Buckingham, converted The East Gallery into The Large Library and, in the first decade of the 19th century, on the ground floor created the Gothic Library to the designs of Sir John Soane. This is a rare example of Soane using the Gothic style.

The 1st Duke inherited the library of Lord Grenville, his uncle, described in 1824 as: in history, philosophy, political economy, mathematics, diplomatic state papers, both printed and manuscript, is the most perfect collection in this country. [11]
Following the bankruptcy of the 2nd Duke, much of the valuable collection was sold. The library has provided provenance to many valued manuscripts [12] including the Stowe 2 Psalter, Stowe 54, the Stowe Breviary and the "Stowe manuscripts".

Listed status

Stowe has one of the largest concentrations of grade I listed buildings in England. There are separate grade I listings in place for:

  • The house
  • The arches at each end of the north front of the house
  • Dido's Cave
  • The equestrian statue of George I to the north of the house
  • Lord Cobham's Column
  • Queen Caroline's Monument
  • The Boycott Pavilions
  • The Cascade
  • The Congreve Monument
  • The Corinthian Arch
  • The Doric Arch
  • The Gothic Temple
  • The Grenville Column
  • The Hermitage
  • The Lake Pavilions
  • The Oxford Bridge
  • The Oxford Gate
  • The Palladian Bridge
  • The Queens Temple
  • The Rotondo
  • The Shell Bridge and Captain Cook's Monument
  • The Temple of Ancient Virtue
  • The Temple of British Worthies
  • The Temple of Concord and Victory
  • The Temple of Friendship
  • The Temple of Venus
  • The Wolfe Obelisk

This is nearly 0.5% of the approximately 6,000 grade I listings in England and Wales. The other historic buildings in the garden and park are listed grade II* or grade II.[72]


Stowe on film

  • The North Front doubled as Berlin in the Steven Spielberg 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The scene was filmed at night and depicted a Nazi book burning.
  • The television series Inspector Morse used the gardens in the 1989 episode "Ghost in the Machine" to represent the grounds of 'Hanbury Hall'.
  • The 1998 television series Vanity Fair used the gardens to represent London's Hyde Park.
  • The Gothic Temple appears (cleverly shot to double as a Scottish church) in the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough.
  • The 2001 Bollywood film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham used the house as a location.
  • The opening scene of 2007 film Stardust was shot in the Marble Saloon, the gardens were also used.
  • In 2010, the funeral of Talbot's brother in The Wolfman was filmed in the gardens.
  • In 2012 the Antiques Roadshow visited Stowe.

The house and gardens have also featured in documentary films:

  • In 2006 Simon Thurley's Buildings That Shaped Britain: The Country House.
  • In 2007 Jonathan Meades's Abroad Again, in the episode "Stowe Gardens".

This project is on History Link