Money Prevailed.

Just a few kilometres from Stourhead is the historic village of Maiden Bradley; a quiet and unassuming place that many pass through on their way to the Stourhead estate.  Here in 1617 was born Edmund Ludlow into a line of politicians.  Like his father Henry, Ludlow was a strong advocate of parliament, but also a staunch republican.  At the age of 27 he was commanding forces in the English Civil War, and in 1649 was one of the 59 signatories on the warrant of execution for Charles I.  His memoirs have become an important historical account of that period.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever read them, but I’d be interested to get inside Edmund’s head to understand his motivation, for in 1644 he and his forces ransacked Stourhead manor house, which was then the property of the Barons of Stourton.  Was his action against a neighbour driven by jealousy, justice, religious intolerance (William Stourton was a catholic) or order from Cromwell?

I don’t know the extent of the damage, but in 1714 the Stourtons sold the property, and shortly afterwards in 1717 their manor house was demolished and the new owners (the Hoares) began the development of the estate that we see today.

Taste is a funny thing.  Ruskin hated the elaborate decoration of baroque architecture and decoration, but I love it (why else would this atheist spend so much time in Italian churches?).  And yet here at Stourhead, everything felt a little de trop.  The pillars and mouldings seemed more appropriate to a larger structure.  The fireplaces screamed for attention.  The architraves too.

The artwork gives some clues.  Room after room you see pictures featuring buildings from antiquity, many of them painted in the picturesque and romantic styles and drawing on Burke’s philosophy of the sublime.  The Hoares were clearly striving for some ideal which found its way into their house and ultimately their formal gardens.

In 1902 the house suffered a fire which gutted the interior, though many of the heirlooms within were saved.  Unlike  Studley Royal however Stourton was completely rebuilt and restored to as close a replica of the original as possible.  The Hoares need to present themselves to the world as aesthetes was clearly paramount.  Their library incidentally contains Lady Alda Hoare’s collection of Thomas Hardy novels, she being a friend of the Wessex writer.  (Were country houses the Facebook pages of their day?)

The restoration cost must have been significant, but no matter, for the Hoare family were bankers, and owners of the country’s oldest private bank.  Their money couldn’t buy everything however.  The last member of the family to own Stourhead, Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, had outlived his only son and heir who was killed in action during the Great War.  He bequeathed what was to become one of their most visited properties to the National Trust in 1946.  As for Ludlow, he died in Switzerland in exile following the Restoration.

Stourhead House, Wiltshire

Unrelated piece of trivia: If you recognise the building you may have been a fan of sixties TV series Thunderbirds; Lady Penelope’s mansion was a scale model copy.


Unusual Garden Ornament

The Hoares of Stourhead didn’t just go in for the grandiose.  The house is surrounded by some perfectly traditional lawns and shrubberies, and whilst the walled garden doesn’t bear comparison with that at Wellington it features some colourful blooms.

Even the ancient trees around the hall impress, though not with the same degree of delicacy.

Despite their stature, they are insignificant next to the last of the “installations” of Henry Hoare, the 18th century visionary responsible for the development of the “temples” and lake that have become Stourhead’s trademark.  This too is a “folly”, an expensive amusement with no real practical purpose, but in this instance there is no classical influence.  This final piece is modelled instead on a Toblerone.

Alright I’m kidding, up to a point.  There was actually a clue in my previous Stourhead post, where amongst the paintings and architecture with classical themes there was a bust that was a little out-of-place.  Remember this?

The man represented is clearly no Greek god or Roman emperor, but I deliberately cropped out the plinth which would have given the game away.  This is an imagined image of an English king, in fact the first English king, but which I mean the first King of England (as opposed to the separate kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia).

This is King Alfred, popularly known as Alfred the Great (and a notorious cake burner).

The reason for Alfred’s inclusion amongst the various scenes of antiquity is explained on an inscription on the folly itself which reads:

AD 879 on this Summit
Erected his Standard
Against Danish Invaders
To him We owe The Origin of Juries
The Establishment of a Militia
The Creation of a Naval Force
ALFRED The Light of a Benighted Age
Was a Philosopher and a Christian
The Father of his People
The Founder of the English

Though not strictly accurate (Alfred’s fleet of a dozen longships was hardly a navy) the summit referred to is believed to be the site where he rallied his Anglo-Saxon troops before finally defeating the Danes, and whilst a couple of miles as the crow flies from Stourhead itself, it nevertheless remains estate land.

Hoare engaged Henry Flitcroft, the same architect responsible for the temples, to replicate St Mark’s campanile from Venice.  In the end, although he got a brick tower, this is rather different having three sides rather than the four of St Marks, hence my Toblerone reference.  Installed above the front door is another representation of the king, though of course we have no record of his actual appearance.

Curiously the circumference of the three-sided structure is roughly the same as its height; 160 feet, which all in all makes it an extremely extravagant folly, but don’t forget we’re talking private bankers here… and as garden furniture goes it has a little more impact than a bird table.

Wait ’til they get a load of this*

*apologies to Mr Nicholson’s Joker for the bastardisation!

The first stop on my summer excursion was Stourhead in Wiltshire, site of a Palladian Manor House built in the 18th Century.  I’ll write about that house and its walled garden in a future post, but coming so soon after my visit to Studley Royal and the water gardens there I couldn’t help but start with the formal gardens; they did after all provide the setting for Darcy’s first, rain-sodden proposal in the 2005 film of Pride & Prejudice.

The damming of a watercourse to create a lake surrounded by classically inspired follies and temples is a clear match to the experience at Studley, but also at Stowe, both of which were begun before Stourhead.  Whether this alliterative group were influential upon each other’s designs, I don’t know.  The three patrons moved in slightly different circles; Studley created by a disgraced politician, Stowe by an aristocrat and the Hoare family who created Stourhead were bankers.  What’s more, it is clear from the contents of the house how influenced the Hoare’s were by classical sculpture and architecture, so this would seem to be the motivation for the creation of the gardens rather than “keeping up with the landscaping Jones’s”.

Pantheon Interior, Stourhead

In fact Stourhead does more than keep up, which was the reason that the Joker’s quote above came to mind as I was walking the gardens.  The lake lacks the elegance of Studley, and the gardens aren’t as extensive as Stowe, but it seemed that wherever you walked a new vista opened up that made use of one or other of the temples and grottoes.  The secret was in the trees.

With such variety of species they created height, or framing, or textural contrast in so many ways that it was difficult to know which was the best place to shoot from.  Every gap seemed to offer something.  After capturing this small cascade and packing away my tripod, I walked another couple of hundred yards and kicked myself for there was a better aspect and I didn’t have the time to unpack again.

The small Palladian bridge posed another challenge to me.  Shoot it on it’s own, or with the Bristol Cross, a 14th century monument brought to the estate in 1780.  Or with a stretch I could pair it with the Temple of Apollo up on the nearby hillside.  Change angle again and there’s the Pantheon across the water.  Walk around to the Pantheon side of the lake shoot backwards and there the Temple of Flora in the scene now.

Had this been autumn and those trees been in more colourful raiment rather than their summer green I would have been delighted.  Had the lake been free of a breeze that robbed me of clear reflections too then I would have been ecstatic.

But in the absence of the ideal, you can still find beauty.