Explore the rooms of the house to discover the dramatic story of love, loss and devotion which decided Stourhead's future. As you move around the family home, you follow in the family's footsteps from their arrival and through the war years until they gave their beloved Stourhead to the National Trust.
The Entrance Hall
Meet the family
Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare first met his future wife, Alda Weston when he was eight and she was twelve. By 1888 they were married, living in Buckinghamshire, and their only son, Henry Colt Arthur Hoare, 'Harry' was born – the happiest day of his mother’s life. Stourhead belonged to Henry’s cousin, Sir Henry Ainslie, and his wife, Augusta. She loved the country but he preferred city life. The estate was closed up in December 1885 as spiralling costs grew impossible to manage.
The Music Room
Creating a family home
On the death of his cousin in 1894 Henry inherited a baronetcy; a house unlived in for several years; an overgrown garden and temples falling into disrepair. His family packed their belongings, left a house they loved and moved to Stourhead. On arriving in Wiltshire in 1895, they spent several years living in 'the Cottage' whilst builders and craftsmen restored the house and temples and a team of gardeners tamed the overgrown trees and shrubs.
Establishing ourselves in local society
Whilst work took place around the estate and the couple were busy creating a comfortable home for their beloved son, Sir Henry and Alda were equally committed to establishing themselves in a new part of the country and a new community. Alda, Lady Hoare formed a lifelong friendship with Thomas Hardy and both of his wives, Florence and Emma. Her collection of his novels fills the Library shelves. The books are crammed with letters, postcards and newspaper clippings.
The Little Dining Room
Fire and the aftermath
Imagine the devastation Henry and Alda felt when their home and dreams went up in smoke on an April morning in 1902. The fire broke outin a chimney and burnt for hours. The centre of the house collapsed from the attic down into the cellars below. Servants, gardeners, estate workers and farmhands worked together to salvage as much as possible from the burning building before it fell down – cutting paintings from their frames and pushing furniture out of the windows.
The South Apartments
A close knit family
Henry, Alda and Harry Hoare were devoted to each other and to Stourhead. Behind the public rooms used for entertaining and shared with visitors were the intimate family spaces where the family could relax and be themselves.
'Poor fellows, poor gallant fellows all'
In October 1914, the Red Cross opened a hospital in the nearby town of Mere. Alda Hoare was involved from the beginning, visiting soldiers and arranging outings to Stourhead. She was the ‘Stourhead Mother’ and they were her ‘Soldier Sons’.
The Column Room
Harry Hoare’s military service
On the 1st August 1914, Harry Hoare travalled from Stourhead to the Drill Hall in Gillingham where he signed up to join the Dorset Yeomanry. Within a week he had joined his regiment – no longer Estate Manager working for his father, but a soldier fighting for his country. The first few months of his military service were spent in Dorset, Oxfordshire and Norfolk but on Thursday 1st April 1915 the Dorset Yeomanry, Harry Hoare amongst them, set sail with their horses for Egypt.
The Italian Room
'Our only and the best of sons'
Harry’s military career was plagued with injury and ill-health. He would return to Stourhead on occasion to be cared for by his loving parents. Despite advice from military doctors, every time he was taken ill he returned to the battlefield. In November 1917, Captain Harry Hoare was involved in leading a charge on Mughar Ridge.
The Cabinet Room
'Can we, can we live on, or must we sell, the beloved old place?'
Within days of receiving news of Harry’s untimely death, his devastated parents had to make practical decisions about their own future and the future of Stourhead. Spray, the family solicitor, was a guest in the house helping the couple to make seemingly impossible decisions.
The Picture Gallery
Show-days, successors and the National Trust
Stourhead has a long history of being shared with visitors. Sir Richard Colt Hoare wrote the very first guidebook in the very earliest years of the 19th century and Alda Hoare worked with a local author to revise the guidebook again in 1930. On show-days visitors were shown around by the butler or the head housemaid and strict rules were to be obeyed.