History

Of all the gardens...the noblest and best planned

Take in the breathtaking beauty of Stowe's riches

Take in the breathtaking beauty of Stowe's riches

Owned by one family for almost 350 years, whose story takes in royal visits, family feuds and debt, Stowe is a breathtakingly beautiful creation of the 18th century. It's also one of the first and foremost of the great English landscape gardens. It reflects the work of two people in particular: Lord Cobham and his nephew, Earl Temple.

 

New Inn: restored coaching inn

Our newly restored visitor centre, New Inn, has a fascinating history to match the gardens. Find out how Georgian tourists 300 years ago visited New Inn, and how we've recreated a traditional English country inn.

In its heyday

  • The first great changes began in 1711 when Viscount Cobham inherited
  • Prime Minister William Pitt gave ideas for many satirical elements
  • Stowe was 'Capability' Brown's first major commission
  • 1749: Richard Temple inherited and made many alterations
  • The family was once richer than the king

A grand rival

The Oxford Bridge - one of the many magnificent monuments © Rod Edwards

The Oxford Bridge - one of the many magnificent monuments

In its late 18th-century heyday, Stowe was the most magnificent landscape garden in Britain. Indeed, it rivalled the grandest royal gardens of continental Europe. The Temple family, who owned Stowe, spent a fortune creating and extending the garden to further their political ambitions.

At the forefront of fashion

The Palladian Bridge - one of only three in the country © Robin Simpson

The Palladian Bridge - one of only three in the country

The family hired the most talented architects and garden designers of the age, together with a small army of staff, to ensure that they remained at the forefront of gardening fashion.

A royal visit... then bankruptcy

Queen Victoria visited in 1845 © National Trust

Queen Victoria visited in 1845

Stowe reached its social peak in 1822 when Richard Temple was created 1st Duke of Buckingham. In 1845 the family laid on an extravagant welcome for Queen Victoria. But three years later the second Duke was bankrupt.

Decline and fall

The Temple of Venus continued to delight visitors during the 19th century

The Temple of Venus continued to delight visitors during the 19th century

The second Duke was a fraudster who took his family and Stowe to the brink of financial ruin. In 1847 bailiffs seized his assets and he fled abroad.

His son took over, selling most of the contents of Stowe, but this did little to re-coup the Duke's £1 million debt. The scandal rocked the English aristocracy and appalled the public. The future of Stowe was in grave doubt.

The son's efforts to secure Stowe’s future were undermined when he died in 1889, with no male heir. His daughter used Stowe rarely. When her son died in the First World War, Stowe was sold.

Did you know?

  • 'Capability' Brown was married here
  • He lived in one of the Boycott Pavilions
  • Catherine the Great of Russia loved the gardens
  • She copied many ideas for her gardens near St Petersburg
  • Peter Temple, a sheep farmer, signed the first lease for Stowe in 1571
  • The family claimed Lady Godiva as one of their ancestors

New beginnings

Stowe House became a school in 1922

Stowe House became a school in 1922

Stowe was rescued in 1922, when it was turned into a school. Clough Williams-Ellis, creator of Portmeirion, was appointed to recreate the Stowe estate as Stowe School. In 1990 we took over the gardens. An ongoing programme of restoration and investment has followed, restoring the gardens and the buildings at New Inn. Stowe is now one of the very few places in Britain where you can immerse yourself in Georgian magnificence on the grandest scale.

Hear more about Stowe's story

An introduction to Stowe's history

An introduction to Stowe's history

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