Of all the gardens...the noblest and best planned
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 eighteenth 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.
In its heyday
- The first great changes began in 1711 when Viscount Cobham inherited the estate.
- Prime Minister William Pitt gave ideas for many satirical elements.
- Stowe was 'Capability' Brown's first and only place of employment.
- 1749: Richard Temple inherited and made many alterations.
- The family was once richer than the king.
A grand rival
In its late eighteenth-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 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
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 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.
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 1990s we were able to acquire the gardens and parkland. 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.