Stourhead in the twentieth century

Portrait of Harry Hoare

Follow in the family's footsteps from their arrival and through the war years until they gave their beloved Stourhead to the National Trust.

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, known as 'Harry', was born. Stourhead belonged to Henry’s cousin, Sir Henry Ainslie Hoare, and his wife, Augusta. Henry Ainslie enjoyed city life and all the opportunities for socialising that came with it, while Augusta loved the countryside; spending happy times at Stourhead with her daughter and grandchildren. These happy times came abruptly to an end when the estate was closed up in December 1885, as spiralling costs grew impossible to manage.

On the death of his cousin in 1894, Henry Hugh 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' (now the National Trust Estate Office) whilst builders and craftsmen restored the house and temples, and a team of gardeners tamed the overgrown trees and shrubs.

Imagine the devastation Henry and Alda felt when their home and dreams went up in smoke on an April morning in 1902 when a fire broke out in a second-floor 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, even cutting paintings from their frames and pushing furniture out of the windows. Faced with what to do with the remaining shell of the house, Henry and Alda did not waver – the building was fully insured, so plans were made for the house to be restored almost exactly as it had been. The family moved once more into the Cottage while the work was undertaken. The restoration was finally completed in 1907.

Harry Hoare’s military service

On 1st August 1914, Harry Hoare travelled 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.

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’.

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, where he was fatally injured.

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.

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. In 1946, just one year before he and his wife died, Henry gave the house, landscape gardens, and about 3,000 acres of surrounding land to the National Trust.