The Genius of the Place

Daffodils by the Palladian Bridge at Stourhead

March 2018 will mark a turning point for Stourhead, as we delve deeper into the story of the estate’s origins with the launch of our exciting new interpretation programme ‘Genius of the Place’. In recent years, we have explored the story of Henry Colt Arthur Hoare, known as ‘Harry’, his position as sole heir to the family’s estate and the echos of hope, devastation and reflection which punctuate his tale.

The story of Harry Hoare's life and how it was tragically cut short in the First World War, gave us all a window through which to view the poignant highs and lows of family life at Stourhead before it came under the protection of the Trust.

‘Genius of the Place’ will now take us back to the beginning of Stourhead's story, exploring the seeds of ambition and aspiration which were sown with the Hoare family’s early experiences of enterprise, wealth and overseas exploration.

It will uncover the landscape at Stourhead, showing how it is not merely a pretty piece of English countryside, but a meticulously designed, expertly engineered and completely manmade work of art.

Using ‘Genius of the Place’ we hope to reveal some of the significant people, moments and stories behind creation of the truly picturesque landscape at Stourhead.

The design of Stourhead is a product of passion, taste and principled, careful consideration, there is nothing accidental about the resulting masterpiece which has enthralled visitors for centuries.

2018 introduces the new property story the 'Genius of the Place' to visitors by focussing attention on three core themes which make up the foundations of what we recognise as the ‘Spirit of the Place’ here at Stourhead.

In classical Roman religion, a genius loci was the very term used to describe protective spirit of a place and this idea is duly reflected upon in the often mystical and spiritual elements of the garden’s design.

The phrase 'Genius of the Place' was also used in Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Lord Burlington, both of these influential men being contemporaries of Henry ‘The Magnificient’ Hoare at the time he began the epic landscaping project.

The epistle, which takes the form of one of four ‘moral essays’ which Pope published on ‘taste’, chastises what he feels is the wasteful squandering of vast sums of money on massive landscaping projects that might only satisfy a ‘capricious whim’.

It instead urges country estate owners as they undertake such schemes to ensure that ‘[…] Nature never be forgot’ and instructs them firmly to ‘Consider the Genius of the Place in All’.

The wider estate offers some spectacular views
A view to Six Wells Valley at Stourhead, Wiltshire

We will begin our exploration of these early seeds of ambition by tracing the Hoare family’s rise to success via ‘The Golden Path’. This theme encapsulates the rags-to-riches tale of a family of yeoman horse traders catapulted to a position of fortune in their establishment of a successful banking enterprise.

Fully established in high society and with money to spend, the next element of the programme explores ‘The Grand Tour’, its classical influences and its cultural impact on a young gentleman of fortune and ambition.

Stourhead’s architectural design and artefacts within the its collection can be better understood in relation to the enlightenment experienced on the Grand Tour and its considerable impact on taste.

Our final theme of the Genius of the Place is ‘The Painterly Eye’. This idea acknowledges the connections forged between art, literature and architecture in the process of garden design, particularly in the light of the picturesque movement and its effect on English landscape gardening.

Join us as from March 2018 we unravel the mysteries of Stourhead’s ‘Genius’, discover more about the origins of this truly incredible masterpiece and find ways of ‘reading’ the landscape as its creators intended.