The history of the house at Stourhead

The front of Stourhead House at sunset

Stourhead House was one of the first country villas to be built in the new Palladian style. The house was designed for Henry Hoare I, ‘Good Henry’, by the architect Colen Campbell. Sadly, Henry died before the house was completed and never got to enjoy life at Stourhead.

Henry Hoare II, also known as Henry ‘the Magnificent’, made a number of changes to the house, including rebuilding the west front to accommodate the Saloon. Henry's love of the arts didn’t stop at architecture; he also had a great passion for paintings and sculpture, and the collection he gathered included works by Poussin, Rysbrack and Bampfylde.

Adding the wings

Sir Richard Colt Hoare (2nd Bt) inherited Stourhead from his grandfather Henry Hoare II on the condition that he left the banking business and cared for Stourhead. Colt Hoare made further alterations to the house, including adding two wings for the Picture Gallery and Library. Colt Hoare commissioned Thomas Chippendale the Younger to make furniture for the house, including for the newly built Library.

The portico

Colt Hoare left Stourhead to his half-brother Sir Henry Hugh Hoare (3rd Bt), and during his three years at Stourhead he added the portico to the house, as had been originally intended by Colen Campbell.

The heirlooms sale

Due to family debts and an agricultural depression, the family had to take action and sell some of their possessions. The heirlooms sale took place in 1883 and it was a great loss to the collection in the house. Among the items sold were works by Turner, Poussin and Nicholson.

The fire

In 1902 a fire gutted the central part of the house, resulting in the loss of all of the contents of the upper floors. The reconstruction of the house proceeded remarkably quickly, with very little deviation from the original – only the west front, Staircase Hall, and Saloon were significantly different. By 1907 the restoration of the house was complete.

The garden history

'A living work of art'. That's how a magazine described Stourhead when it first opened its doors in the 1750s. This world-famous garden was designed by Henry Hoare II as a series of carefully constructed views, like scenes from a landscape painting.

Henry Hoare II built a dam to form the lake and around it he positioned classical temples and Gothic buildings, as well as rare and exotic trees. Although the garden is something of a secluded world, there are glimpses out to the wider landscape; to an estate of working farms and ancient hamlets.

The garden was at the forefront of the 18th-century English landscape movement. For his fantastic achievement Henry was nicknamed 'the Magnificent'. Today Stourhead is essentially the same as Henry’s vision – a timeless paradise.