Gothic Cross Returns to Stowe

One of Stowe's most mysterious monuments returns after weeks of meticulous re-creation.

Stowe may be known for the vast open views but venture through the trees and some of the hidden treasures can be found. The Chinese house tucked away near the Palladian Bridge, Circle of the Dancing Faun hidden on the outskirts of the Grecian Valley and now, the Gothic Cross stands majestically in a small clearing bordered by the South Front and Elysian Fields.

A monumental mystery

Like a lot of the garden, the historical information about the cross is minimal. A small 1811 engraving on the base panel gives the only physical clue surrounding the date it was constructed. This makes it one of the final monuments to be added to the gardens. It was included, alongside a small illustration, within the Seeley guide for Stowe in 1827 But however, this is only one of a few images of the full monument. 

Records suggest that it was purchased by the first Duke of Buckingham in around 1814 for 200 Guineas, just over £200 today. Due to its location near the Church and the time of purchase, it is believed to have been commissioned as a memorial to the Duke's mother after her death.

The original cross was destroyed at some point in the mid to late twentieth century by a falling tree. It was smashed into hundreds of tiny pieces, which were used to lead the design and creation of the new cross. 

" This has been a fascinating project for us. The myth of the Coade Stone is its 'secret recipe' but equally and more so is the process of its application, modelling, drying and firing to produce an incredibly hard, resilient, and attractive medium with which to create and recreate."
- Nicholas Barnfield, Architectural Stone and Sculpture Conservator at Cliveden Conservation

A monumental project

Bringing the Gothic Cross back to Stowe, unfortunately, wasn't as simple as putting everything back together. Many of the fragments were missing or unusable. This combined with the lack of historical information about the monument meant it was never going to be a small task. A combined effort between Cliveden Conservation and National Trust staff along with hundreds of hours of research allowed the team to discover how the monument looked, how big it was, and most importantly, how it was constructed. 

Using twenty-first century 3D scanning and CAD models, an accurate computer-based representation was created. Cliveden Conservation could then carefully re-create the 120 pieces needed to make the finished cross. Three of the four original base panels were in a good enough condition to re-use as part of the new monument. 

Another hurdle for the team to overcome was the material to build with in the first place. Coade stone was invented in the 1760's by Eleanor Coade. She created a formula using specific measurements of glass, china clay, silicates and other materials fired at an extreme temperature for certain amounts of time. The finished result was a strong, hard and resilient ceramic seen more as an artificial stone. After her death in 1821, the recipe was lost and production came to an end. Careful experimentation and research around the old factory, lead to the creation of a new recipe, allowing for the stone to be reproduced once again. This has allowed for the repair and re-creation of sculptures like the Gothic Cross which was not possible before.

For ever, For everyone

The re-construction of the Gothic Cross is one of the 54 tasks within the Landscape Programme at Stowe. Over the five-year project, we're restoring Stowe back to its former glory in the 18th Century when the world famous gardens attracted visitors from across Europe. The £287,000 needed to complete this project was raised through kind donations by visitors and supporters of Stowe. The hard work can now be experienced along a small path behind the Temple of Ancient Virtue. 

A golden stone statue of two naked men locked in a fight stand atop a plinth, depicting the story of Sampson and the Philistine. Behind is lush green shrubbery to create a backdrop as the statue can be seen across a valley

Restoring Stowe

2015 saw the start of a new phase of restoration for the gardens at Stowe. We're reinstating many of the lost temples and monuments that once ‘dressed’ the gardens like pieces of a theatre set.