James Gibbs

Architect 1726-1729, 1737-1748, Stowe

James Gibbs - Architect 1726-1729, 1737-1748

Gibbs joined the staff at Stowe in 1726 just after Sir John Vanbrugh’s death. He had two stints at Stowe, in which time Gibbs started off small before creating the largest and most imposing temples and buildings you see today.

Monumental buildings

Following on from architectural designs of Vanbrugh, James Gibbs came to Stowe for his first period in 1726 and again in 1737 to create the gardens most imposing buildings. His additions at Stowe sit within a large portfolio of architecturally significant work across the country and local area, including other aristocratic houses, monuments and university buildings in Oxford and Cambridge.

Where can I see his work?

Boycott Pavilions

Stowe was designed to be admired far and wide by all visitors, both tourists and privileged visitors to the House. If you were tourist, you’d drive up past the Corinthian Arch towards New Inn just as you do now. The privileged took a private entrance leading directly to Stowe House, with impressive gates which opened up to a view of the Oxford Bridge crossing a lake, before a steep incline leads your eye up to two pavilions which sit on either side of the road. Named after a long lost local village, the Boycott Pavilions were among Gibbs first additions to the parkland. The first to be built was the Eastern Pavilion in 1729, serving as the end point to various paths in the gardens.

The Western Pavilion was added in 1734 as a residence for a friend of the family. The pavilion also went on to house 'Capability' Brown and his family during their time working on the estate. The designs of the buildings have evolved over time with the original plans including a steep pointed roof which doubled the height of the buildings. These were changed in 1758 to the current domed roofs with cupulas giving an appearance which was more in-keeping with the rest of the estate.

The pavilions can still be seen today by walking directly up Pegg’s Terrace and through the black metal gate into the parkland for the whole view. At a later date the Eastern Pavilion was converted from its former purpose into a home.

Fane of Pastoral Poetry

The current location in the Grecian Valley and appearance of the Fane of Pastoral Poetry is slightly different from the original plan by Gibbs. The original temple was built in 1729 in the site currently occupied by the Statue of Queen Caroline in Western gardens.

The Fane of Pastoral Poetry sits at the far end of the Grecian Valley at Stowe framing wonderful views to the parkland
A small lime washed building is domed with arch ways that allow you to look through it, it's in Grecian style
The Fane of Pastoral Poetry sits at the far end of the Grecian Valley at Stowe framing wonderful views to the parkland

Palladian Bridge

Gibbs returned to Stowe in 1737, nearly 10 years later during the construction of the Radcliffe Camera in nearby Oxford. He started work on a bridge crossing the far end of Octagon Lake linking two sides of the Hawkwell Fields. The bridge is based on a similar one built at Wilton House in Wiltshire a year earlier, Gibbs observed the construction but altered the design slightly. The bridge design used at Stowe was adapted be lower and wider, allowing for carriages to cross on tours of the gardens. The bridge would later form the Path of Liberty, the longest walk through the gardens which also takes in most of the additions from Gibbs.

Temple of Friendship

The Temple of Friendship has had an interesting past. Built in 1737, the temple was built with a large central room with two smaller roofed but open areas on either side. The temple was originally built to entertain Lord Cobham’s political guests on their visits to the gardens. 

Queen’s Temple

The largest temple in the gardens and used by Stowe School for over 40 years as a music room. Originally called Lady's Temple, it was built for Lady Cobham to entertain her friends. For this reason, it gained the little known name of Temple of Female Friendship as it faced over the valley towards the temple used by Lord Cobham and his political friends. It was built in 1748 to designs by Gibb which look very different from the temple seen today. It was reworked in the 1770's to add a new facade, front stairs, portico and bay window at the back, along with the current name in honour of Queen Charlotte.

Gothic Temple

The Gothic Temple was the garden's final addition by Gibbs. Built in 1741 at the top of Hawkwell Field, the building's dark ironstone walls contrast the classical limestones used in the other temples on the estate. The building was dedicated to the 'Liberty of our Ancestors', giving its original name, The Temple of Liberty. The original use for the temple was very different from today. Despite its size, it was only a short stop off on garden tours, with its main purpose as a garden viewing deck with visitors taken up the highest tower.

The circular rooms sit within an unusual triangular layout within the three round turrets. These are around a large domed central room featuring a mosaic of the arms of Lord Cobham’s ancestors. Over the years, the building has had a number of purposes. Since the 1920's, it was used as Stowe School's armoury before being leased as a holiday cottage with the Landmark Trust.

The mosaic featured on the ceiling in the Gothic Temple at Stowe
The mosaic domed ceiling at the Gothic Temple sits high above the buildings central room
The mosaic featured on the ceiling in the Gothic Temple at Stowe

Bourbon Tower

Gibb's work at Stowe didn't just stop in the gardens. He also designed more functional buildings for the parkland. In 1741, a small keepers lodge was built just to the east of where the Gothic Temple was being constructed. Built using the same darker stone, the simple three story building originally featured a conical roof and used to control access to the estate from the south and east. Remains of an old road between Buckingham and Towcester have been found running across the fields close to the tower. Like many of the buildings at Stowe, it's appearance has changed over time. One update in 1808 was used to impress the exiled French royal family on a visit in 1808. The family planted various trees around the tower, non of which remain today.

As a final alteration, in 1843, the 24 foot tall octaginal turret was added to the top, creating a mock fort for training exercises by the the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry, of which the Duke was commanding office.

Despite a fire destroying the inside of the building in the 1920's, it was still used by the school for their clay pigeon shooting club until 1993. The building isn't accessible to the public or visible from the gardens, but you can see it from the parkland outside the Ha-ha.

Visit his work

Gibbs had two periods at Stowe where he created the final and greatest architectural elements of the estate.

Grab a map and take the 1.3 mile Path of Liberty around the gardens. Starting off at the Temple of Friendship, you'll finish in the heart of the Grecian Valley having taken in many of Gibb's largest additions to the gardens.

Stowe's historic team

The Temple of Concord and Victory stands tall. A huge golden Grecian style temple with large coloums, collonades and portico with craved murals and statues sit on the top.

'Capability' found at Stowe

Rising through the ranks, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown learnt his trade experimenting at Stowe, making his mark on the landscape before moving on to transform the the English countryside and many aristocratic estates.

Brown's fame started at Stowe
A view across a lake with bright sky reflections of clouds in the water to golden style temples at Stowe

Sir John Vanbrugh

Sir John Vanbrugh's work at Stowe was fundamental in laying the groundwork for the monuments, landscapes and temples that were to come in the earliest phase of the garden design.

Tell me about Vanbrugh's impact on Stowe
17 busts sit in a semi-circular monument to various british worthies. Further along the shell bridge provides a crossing over the lake which reflects both buildings.

William Kent

Prior to 'Capability' Brown, Kent created some of the most atmospheric areas of the gardens.

Discover more about William Kent
Taking a moment to think about their work at Stowe for over 30 years, Barry Smith - Head of Gardens and Estates and Paul Stefanovic - Assistant Head Gardener

Overlooked and underestimated

Some world famous gardeners have shaped the landscape at Stowe's over the years, but there are many unsung heroes who've contributed to the place you see today.

Meet the team