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Stourhead – A National Trust Gem in Wiltshire

A landscape at Stourhead Gardens of the lake, Palladian bridge, and Bristol Cross - a gothic spire structure

Stourhead – A National Trust Gem in Wiltshire

Amidst the rolling hills of Wiltshire lies the world-famous landscape garden of Stourhead. Described as a ‘living work of art’ when it first opened in 1740, Stourhead stands as a paradise in an already beautiful part of the country.

A neoclassical temple with the words "House and Gardens at Stourhead" superimposed

A Brief History of Stourhead

The fascinating history of Stourhead is inseparable from the history of the Hoare family – who earned their considerable fortune through their private banking business ‘C. Hoare & Co’. The bank, founded in 1672 by Richard Hoare, is still in existence today and is the oldest private bank in the UK.

Richard’s son Henry purchased what was then Stourton Manor in 1717, and immediately commissioned the new Palladian style structure that we see today. With the upgrade in architecture and scale, however, the home needed a new moniker – it was to be named Stourhead House. Sadly, he would never see it completed as he died shortly before it’s completion.

The entrance to Stourhead House with stone sculptures

In 1741 after the death of Henry’s widow, their son Henry Hoare II inherited it. It’s thanks to Henry Hoare II that the estate has the magnificent gardens that it has today. A fitting legacy to a man who was referred to as ‘Henry the Magnificent’.

The last major work was carried out by Henry Hoare II’s grandson Richard Colt Hoare. He inherited the house in 1785 and added wings for the library and picture gallery as well as introducing many species of tree and rhododendron to the gardens. It is estimated that he added some 90,000 trees to the land.

Opening Times

The gardens are open from 9am all year round.

The house is open from 11am between March and December (although it’s closed during part of November).

The gardens close at 3pm during winter, 4pm in spring and autumn, and 4:30pm in summer.

The house closes at 4pm from March through October and 3pm from October through December.

For more details check the National Trust website’s opening times.

A Palladian bridge over a lake with a pantheon in the background

Prices

For non-members of the National Trust, regular peak prices are £19 per adult and £9.50 per child. There are also family tickets for £47.50 and a ‘1 adult, 2 children’ ticket for £28.50.

Entry for National Trust members is completely free. So, if you enjoy these kinds of days out regularly it may be worth becoming a National Trust member. They manage over 500 places across the UK from estates, gardens, historical sites, national parks, and more. For those travelling to the UK, they also offer 7-day and 14-day Touring Passes, which might save you money if you plan on visiting a few places.

Stourhead House

Stourhead house has been modified by many generations of the Hoare family, and today remains the main attraction at the Stourhead Estate.

The ceiling of a lavish house with huge portrait paintings and staircases

Things to See in Stourhead House

There’s a lot to see inside Stourhead House. Some of the highlights include the library, the Pope’s cabinet, Chippendale the Younger’s furniture, and a vast collection of paintings.

The Library and Lunette

The most impressive room has to be Colt Hoare’s library with an impressive lunette window. The unique painting style similar to stained glass is nothing short of a masterpiece. The colors are so deep and vibrant that the painting feels alive.

A library with a lunette - similar to stained glass window

The Pope’s Cabinet

The Pope’s Cabinet dates back to 16th century Rome, where it was most likely created for Pope Sixtus V (who was known as the ‘Iron Pope’ due to his strong, authoritarian rule).

The intricate Pope's Cabinet at Stourhead with studded gems

The unique style of the cabinet as known as pietre dure, which translates as ‘hard stones’ from Italian. The technique involves inlaying semi-precious stones, such as agate, jasper, and lapis lazuli into marble or other hardstone to create intricate patterns.

The Pope’s cabinet at Stourhead is possibly the most significant example of this design in the UK.

Chippendale Furniture

There are many pieces of Chippendale the Younger’s furniture and decoration in Stourhead. You’ll find notable examples in the picture gallery (the room to your right as you enter through the main door, though this is the last room on the walking route).

The two huge oil paintings on the same wall as the windows meant the contrasting light could make them hard to see. So, the frames have a hinge mechanism which means the paintings can be swiveled around for a better view.

Due to the age and potential fragility, they are not used now, but very interesting to see. Oddly, the paintings framed within are by a relatively obscure Victorian artist, so it’s very likely that the frames are worth more than the artwork!

The Artwork

Each room is adorned from floor to ceiling with beautiful oil paintings from portraits of the family to classical scenes of Ancient Rome and Greece.

There are some paintings of Stonehenge here and one in particular of Richard Colt Hoare in the picture gallery with Stonehenge in the background. This is because Sir Richard funded the first known excavation of Stonehenge, evidently a source of pride, and important contribution to British history.

Stourhead Gardens

The Gardens at Stourhead are a masterpiece of neoclassical and picturesque garden design.

Autumnal coloured trees surrounding a small bridge reflected on a lake

Things to See in Stourhead Gardens

As well as the varied flora of the Stourhead Gardens there are a number of incredible landmarks and features. Among the most impressive has to be the Greco-Roman inspired Pantheon and Temple of Apollo.

Pantheon

The Stourhead Pantheon, constructed between 1753 and 1754, draws inspiration from the renowned Roman Pantheon.

The neoclassical pantheon at Stourhead surrounded by trees and a lake

The term ‘Pantheon’ denotes a temple dedicated to multiple deities, and this exquisite structure is decorated with statues of some of the ancient gods. Notable among them is a magnificent marble sculpture of Hercules.

Temple of Apollo

Nestled amongst large trees and overlooking the vast lake is the Temple of Apollo. A fine example of neoclassical architecture which was popular in the 18th century.

A neoclassical temple in Stourhead gardens

Although it’s not a direct copy of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, it’s clearly inspired by it.

Palladian Bridge

Along with the house itself, the bridge is an excellent example of the relatively uncommon Palladian architecture in Britain.

A Palladian bridge over calm water

The style is named after the Italian architect Andrea Palladio. It has an emphasis on symmetry, use of archways, and draws on the classical elements from Rome and Greece.

The Grotto

Italian gardens often feature grottos, which are artificial dwellings designed to look like natural caves or caverns. As well as being impressive aesthetically, they’re also a popular spot to cool off in hot weather.

The Grotto at Stourhead offers a beautiful view out over the lake, and also contains a life-size white marble statue.

Obelisk

The Obelisk at Stourhead, a towering 100ft monument, stands as a prominent focal point within the grounds. It’s particularly noticeable through the rear windows of the house and is a striking contrast to the lawns and trees.

Bristol Cross

The Bristol Cross is the oldest structure you can see at Stourhead and is now 650 years old!

The medieval cross, designed in the Gothic style, was originally at the heart of medieval Bristol. But many centuries later was considered an obstruction and taken down. Luckily, it was given a new home at Stourhead in 1764.

How to Get to Stourhead

The best way to get to Stourhead is by car as it’s not well connected, being in a rural setting. To reach the estate by car you can use GPS or Google Maps using the car park postcode, BA12 6QD. Alternatively, follow the brown signs from the A303 if coming from the south or B3092 if coming from the north.

If a car is not an option for you then the nearest train stations are at Gillingham or Bruton, around 7 miles away. The number 58 bus from Gillingham to Zeals gets you to within a mile.

The front of Stourhead house - a palladian column entranceway with wings

Where to Stay Near Stourhead

Despite the rural setting, there’s a good range of hotels near to Stourhead House and Gardens.

Affordable – The Cornerhouse, in nearby Frome, is a lovely little place and a delicious breakfast is included in the price.

Mid-range – The closest hotel to Stourhead is the attractive Spread Eagle Inn which also comes with a fantastic breakfast.

Luxury – Finally, for a high-end option look no further than the Bishopstrow Hotel & Spa featuring an outdoor jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room. An excellent breakfast is included here too.

A neoclassical temple surrounded by trees

Events at Stourhead

Stourhead hosts a variety of different events throughout the year, so there’s always a good reason to return!

There are guided tours, foraging walks, and forest schools for kids throughout the year. They embrace the changing seasons and holidays by transforming some of the grounds for Easter and Halloween, but the crown jewel is the festive illuminations at Christmas.

A series of information boards about Stourhead

You can also book group visits to Stourhead. So, if you’re a large family, or part of a club or society, then that’s an option.

FAQs

Was Pride and Prejudice filmed at Stourhead?

Yes, scenes from the 2005 movie adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” were filmed at Stourhead, featuring its iconic Palladian Bridge and stunning landscapes.

Is Stourhead free to visit?

No, Stourhead is not free to visit, there is an admission fee to explore its gardens and estate. However, it is free for National Trust members.

How much does it cost to get into Stourhead?

The cost of entry to Stourhead varies by age and peak/off-peak, but the regular peak price for an adult is £19 and for a child is £9.50 for non-members.

What was filmed at Stourhead?

Stourhead has been a popular filming location for various movies and TV series, including “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” and “The Boat That Rocked.”

Do the Hoare family still own Stourhead?

No, the Hoare family no longer owns Stourhead. In 1946, they donated the estate to the National Trust, ensuring its preservation and accessibility to the public.

Are dogs allowed in Stourhead?

Dogs are allowed in the gardens at Stourhead, but they must be kept on a short lead. They are not allowed in Stourhead House.

Where are Stourhead Gardens?

Stourhead Gardens are located in Wiltshire, England, near the town of Mere, approximately 2 miles west of the village of Stourton.

How far is Stourhead from London?

Stourhead is about 110 miles southwest of London, making it a pleasant day trip or weekend getaway from the capital.

Why is Stourhead famous?

Stourhead is famous for its breathtaking landscape garden, designed in the 18th century, featuring a picturesque lake, classical temples, and lush plantings.

Is Stourhead a National Trust property?

Yes, Stourhead is a National Trust property, which means it is maintained and open to the public thanks to the conservation efforts of the National Trust organization.

How big is Stourhead Gardens?

Stourhead Gardens cover approximately 2,650 acres, including the iconic gardens surrounding the lake and a wider estate with woodlands, farmland, and walking trails.

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