Stourhead is a 2,650-acre estate that dates back to the 1200’s. In 1717 the Stourton family sold the estate to Sir Richard Hoare and the original home was demolished and the current one was built. The estate includes a Palladian mansion, the village of Stourton, gardens, farmland, and woodland.
The last Hoare family member to solely own the property, Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, gave the house and gardens to the National Trust in 1946. He did this because his sole heir and son, Captain “Harry” Henry Colt Arthur Hoare died of wounds received during World War I. As part of the donation agreement, the Hoare family still maintains a private apartment in the home and when they are in residence they have access to the whole mansion when it is not open to the public.
Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare and Alda Weston first met when he was eight and she was twelve. They really loved each other. When Sir Hoare commissioned a painting of himself, he requested that a picture of his wife be included in the portrait somehow. The painter included her profile in the smoke coming from his cigar. Henry and Alda were devastated by the death of their only child. They continued to live in the home until 1946 when they both died on the same day within six hours of each other.
The landscaped gardens of the estate are spectacular. They are manicured and groomed in a way that make them appear as natural as possible. As you walk through them you get the feeling that you are in a beautiful landscape painting instead of a garden. In addition there are many enchanting follies throughout the gardens that you can visit.
The home itself has been lovingly maintained and really is one of the most enjoyable state homes I have visited. The home has a hospitable and welcoming feel to it. The volunteer staff who are in each room are very knowledgeable and pleasant. You are able to walk around the rooms to get closer looks at the artwork and furniture. To prevent people from sitting on chairs they shouldn’t rather than areas of the room being cordoned off, there are little seat-saver ornaments appropriate to the room on each seat, for instance in the library which contains books mostly about “The Grand Tour” and travel, there are little “passports” on the chairs.
What is interesting to note is that Stourhead was always open to the public and has a long history of being shared with visitors. Records show that Stourhead has been open to the public as far back as 1800. Sir Richard Colt Hoare wrote the very first guidebook in the early 19th century and Alda Hoare worked with a local author to revise the guidebook again in 1930. On show-days visitors were shown around by the butler or the head housemaid.
When Henry and Alda inherited the estate, they moved in a few weeks ahead of their beloved son to prepare the house. On 27th February 1895, as six year old Harry and his governess arrived at Stourhead the estate church bells were ringing.
- Henry asked his governess,”What are all those bells for?’
- ‘They’re ringing for you’, she replied.
- ‘For me?’ he questioned and went on to say, ‘Well, they must be rather silly people in Stourton, to ring like that for an unimportant little boy.’