The eighteenth- century gardens of Stowe in Buckinghamshire were effectively one of the Britain’s first public theme parks. Visitors flocked from near and far (and even from abroad) to see the temples, monuments and scenery created by Baron Cobham and his successor Earl Temple.
Such were the visitor numbers that Lord Cobham built an inn at the main Bell Gate entrance to the park, called the New Inn, to provide accomodation for some of them.
The building later became a farm and had recently fallen into decay. It was bought by the National Trust in 2005 and has now been restored and turned into a visitor centre.
The 75-strong building team and over 250 volunteers restored as much of the original building as possible, studying historic documents and images and using materials and construction methods of the period. Appropriate period furniture was introduced whenever possible.
The National Trust has created additional visitor facilities on the footprint of the farm and stable block, including a cafe, shop and conference centre, using larch wood sourced from the nearby Ashridge estate.
The Heritage Lottery Fund provided a £1.5 million grant towards the £9 million cost of the project, which was also supported by other fundraising initiatives and donations.
The reinstatement of the New Inn as the entrance to Stowe also means that visitors can now begin their walk around the gardens from the same spot as their eighteenth-century predecessors did, which should help to make the experience more authentic and enjoyable.