The Regency library at Stourhead

The Library at Stourhead. The chimneypiece and overmantel were added in 1913, but apart from that it very much reflects the Regency taste of Sir Richard Colt Hoare. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

In a comment on the previous post Jolie Beaumont asked about Regency libraries, and Craig Marriott responded that the one at Stourhead in Wiltshire is a prime example.

Sir Richard Colt Hoare and his son Henry, by Samuel Woodforde. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Library at Stourhead was built in 1792 by Moulton & Atkinson for Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 2nd Bt. (1758-1838). Colt Hoare was a shy, scholarly man who inherited Stourhead with its classically-inspired landscape garden from his grandfather, Henry Hoare II.

©NTPL/John Hammond

Following the early death of his wife Colt Hoare spent six years on the Continent, mostly in Italy. He developed his interests in topography and history and patronised artists such as Louis Ducros, J.M.W. Turner, John Buckler and Francis Nicholson. Colt Hoare was a prolific if indifferent artist himself.

Fold-out plate showing Stonehenge in a volume in the Library. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Back in England Colt Hoare turned to recording and publishing the antiquities of Wiltshire. He filled the Library at Stourhead with topographical books and records.

Library steps by Chippendale the Younger. ©NTPL/John Hammond

He also commissioned many items of furniture from Thomas Chippendale the Younger, which display the bold features of the Regency style and include various antiquarian references.

©NTPL/Bill Batten

As a reflection of Colt Hoare’s character and interests, the Library is almost as much a ‘work of art’ as his grandfather’s landscape garden outside.

11 Responses to “The Regency library at Stourhead”

  1. Parnassus Says:

    What a different effect from the Dunster Castle library. What an elegant room, compared to Dunster’s homier clutter. I absolutely love the light and the soaring space here. One effect I find peculiar is the bookcases set flush with the wall–this serves to de-emphasize the importance of the books, not a look that seems appropriate for a library.
    –Road to Parnassus

  2. Toby Worthington Says:

    It would seem that the recessed or flush wall of books presages
    Sir John Soane’s version of stripped-down classicism. In fact the
    entire room paves the way for a leaner approach to architecture
    and as such, it rather threw me off kilter when I first beheld it
    years ago, whereas today it’s exactly my cup of tea– including that
    bold uncompromising carpet pattern.

  3. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    Those interested in the carpet and the display of busts will enjoy comparisons with the octagonal library of the great Hudson River, New York, house Edgewater. The carpet there is a new interpretation of a similar design with the grid laid on the diagonal instead.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Parnassus, I think Toby has helpfully pointed to the reasons for those indeed remarkably minimalist bookshelves. This room is obviously more to your taste than the Victorian library at Dunster 🙂 But interestingly both rooms were largely architect-designed.

    Toby yes isn’t it interesting how relatively early this room is?

    John, thanks for mentioning Edgewater – I didn’t know this fascinating house (an image of the octagonal library can be seen here: Also a sad early example of environmental despoliation, when the railway was built next to it in 1852. And Gore Vidal’s recent ownership of it adds another layer of interest.

    The pattern in the carpet in the Stourhead Library is apparently based on a Roman tiled pavement – again typical of Colt Hoare’s antiquarianism.

  5. Janet Says:

    If I were to build a library, this would be it. Perfection. (and the older I get, the handier those library steps would be. . . )

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes aren’t those steps elegant? Mark Purcell adds that alas most of Colt Hoare’s books were sold at Sotheby’s in 1885, a result of the Cairns Acts, which allowed for the first time the sale of entailed chattels. The auction led to a family row. A few books were bought back, but most of the book collection at Stourhead today is from Wavenden, a secondary family house, on the edge of what is now Milton Keynes. The chimneypiece and 1720s overmantel also came from there.

  7. Jolie Beaumont (@JolieBeaumont) Says:

    I have come back to this post a few times, because I really would like to say that I have learned to love those recessed book shelves. But to my eye, from a distance, the effect all those rectangles enclosed within a square frame is too much like a 20th-century modern art painting.

    Perhaps, as an earlier comment suggests, that was meant to be exactly the effect – a modern take on a gentleman’s library. But after reading a bit more about Sir Richard Colt Hoare and his twin interests in archaeology and Italian art, I wonder, albeit a bit humorously, if he wasn’t actually drawing upon his experiences of digging up treasures “half-buried” in the past.

    I do agree with Janet about those beautiful library steps. They would come in handy not only to find books, but when you have to do the dusting!

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Jolie, yes indeed the Regency was amazingly ‘modern’ – perhaps even more modern than we are today, as they still believed in ‘progress’ then…

    The Regency architect John Soane, in particular, is almost Art Deco in his pared-down ornament, and almost Bauhausian in the way he juggles volumes, masses and openings.

    And as you suggest the contained grids of the library shelves may well have appealed to Colt Hoare’s scholarly sensibility.

    And Janet has just retweeted an apposite quote from Jorge Luis Borges: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

  9. Sean Sawyer Says:

    I was recently at Stourhead and enjoyed a wonderful half an hour in the library – there’s a great series of sketch portraits that I’d like to know more about.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Sean, I will try to find out for you.

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Sean, the portraits in black chalk you are referring to depict Sir Richard Colt Hoare and his friends and relatives. The artist, Stephen Catterson Smith the Elder was patronised by Colt Hoare, and stayed with him at Stourhead in the late 1820s. The group of portraits was given to Stourhead by Mr H.P.R. Hoare in 1982.

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