Stowe, with its famous landscape garden, has the longest bibliography of all National Trust properties. It has inspired and challenged visitors, artists and scholars ever since Lord Cobham began transforming it in the 1710s.
Any new publication about Stowe has to prove itself in that context. But Stowe: The People and the Place, by Michael Bevington and with contributions by George Clarke, Jonathan Marsden and Tim Knox, is an interesting addition to the literature partly because it descibes Stowe as a phenomenon, as a garden with a national and indeed international reputation.
Although it is notoriously difficult to establish the precise influence of one garden on another, echoes of Stowe can be found in a number of English gardens. At Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, Cobham’s nephew George Lyttleton erected a number of temples, a column and a Palladian bridge inspired by Stowe.
Frederick, Prince of Wales, added politically symbolic busts of King Alfred and the Black Prince to his garden at Carlton House, London, just as his ally Cobham had done at Stowe. The Prince of Wales also built a House of Confucius in his garden at Kew, which again seems to have been a subtly political emblem similar to Cobham’s Chinese House at Stowe.
However, Stowe also became well know abroad. There were so many French visitors that in 1748 a French guidebook entitled Les Charmes de Stow was published. Traces of Stowe can be found in gardens in France, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Italy, and even as far afield as Monticello, Virginia.
Stowe’s most direct and striking influence can be found in the pleasure grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, one of Catherine the Great of Russia’s residences. The famous ‘Frog’ dinner service that the Empress commissioned from Josiah Wedgewood in 1773, and which was decorated with British scenery, featured more views of Stowe than of any other place.