Stowe’s legacy

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.

View across the Octagon Lake towards the Lake Pavilions and the Corinthian Arch at Stowe. ©NTPL/Rod Edwards

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.

The Palladian Bridge at Stowe, which inspired the one at Hagley. ©NTPL/Rod Edwards

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.

The politically motivated Temple of British Worthies, which includes busts of King Alfred and the Black Prince. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

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. 

Page of illustrations from Benton Seeley's 1750 Stowe guidebook. ©National Trust

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.

The Cooke and Grenville monuments at Stowe, shown in an 1805 view by J.C. Nattes. The rostral column was copied at Tsarskoye Selo. ©National Trust

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.

6 Responses to “Stowe’s legacy”

  1. Parnassus Says:

    The Palladian bridge is my favorite image here. I remember reading about Stowe in a history of landscaping course.

    Also, thanks for linking to the V&A site. I had a lot of fun looking through the catalog, making new discoveries and visiting old favorites, such as their elegant, elegant Taskin harpsichord:
    I cannot believe that this is not on display; pictures cannot do justice to it.

    –Road to Parnassus

  2. Gary Webb Says:

    Such a web of intrigue is Stowe, so much there to complicate the picture but its a handsome plot. Amazing place & a credit to the National Trust, can’t wait to see the new facilities when they’re all done.

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Parnassus, yes that Taskin harpsichord is a wonderful piece, isn’t it – and interesting in that the japanned decoration imitates East Asian lacquer, like the work of Giles Grendey in England in the beginning of the eighteenth century, rather than using the more Rococo chinoiserie style of Boucher or Pillement.

    Gary, yes Stowe is endlessly fascinating, isn’t it. And as you say, the New Inn, where visitors to the garden used to stay, is being rwstored to create a new visitor centre.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    And here is Gary’s own recent post about a visit to Stowe:

  5. ldm Says:

    This is an excellent history of the Grenville family published in 1994:

    Rise and Fall of the Grenvilles: Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, 1710 to 1921

    I don’t know how much it overlaps with the NT’s new publication, but it is well worth reading by anyone interested in the Grenvilles’ rise and fall.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much for that tip. Yes the arc of the Temple-Grenville family fortunes is extraordinary, a gripping story of ambition, grandeur, hubris and precipitate decline.

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