Inn side story

The Corinthian Arch at Stowe. ©National Trust/John Millar

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.

A view of the New Inn by Jean-Claude Nattes, 1809, in Buckinghamshire County Museum

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 New Inn following its restoration. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

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.

Eighteenth-century graffiti at the New Inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

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 Parlour, with a draught-excluding settle next to the fireplace. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

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 Tap Room. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

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 courtyard seen from above, showing the layout of a traditional inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

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.  

10 Responses to “Inn side story”

  1. Rosemary Says:

    The Corinthian Arch is magnificent – I seem to remember that you see it from the road before you actually arrive at the entrance for Stowe which helps the excitement mount. I have not visited for many years, so must make a visit and see the newly restored courtyard.

  2. Andrew Sheldon Says:

    “Visitors flocked” to Stowe. Now flocks visit! Pub renovation is amazingly good: could it be described as an essay on keeping inn keeping?

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Rosemary, yes Stowe is so theatrical in that way, isn’t it, like a series of grand stages.

    Andrew, I am glad that the linguistic juggling potential of this story has caught your inn to rest 🙂

  4. graham daw Says:

    After a few hold ups …and it’s open.I went there last summer for the fifth time-and was
    expecting the New Inn to welcome us.As it didn’t I considered the shortcomings of the northern approach.The main one is that of reaching the massive temple of concord and victory straight away rather than, say, from the far end of the Grecian Vale.It’s the climax without any arousal.So I look forward to savouring, this year, the
    New Inn approach.
    Looking at the tap room,Emile two drawers and part of the cupboard plinth are unpainted.What’s this?Identifying the new work?If so it seems a bit precious.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes I hope the excitement will now build up gradually 🙂

    I am not sure why those areas of woodwork remain unpainted in the photographs (some of the exterior doors ditto) – perhaps the work hadn’t quite been finished when the photographers visited – or as you suggest it might be an ‘archeological’ or ‘honest’ conservation approach. I will try to find out.

  6. Blue Says:

    I remember, and the parlour above reminds me of it, as a young teenager, going into an old inn on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border and being charmed by the old stone flags, the walls brown with nicotine, beamed ceiling, and the even the spittoons. Shortly afterwards, it was bought by a man whose daughter had trained at Cordon Bleu (I think), and he tarted it up with those kinds of windows that have circles in the glass between the fake leading, coffin stand tables, “comfy” settles and chairs and proceeded to sell chicken-in-a-basket as the main attraction on the menu. As hideous to me as the original must have been to him and his daughter.

  7. Hels Says:

    “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.” And “The National Trust has created additional visitor facilities on the footprint of the farm and stable block”.

    But I cannot tell if the entire estate was bought by the National Trust, or if the house remains in private hands while the gardens and out buildings were bought by the National Trust.

    I will still have a look, whatever your answer 🙂

  8. Andrew Says:

    I must get back to Stowe (and try to see the house this time).

    “authentic and enjoyable” sounds excellent. I wonder if you have any comments on Mary Beard’s account of her recent visit with some Cambridge classics students to Ickworth, including its new kitchens.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Barry, your memory of that inn being made inauthentically ‘authentic’ is very pertinent to this whole issue of how we present the past: in opening a historic place to the public you want people to have an enjoyable experience, but you also want that experience to be as authentic and true to history as possible.

    Essentially that is an impossible combination of opposites: we obviously don’t want people to experience the fleas and rubbish food which eighteenth-century visitors to the New Inn complained about, but at the same time you want to give them a hint or a flavour of what it was like then, because that is the raison d’etre of such a place.

    So you have to compromise in a sensible way and use a degree of artifice to convey a sense of the past that is historically correct without letting your buildings fall down or giving your visitors a stomach ache 🙂

    And that relates to that interesting link you provide, Andrew, to Professor Mary Beard’s blog post, which as it happens I read and discussed with colleagues yesterday. She describes very accurately (and good-humouredly) how the presentation of a historic place can occasionally go quite far in the direction of creating a version of the past that may not have actually been there, in order to provide an enjoyable and educational experience for the visitors.

    I agree with Professor Beard that if the presentation strays too far from historical accuracy you are in danger of obscuring the unique atmosphere and identity of a place that organisations like the National Trust are there to preserve. At the same time I understand the pressures on the colleagues who manage properties like Ickworth to provide a pleasurable day out for not just the art-historically-interested visitor but also for the families that make up a large percentage of our visitors.

    Recently there has been a push within the National Trust to become less ‘stuffy’, and as a result I personally think that the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far in some cases. Hopefully, with the help of comments from the likes of you and Professor Beard, it will swing back a bit so that we can achieve something like that ideal impossible compromise between truth and fun 🙂

    Helen, the recent history of ownership of Stowe is complicated, but the essential facts are that the family sold the house, garden and estate in 1921 and the house and gardens were then bought by what was to become Stowe School in 1922. The school looked after the house and grounds during the following decades. The National Trust became involved in an advisory capacity in 1967, and in 1990 took over the ownership of the gardens with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, English Heritage and an anonymous donor. In 1997 the Stowe House Preservation Trust was set up to manage the preservation and restoration of the house. With the help of a number of grant-givers and supporters it is undertaking a massive long-term programme of restoration. While still being used by the school, Stowe House is opened to the public as often as possible. Finally, as I mentioned above, the National Trust purchased the New Inn in 2005 to restore it, reincorporate it into the gardens and use it as a visitor centre. The Trust has also completed and is undertaking various other long-term restorations, some of which I have featured on this blog.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Graham, in answer to your question, the property manager of Stowe, David Brooks, has told me that the painting of the cupboards in the tap room was simply unfinished when the photographer was there (and has since been finished), but that the exterior doors were treated rather than painted and so remain as they appear in the photographs.

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