A History of the House
Stowe House was begun by Sir Richard Temple in 1676, his family having risen from sheep farmers under Elizabeth I. Over the next century, Viscount Cobham and then Earl Temple (Cobham’s Grenville nephew) rebuilt it into the great classical show House and landscape which still amazes visitors today.
Numerous famous architects worked at Stowe House and Gardens. Among them were Sir John Vanbrugh, William Kent, James Gibbs, Robert Adam, Thomas Pitt and Sir John Soane, making Stowe one of the most important houses and estates in the country.
Meanwhile, the Temple-Grenville family and their Pitt relatives dominated much of 18th and early 19th Century politics. There were four prime ministers from this family in about 50 years.
Many members of European and Russian royal families visited over the years and this culminated in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s 3 day visit in 1845. She is said not to have been impressed by the 2nd Duke’s lavish hospitality and the preparation for the visit left him hugely in debt.
In 1848, however, over-spending led to the great sale of the House contents. The 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos died in 1889 leaving the estate to his daughter, Lady Kinloss. When her eldest son was killed early on in World War I, the Stowe Estate was sold to Harry Shaw in 1921. Unable to present Stowe to the nation due to a lack of an endowment, he resold it, separating the House and Gardens from the contents once again. It was saved by the foundation of Stowe School in 1923.
When J F Roxburgh came as first Headmaster with 99 boys, he was determined that this was the first of the new public schools to bring education and fair treatment into the 20th Century. He was resolute that every pupil leaving Stowe would “know beauty when he sees it all his life”.
Amateur architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, later of Portmeirion fame, was instrumental in turning an empty, 18th Century palace into a boarding school. Over the years, many well-known and rising architects have added their mark on the school buildings.
Because the estate was not requisitioned during World War II, it survived demolition, the fate of many other important country houses in the 1950s.
Stowe House was designed as a show house. From its impressive 1770s entrance hall, the Marble Saloon, visitors could, and still can, enjoy the spectacular views in four directions through the House. The line of the State Rooms stretches for 150 metres.
Stowe House Preservation Trust was formed in 1997 and the School granted a 99 year lease of the House to the Trust. This meant that the Trust could apply for Heritage Lottery funding to help restore the House. It depends on generous donations from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, and the Getty Grant Program, the World Monument Fund, Shanks First Landfill Grant and individual donors.
Two phases have been completed out of a six phase programme of restoration. Phase one (2000-02) included the North Front, colonnades and screen walls. Phase two (2003-05) included the Central Pavilion roof and dome, the South Portico and steps, and the impressive Marble Saloon. A Visitor Interpretation Centre was also created to help visitors understand the history of the House and family.
Phases three and six began in July 2009 and will last, depending upon funding, for two years. The restoration began with the State Library and will continue with the rest of the State Room interiors and the whole of the South Front. Your visit helps this continuous process of fundraising and restoration.