The Development of the National Trust Garden

After years of financial struggles and with the last heir passing away during WWI, Stowe was at risk of demolition. The estate was sold in July 1921 for £50,000 to Harry Shaw, followed by further sales of contents and statues in 1922. The estate was sold at a later date to the governing body that would later form Stowe School. 

As the years went by, resources were focused towards developing, the house to form classrooms, dormitories and facilities. Meanwhile, the sheer scale of upkeep of over one thousand acres and forty monuments were too monumental. In order to preserve Britain’s most important landscape garden, the Stowe School Governors, Stowe Garden Building Trust and a generous donor agreed that the garden needed an alternative custodian. Consequently, the National Trust was gifted the garden in 1989 to ensure a ten-year restoration programme of over £10 million could begin.   

Major overhaul 

The National Trust spent its first ten years prioritising the largest temples that were in jeopardy of falling down or those that were hidden amongst a jungle of trees and shrubs that had taken hold over the years. Here are some of the many sights before and after restoration. 

An engraving of the Bell Gate garden entrance

Stowe – a tourist destination  

During the early 90s, The National Trust sold visitor admission tickets from a ticket shed by the front gates of the Oxford Avenue that led you up past the parkland and Stowe House. Visitors would enter the gardens near the Temple of Concord and Victory. As visitor numbers grew so did a welcome area until the facilities were no longer suitable.  

In 2003, after acquiring the New Inn the National Trust began planning the restoration of the historical visitors’ entrance to the garden. In the 1700s tourists experienced monumental views as they drove up Stowe Avenue to the Corinthian Arch and stayed at the New Inn. Guests would then walk down the Bell Gate Drive, to ring a bell and pay the gardener a fee to be admitted. Now modern visitors can follow in the footsteps of eighteenth-century tourists, exploring the garden and house as intended by Lord Cobham.  

Recent restorations 

From 2015-19, the National Trust undertook a programme of restoration to enhance the landscape with multiple projects that would help narrate the layers of meanings that had been woven into the garden design but had been lost after the sales of Stowe. Original statues were traced and copies made and areas of the garden were recreated and opened according to historic plans. 

Working in partnership  

We work closely with our partners at Stowe School and the National Trust to enhance our visitors’ experience of Stowe. An amazing testament to Britain's history, we encourage you to explore the breadth of the garden and the stories in the house - after all, they were created to be seen as one by the Temple-Grenville family.

Please check our 'Plan your visit' page to help tailor your day to see the best of both. House tickets can be pre-booked online, bought at the National Trust Visitor Centre or at the Stowe House Discovery Centre. As an independent charity, we rely upon ticket income and sales from our café and shop the maintain and restore the house. Though we are a separate organisation to the National Trust, we do offer a discounted ticket rate for members.