Restoration Intern Twilight Tour

30 July 2015

It was dusk as we made our way up the six flights of stairs onto the roof of the ducal palace. From here we could see five English counties, so they say…

Looking south it was a clear summer’s evening. ‘The finest view in England’ continued past the Lake Pavilions and the Corinthian Arch and beyond. This archway represented the ‘Path through Life’ and linked the centre of the South Front to the spire of Buckingham church behind it. To follow this linear walk through the garden was a reminder at every step to follow a virtuous way of life. This was the political, physical and spiritual spine of the garden, and the family.

The two climates could not have depicted Stowe with more authenticity. The life of the estate and its family comes in two halves: indulgence and demise. Viscount Cobham, his nephew Richard Grenville, and then his nephew again, George Grenville, the 1st Marquess of Buckingham, had all let their fancies and their thousands fly from their pockets and into their sumptuous home and garden. When George Grenville died in 1813, his son began to live beyond his means of support. The Marquess had obtained sinecures (positions requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefits) which returned him pay-outs from numerous government contracts. Upon his death these sources of income were lost. Richard Grenville gained the dukedom the family had dreamed of, but this was also the ironic symbol of a series of extravagant losses. His son, the 2nd Duke, was the biggest debtor in England at the time, owing what would nowadays be the sum of £120 million. There was a calm, and then there was a storm. And it had devastating consequences: the bailiffs arrived in August 1847.

Back on the roof, to the east we could spot Cobham’s Monument, the highest point on the site. Perhaps also symbolic of the peak of creativity and political success at Stowe, it was never higher than that achieved under his ownership.

Cobham’s Monument, a prominent figure on the fluffy horizon, can be spotted over the rooftops of Stowe School’s boarding houses: Grafton, Walpole and Cobham itself.

The roof of the Marble Saloon was another salient silhouette to break the skyline. The room is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. Its distinguishing features include its oval, rather than circular, shape and the glazed opening to suit it’s English, rather than warm Italian, setting. The lead roofing of Stowe is prize-winning, a feat of modern engineering and restoration that was unrivalled at the time (2003). Stowe’s future is still inspired by its pioneering past. But we hope that whilst success returns to Stowe, there will be no fall to counter its climb.