Book Review: Stourhead: Henry Hoare’s Paradise Revisited
Stourhead: Henry Hoare’s Paradise Revisited
Head of Zeus, 2021
In his introduction to this publication James Stourton, Stour Provost, tells us of the author’s feeling of the garden as ‘enduring rather than timeless’. Dodd looks to capture these enduring changes, of the owners, the history and landscape of this iconic site, to help us learn more about it and how it came to be.
From Stourhead: Henry Hoare’s Paradise Revisited we learn more about the dominant characters who have shaped the life of the house and gardens. Dodd enables us to get closer to the Hoare family; entrepreneurs who managed to gain a standing in society. Their interest in art and culture is illuminated, as is their expansion of creativity towards the gardens too which led to rich imaginings and radical ideas. The Hoares, like many, toured Italy, bringing a little of the country back with them through the items they bought and the influences that helped develop the house and landscape.
The gardens at Stourhead are investigated in detail and include fascinating reproductions of original plans dating back to the 18th century. Included are details of many since demolished pieces such as the ‘Gothick Greenhouse’ and the ‘Chinese Alcove’ (interestingly described in a rhyme). There was also a Chinese bridge with appears not to have been for the faint hearted. Garden seating also has its place as an art form.
Stourhead has had its critics, and some of these views are included, providing a fascinating and many faceted view of the family and their choice to move away from convention and do things a little differently, at a site to which the public has been invited to tour since the 19th century. The book goes on to chart the downfall of the estate during the late Victorian era, ending in tragedy for the house and its owners, and the eventual gifting of the estate to the National Trust in 1946.
The stunning photographs by Marianne Majerus are classic centrepieces reminding us of the beauty and tranquillity of the site in the present. Additional images are interspersed with the text, as we are treated to a range of artistic works in the Stourhead collection, a wonderful mix of the old and the new. The book contains an index and interesting appendices, including comments from visitors in the 18th century and a list of plantings from 1741-1946.
Stourhead: Henry Hoare’s Paradise Revisited is a lavish extravaganza, a journey through an unforgettable estate, this ‘Enduring Elysium’. A truly interesting, enjoyable and engaging read.
County Local Studies Librarian
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre