The landscaped gardens at Stourhead are a sort of pastiche Greek paradise comprising of a dammed lake surrounded by an assortment of stone structures including temples, pantheon, Palladian bridge and, for good measure, a Gothic cottage. The homage is set within a narrow valley planted with tall, exotic trees. Above the valley, there is a huge sandstone house fronted by four oversized, pillars with a long view across the south Wiltshire downs. The architect adapted the elegant and beautifully balanced design of Palladio’s Villa Emo to create an uncompromising facade of overwhelming power. The architectural style was all the rage during the Whig Supremacy and undoubtedly carbuncular in its day to many. This pile was built by a family of London bankers that made substantial sums from the South Sea Company, which itself made eye-watering profits, before the famous bubble burst, from slavery. Not surprising then that Rule, Britannia! was top of the pops in 1740. Perhaps ‘No slavery please, we’re British’ was playing in Drury Lane? The house includes the grandest of libraries, abundant Chippendale furniture, a collection of intricately painted cabinets and many great paintings. If material reparations are ever to be made, then there are a good few bob here for a start.
The most unassuming part of the estate is the walled garden; an acre or so of high, red brick walls sheltering beautifully laid out plots full of flowers, fruit and vegetables. It was carefully hidden from view; where functionality was foremost, with neither aspirations of classical grandeur, nor installations of pretentious art. The walls kept the wind and the gentry out and the grubby gardeners and their wheelbarrows in; the outcome is magical.