Today, is our final day in Wiltshire and the end of our exploration of this beautiful region of England. We visited the outstanding gardens of Stourhead – the last remaining place we had yet to see in this region.
Stourhead is a 1,072-hectare estate at the source of the River Stour near Mere, Wiltshire and includes a Palladian mansion, the village of Stourton, gardens, farmland, and some woodland. The garden is quintessentially English. It is a beautiful example of a garden inspired by the great landscape painters of the seventeenth century. It has quite a fascinating hiatory.
The Barons of Stourton, had lived in the Stourhead estate for 500 years until they sold it to Sir Thomas Meres in 1714. His son, John Meres, sold it to Henry Hoare, son of the wealthy Sir Richard Hoare in 1717. The Hoare family were bankers; owning the largest private bank in England. It still operates today out of its Fleet Street headquarters
The original manor house was demolished and a new house was built between 1721 and 1725. Over the next 200 years the Hoare family collected many heirlooms, including a large library and art collection. In 1902 the house was gutted by fire but many of the heirlooms were saved, and the house was rebuilt in a near identical style.
The last Hoare family member to own the property was Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare who gave the house and gardens to the National Trust in 1946. A year before this, his sole heir and son, Captain “Harry” Hoare, of the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry, had died of wounds received at the Battle of Mughar Ridge (Palestine) during World War I. He was shot through the lung and cared for, until he died, by his soldier servant. This loyalty was rewarded by the family with a cottage and an endowment from the will of Harry’s father.
I understand that Harry’s cousin could have inherited the estate but because he did not send a letter of condolence at the time of Harry’s death, the family cut him out of the will. He did inherit a Baroncy, but not the property. Perhaps he would now be grateful that he wasn’t encumbered with the huge debt and maintenance costs of such an enormous estate.
It began to rain as we drove back to our hotel. We returned via a southerly route that took us through Winton, near Salisbury.and drove for many miles along a series of narrow country lanes and enjoyed some of the little hamlets we came across along the way. At one place, we found a little 13th Century church that stood out on the skyline against the dark sky. Again, we dodged cars going the other way, a semi-trailer that too the entire width of the road around a tight corner and mad Audi drivers who seem to believe that they have a right to drive everywhere at round double the speed limit. They, and the aggressive drivers of white vans (local ‘tradies’), are a force to be reckoned with!