Character Areas Tour
Outside the garden, to the east of the northern portion of Lamport Fields and located on the highest point of the Cavalry Drill Park, stands the Bourbon Tower, built in 1741 as the Keeper's Lodge. At the time it was built, both the Tower and its immediate surroundings looked somewhat different than they do in the photograph below. Instead of its present octagonal turret, the Tower was topped by a conical roof, rising at nearly a 45-degree angle; and it stood on a level plot of ground -- the dry moat and redoubt that now surround it were not yet created.
The building was called the Keeper's Lodge because it was built to house a game-keeper. Bevington in his Templa Quam Dilecta Series notes that the Tower's location allowed extensive views over the Old Deer Park, which surrounded the garden to the north and east, and which was susceptible to poaching.
Bevington suggests that the design of the Tower is unusual in terms of contemporary architecture and that it reflects both a classical Roman influence in the regularity of its features and a medieval British influence in its splayed ground floor. He also points out that the Tower was built at about the same time and of the same ironstone as the Gothic Temple nearby to the southwest, just inside what was then the eastern boundary of the garden, but that the overall design as well as the architectural details of the Tower indicate that James Gibbs, who designed the Gothic Temple, did not design this contemporary structure. Instead, Bevington suggests that "a sketch by Gibbs or Lord Cobham could have been interpreted by a skilled mason or even 'Capability' Brown, the likely author of Lord Cobham's Pillar and the Queen's Temple: although he had arrived at Stowe in only March 1741, to copy a fine building for a lodge in the Park would have been a safe beginning for his career as an architect."
The Keeper's Lodge became the Bourbon Tower early in 1808, when Louis XVIII, titular King of France, visited Stowe for several days with a large retinue. The Marquess of Buckingham had been instrumental in making the king comfortable in exile first by renting him Gosfield Hall in Essex and later by providing financial help for him to rent Hartwell Hall near Aylesbury. According to Bevington, "it was at Hartwell that Louis XVIII signed the constitutional Document of Accession and from which he returned in 1814 to France after the fall of Napoleon. . . . It is said partly to have been at his request that the second Marquess of Buckingham was raised to the Dukedom in 1822." The highlight of the royal visit to Stowe in 1808 was a ceremony in which the king and the other male members of the French royal family planted clumps of oak trees around the Tower. The Seeley Guidebook of 1817 provides the following translation of a Latin inscription commemorating the event:
To its Honours and the Throne of its Ancestors,
May establish and secure
The tranquility of Europe,
The Blessings of a rightful Government,
And the maintenance of Social and Religious Order,
May God in his mercy grant.
To perpetuate the Recollection of the period
LOUIS XVIII, King of France and Navarre,
On the 13th of January, MDCCCVIII,
In 1843 the second Duke, who maintained an intense interest in the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry Cavalry and served as the Colonel Commandant of its Second Regiment, fortified the Bourbon Tower to bring it into its present form. The conical roof was replaced with a flat one, and the architect Edward Blore designed the octagonal turret that now stands 24 feet above the center of the roof. The turret was originally crenelated -- that is, it had battlements at the top. At this time the second Duke also removed four smaller towers that had since 1805 surrounded the larger one, and in their place dug the moat and raised the redoubt. Under the redoubt a magazine for storing gunpowder was dug, and on the west side a saluting battery was built. Bevington reports that the cannon were used not only for artillery practice by the Yeomanry but also "to salute the arrival and departure on the North Front of visitors like Queen Victoria."
At present, the Bourbon Tower is derelict, but Bevington mentions plans to convert it to a residence for the Head Gardener. The building has four floors: the ground floor, which in 1921 consisted of a kitchen and scullery, a first and second floor with two bedrooms on each, and a third floor consisting of one large room lit by skylights. A narrow spiral stone staircase provides access to each of the upper floors.