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The Building Reserve

Stowe Landscape Gardens


The Building Reserve is the area designated by Stowe School for development. It runs southwest from the house to the southern Boycott Pavilion, and it is bordered on the north by the Course and on the south by the Home Park. In the Building Reserve are located most of the functional buildings relating to the School, including the Chapel, the School Shop, the Science Blocks, the Halls of Residence, and staff accommodation.


Much of the history of the Building Reserve has to do with the creation and removal of temples and other garden structures and walks that no longer exist, the entire area having been built up since the 1920s with School facilities. It seems most fruitful to direct the reader to the section of Michael Bevington's book on former garden buildings to see information on the following: the Temple of Bacchus, Coucher's Obelisk, St. Augustine's Cave, and Nelson's Seat, all of which were demolished at one point or another. See Bevington's page on the Menagerie as well.

The Building Reserve consists to a large extent (along with the northern edge of the Home Park) of a triangular area of ground that Lord Cobham began to develop west of the House in 1718 and 1719 and that enclosed some of the first garden buildings. This was initially bounded on the south by the Great Cross Walk, a remnant of the layout of the earlier gardens when they were designed on a more exactly north-south axis. The Great Cross Walk no longer exists, but it ran east and west along a line between Lee's Bastion in the middle of the southern part of the Course to the Temple of Ancient Virtue. Later the area was extended southeast along the Course to the Boycott Pavilions.

In keeping with the gardening style of the time, the area was parceled out in geometric shapes and all of the major walks were narrow and straight. Nelson's Seat and the Temple of Bacchus were the first buildings to be built in the area, the former located at the northeast end of Nelson's Walk, which ran along the line of the ha-ha parallel to the Course. Both the building and the walk were named for the gang-foreman William Nelson who oversaw their development. The Temple of Bacchus was located to the south, and facing it -- first over a plot of grass and later over a reflecting pool -- was an obelisk dedicated to the memory of Reverend Robert Coucher, chaplain to Lord Cobham's dragoons. Both Nelson's Seat and the Temple of Bacchus were designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, who also designed the Lake Pavilions at the lower end of the South Front.

A Pyramid, also designed by Vanbrugh, was either erected in 1725 on Lee's Bastion and then moved the next year to a point farther southwest or erected at that point in 1726 as a memorial to Vanbrugh, who died that year. The Pyramid, in this latter location, stood at the then northwest corner of the park and punctuated the end of two long walks -- one leading east toward the Temple of Bacchus, the other leading south toward the Gibbs' Building and the Eleven Acre Lake. Nearby, to the north, where a new entrance to the park had been made, was the original location for the sculpture of Hercules and Antaeus which was later moved to the Grecian Valley in 1756.

Closer to the House, between Nelson's Seat and the Temple of Bacchus was a round hedged enclosure or cabinet that housed statues of the seven Saxon Deities (representing the days of the week) and an altar. The Survey suggests that the Deities were made at the same time (1729) and by the same sculptor (Rysbrack) who made the busts for the Temple of Fame, formerly the Gibbs' Building. The cabinet existed by 1720, replete with niches for statuary. The Saxon Deities were later moved to an area in the northern end of Hawkwell Field, between Lord Cobham's Monument and the Gothic Temple, in the early 1740s, when Lancelot "Capability" Brown began "naturalizing" several areas of the garden.

The Survey reports that "in 1771 there are references to 'making scaffolding for the Pyramid' which is likely to refer to the scaffolding needed in order to take it down. It seems to have been only partly taken down, leaving the base. . . ." There were evidently plans to erect another monument in its place, this one dedicated to William Pitt and others, as Bevington remarks. In 1773 Nelson's Seat was rebuilt with a Doric tetrastyle portico, but it did not survive for more than twenty years before it was demolished and its bastion removed to make way for a new drive to the North Front of the House. Likewise, as suggested above, the entire character area has lost all but traces of its former landscape features because of its being developed by the School.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College,