Character Areas Tour
The Hermitage was built by William Kent at about the same time as he built the Temple of Venus, just to the west on Pegg's Terrace, in 1731. Lord Cobham had recently extended his gardens to the west to enclose the Home Park with the two terraces that make up this area, and he had subsequently flooded the area immediately south of the Home Park to create the Eleven Acre Lake. The Hermitage stands on the southern edge of the Lake and faces roughly northward on an axis that leads toward the Rotunda.
Both Bevington and the Guide to the Gardens suggest that Kent was experimenting with a romantic style of architecture in this building: it is faced with rough stone, one of its two towers was built as a deliberate ruin, and a set of pan pipes was carved on the pediment above the door, as the photograph below shows.
The interior of the building is simple, as the next photograph indicates. Three niches with stone benches surround the square groin-vaulted room. The two niches to either side are semi-circular, while the one facing the door is simply a shallow archway in the back wall.
The Survey suggests that the Hermitage at Stowe was a copy of the one in Richmond in which Queen Caroline displayed the busts of a number of English philosophers. Although some hermitages actually housed hermits, who were paid to inhabit the buildings, the one at Stowe did not. For an interesting creative use of the idea of the hermitage in 18th-century garden design, please see Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia. For a panorama of the space in front of the Hermitage, with a view of the Rotunda across the lake and up the hill, please follow this link.
The position of the Hermitage close to the Temple of Venus and across from the Rotunda allowed for Gilbert West in his poem about the gardens to suggest that the Hermitage was the final habitation for Malbecco, the elderly and miserly husband of Hellenore from the story in Book III of Spenser's The Faerie Queene. This story was depicted in paintings in the interior of the Temple of Venus and it appears in greater detail on that Temple's page. After Hellenore rejected Malbecco and chose instead to spend her life with a band of satyrs, Spenser explains that Malbecco went mad from jealousy and lived out the rest of his miserable life in a cave. The view from the door of the Hermitage of the Rotunda with its statue of Venus is in keeping with West's appropriation of Spenser's story for Stowe.