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The Course and North Front

Stowe Landscape Gardens



Location

The Course is the name given to the long avenue that forms the northwest boundary of the gardens. (The Survey suggests that the name refers either to deer coursing or to horse racing.) It follows the line of a Roman road, and the southern section of it forms the main drive to the North Front of the house for visitors arriving by either the Oxford Road or the Buckingham Road, which joins it at the Boycott Pavilions on the southern end.


Buildings and Monuments

A map of the Course and North Front


History

The Survey claims that, although the landscape history of this character area before the 1680s is not known, proposal drawings for the North Court made between 1680 and 1683 indicate that the basic layout for the area was already established at that time and did not change significantly before the 1719 Bridgeman plan was drawn. The Course followed the axis of the old Roman road, and the only buildings of note along its length are the Boycott Pavilions to the southwest and the Equestrian Statue of George the First in line with the House.

This statue was in place by 1723 or 1724, but it was located on the Course itself, on a mount. Between it and the House was a canal which, according to the Survey, was dug in 1716, lined with clay the next year, and completed in 1719. It was in the form of a narrow rectangle, in line with the central axis of the house, having a rounded end on the north. At the southern end of the canal were two river gods pouring water from their urns into the water below. Between the canal and the house was the North Court -- a paved area with a semi-circular northern end surrounded by a low post-and-rail fence. The North Front of the House itself was altered in the 1720s with the addition of the north portico and towers on the corners. It was not until the 1770s, however, that the colonnades and the attic storey were added to the House -- at about the same time as the South Front was being altered for the final time.

According to the Survey, there are a number of accounts in 1721 for planting large numbers of beech trees on either side of the canal. The Survey also notes that Gilbert West, in his poem on Stowe, describes these rows of trees as appearing like opposed armies, and that Lord Cobham had been a soldier in the Duke of Marlborough's army. Sir John Vanbrough had previously designed the Grand Avenue at Marlborough's seat, Blenheim Palace, where the trees were supposed to represent soldiers in the Battle of Blenheim. It is possible that a similar theme was intended at Stowe.

The Boycott Pavilions (so named after a nearby village) were built in 1727-1728, the southern one built first as an open structure punctuating the southwest end of Nelson's Walk, and the northern one built within a year as an enclosed house intended for a friend and comrade in arms of Lord Cobham. The Pavilions were built as James Gibbs designed them, with pyramidal roofs which continued the architectural theme of Vanbrugh's Pyramid and Coucher's Obelisk in the area of the Building Reserve and the guglio in the center of the Octagon Lake. These roofs were replaced by octapartite domes topped by cupolas in 1758, and the buildings remain in this state.

Between the two Pavilions was a gateway designed by William Kent and built, according to Bevington, in 1731. This gateway was later taken down and re-erected in 1760 on the far side of the Oxford Water near the junction of the Oxford Avenue and the Chackmore road. About the same time, the canal between the Statue of George the First and the House was filled in (the beech groves on either side having been almost completely felled in 1741). The statue itself was relocated closer to the House around 1803 when the North Court was redesigned with a carriage drive that follows the lines of the colonnade.

Other than these final changes around the turn of the 19th Century, little was done to the Course and North Front until 1945, when the remaining elms lining the Oxford Avenue were compulsorily felled during the war. The Avenue was replanted with two types of limes in 1952 and 1957.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu