Character Areas Tour
Buildings and Monuments
The following history of the park is a transcription of Chapter XVII of Michael Bevington's book Stowe: The Garden and the Park, the text of which the author has kindly permitted me to post on this Web site.
Stowe's park grew steadily for over two centuries. From its start in the middle of the seventeenth century, the deer park expanded to cover about 535 acres under the third Duke in 1868. By then it formed a great protective barrier on three sides of the garden. Nowadays it has mainly reverted to fields. Further out, Stowe's rural setting was bordered by Stowe Woods (which adjoined the ancient Whittlebury Forest) and the Grand and Oxford Avenues.
The different sections of Stowe's various parks have all been linked by the most rigid feature of the wider landscape: the old Roman Road. This ran south-west from Towcester to Bicester, crossing the parish of Stowe by the longest ridge, now the main entrance avenue or the Course. Where it changes direction east of the Grecian Valley an early Roman pottery kiln was discovered in 1990. The village of Stowe probably developed close to the crossroads with another Roman route from the important religious centre at Thornborough. The 'Owlde' park and the new park lie south of the road and west of the village; the large park straddles the road to the north.
There was a park at Stowe in the early thirteenth century and by 1572 there was a small 'old Park', probably the 'Owlde Parke' of 1633, covering 77 acres. It is possibly the area known as Home Park by 1719, by which time it had long been replaced by the deer park which lay to the north-east of the garden. This next park stretched approximately between the later features of General Wolfe's Obelisk and the Bourbon Tower. The first 200 acres were enclosed in 1649 by Sir Peter Temple, Lord Cobham's grandfather, who bought a herd of deer from Lord Spencer at Wicken in 1651. The park was extended northwards to the edge of Stowe Woods, the vast tract of forest which still retains the lines of some of its early seventeenth-century rides as far as Silverstone Motor Circuit in Northamptonshire. The main riding was aligned on the tower of Stowe Church. By 1727 the large park contained 400 acres. The population of Stowe fell during this period: in 1706 there were 41 families; in1709 32, with a population of 180, and in 1712 only 30 families were recorded.
To allow for the garden's extension eastwards, Lord Cobham re-routed the approach from Buckingham to the west in c1732. This required a new entrance in place of the Doric Arch (probably by Vanbrugh and then north-east of the house), so Kent built his gateway between the Boycott Pavilions, thus allowing the deer park to be extended down the Straight Course; his father-in-law had bought Boycott in 1717. In 1741 Lord Cobham built the Keeper's Lodge (now the Bourbon Tower) on the highest point to control the large deer park. He had, already, in 1738, added Stowe Castle as a feature in Castle Riding and as an eye-catcher visible from the garden.
Earl Temple continued this policy of embellishing the large park: he had the Great Barn moved from Wotton in 1750 to near the Conduit House; in 1753 he moved John King from the Home Farm he had established at Wotton in 1742 to Stowe, and in 1755 he rebuilt the former Guglio as the Obelisk, later dedicating it to General Wolfe. His main concern, however, was to develop the approach drives. In 1760 he built the Oxford Bridge, moved Kent's Gateway and added a pair of Ionic Lodges at Water Stratford. In the same year he built another pair of Lodges at Luffield to mark the northern end of the Silverstone drive. In 1755 he planted 3,000 beech setts as clumps in the park and by 1759 John Adam, brother of Robert, approved of its 'more natural and easy forms. Most of the hedges are also taken away and the trees thinned in such a manner as to have a beautiful effect in scenery.'
In 1762 Earl Temple turned his attention to the southern approach from Buckingham. First he felled the Abele Walk south of the house and then rebuilt the Bell Gate so that in 1764 he could move the Lake Pavilions further apart. Next, in 1765, he built the Corinthian Arch on the top of the first ridge, and finally, in about 1775 and following the enclosure of the parish of Radclive-cum-Chackmore, he laid out and then planted the Grand or Stowe Avenue. The drive through Culley's Park linking the Avenue with the Oxford Entrance now took full advantage of the magnificent reflection of the East Boycott created by the Lower Oxford Water. By 1775 the park was said to contain 585 acres, but this figure probably included much of Stowe Woods.
The Marquess, like his uncle, was also concerned about improving the grand approaches. His most significant change before the money started to run out was to re-align the final approach of the main drive at an angle to the house. A little later, in about 1803, he moved the equestrian statue of King George I to its present position. Shortage of money probably forced him to abandon the scheme to continue the Oxford Avenue in a direct line to Tingewick, but he planted this avenue in 1804 as far as the two old Water Stratford Lodges. To add dignity as well as a gatekeeper's lodge to Stowe Avenue, he had the two Buckingham Lodges built in about 1805. It was probably Earl Temple who had added the two military columns near the Corinthian Arch by 1780. Other changes included developing Home Farm in 1791, building the Gothic Umbrello [Conduit House] in 1793, planting trees around the Bourbon Tower in 1808, and creating the large Kitchen Garden in Dadford. In 1796 the park was stocked, at least in part, with sheep and cattle. Two years after his death in 1813, the Stowe estate had reached over 1,300 acres, including Stowe Woods and neighbouring farms.
It was probably the first Duke who extended the park in the early nineteenth century by adding the new deer park to the west and south of the garden. This extension, stretching from the Boycott Pavilions to the Corinthian Arch, thus formed a picturesque setting for his new Queen's Drive of c1821 and its two New Ponds of c1838 (now Copper Bottom, etc. after closing a public path). In 1824 he had 435 deer. The extension also allowed part of the large deer park to become the cavalry drill park for the Bucks Yeomanry with the former cannon and rifle range constructed across the edge of what are now the Bourbon Playing Fields. To the north of the park the first Duke extended the private carriage drive to Silverstone in c1820, building the pair of stone lodges where it joins the present main road. Later, in c1833, he improved this drive toward Stowe near the Root House River. He must also have erected the Chackmore Fountain on the eastern side of Stowe Avenue in probably 1831.
Because of his own and his father's debts, the second Duke lost most of the Buckinghamshire estate, including Stowe Woods. Only the deer park, the garden and the two main approach avenues were kept, and even these had much of their timber felled to satisfy some of the creditors. Before his financial crash, however, he spent as recklessly as ever on lodges by Blore (e.g. Garden Lodge of 1839, Lamport Lodge of 1840 and Water Stratford Lodge of 1843). Much of this was the result of his fear of prying eyes -- and, doubtless, creditors. In addition he turned the Bourbon Tower into a mock fort, rebuilt much of the kitchen garden in Dadford on a lavish scale and hosted many a shooting party.
The third Duke had much replanting to do from 1862. He also enlarged his domains like many a Victorian landowner seeking to maintain his privacy and he re-introduced deer: there were 23 red and 120 fallow in 1886. He tried to complete the park's virtual encirclement of the garden by moving the public road between the Corinthian Arch and Stowe Castle down into Chackmore in 1868 and by building the New Road west of Chackmore towards Dadford. He took a particular interest in Home Farm and his long-horn cattle, also encouraging the use of steam machinery on his tenants' farms. He commissioned a design for a new lodge, perhaps for where the security cabin is by Bruce House, but no doubt economies and aesthetics prevailed.
By 1892, three years after the third Duke's death, the number of deer had been reduced to 20 red and 86 fallow. Lady Kinloss disposed of the longhorn cattle and much of the park was divided into fields. When the estate was sold in 1922, the new School could afford to purchase, in addition to the house and garden, only the new deer park on the south and enough of the drill park on the north-east to provide the necessary playing fields and access to public roads. In total, with Stowe Avenue, it came to some 775 acres. The northern part of the park, including General Wolfe's Obelisk and Home Farm, had been sold separately in 1921.
Since 1989 the National Trust has bought much adjacent land, in addition to the Oxford Avenue which it purchased in 1985: the strip of land next to the Roman Road for a car-park (1989); 57 acres between Lamport and Stowe Castle to allow part of Castle Riding to be replanted (1994); 60 acres of Great Hawkwell Field from New Inn Farm to allow the replanting of part of Bycell Avenue (1995); and 320 acres of Home Farm (1995). Moreover, the Trust has established a Freeholders' Association to encourage neighbouring landowners to preserve the wider designed landscape.
Much of the original Stowe Woods has now disappeared, although several of the old ridings survive as paths and roads. The northern end now lies under Silverstone Racing Circuit, based on the aerodrome constructed in 1943. The cottage still survives near Black Pit in Stowe Woods where T. H. White lived from 1936 after four years as Head of English at Stowe School. It was here that he wrote The Goshawk a few years before 1939, although he withheld it from publication until 1951 to protect a pair of hobbies, one of the rarest falcons then breeding in England; in fact they were driven out of the Woods by the arrival of the airfield. He also wrote there The Sword in the Stone, published in 1939, part of The Once and Future King.
Most of the park has reverted to fields for pasture and some arable, but it has continued to deveop functions of its own. Part of the Drill Park has long been replaced by the Bourbon Playing Fields, while the southern park has annually hosted the Norths Bucks Show in aid of local charities. It has also provided a venue for the Game Fair held at Stowe in 1971 and 1981, along with the Stowe Horse Trials, founded in 1983, the year of the School's Diamond Jubilee. The Trust is planning to replant 4,000 trees in the park and to keep longhorn cattle, just like the third Duke.