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Sunday 12 July 2015

The Ancient Temples of Stourhead

When Henry Hoare II inherited the Stourhead estate on the death of his mother in 1741, he had just returned from a grand tour of Europe. Deeply impressed by the classical architecture he had seen on the continent, with its roots in the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, he determined to recreate as much of it as possible at Stourhead. The result is probably the most highbrow garden in England!

Although I’ve been to Stourhead many times (it’s now owned by the National Trust, and just over the border from Somerset in Wiltshire), it was only on my last visit, six weeks ago, that it occurred to me to take some photographs. At the risk of being confused with Paul Jackson’s blog, Random Encounters with the Unusual, I thought I’d show a selection of them here (Paul hasn’t done Stourhead yet, although he did do a post about King Alfred’s Tower which is close by and dates from the same period).

The largest of Stourhead’s temples is the Pantheon, seen in the picture at the top of this post. As the name suggests, this is a kind of scaled-down version of the Pantheon in Rome (although with a much more picturesque setting). It was built in 1753 to a design by the architect Henry Flitcroft, who was also responsible for King Alfred’s Tower. In literal terms a “pantheon” would be a temple to “all the gods”, but at Stourhead it’s more a case of “all the classical–looking statues Henry Hoare II could get his hands on”. In pride of place at the centre is the Graeco-Roman hero Hercules, flanked by the Roman goddesses Diana, Flora and Ceres, the Greek hero Meleager, the Egyptian goddess Isis and even the Christian heroine St Susanna! Here is my picture of the Isis statue:
Flitcroft also designed Stourhead’s two other classical style temples. The first, built in 1743, was dedicated to the goddess Flora, and the other, dating from 1765, to the god Apollo. The latter is based on a circular temple at Baalbek (Heliopolis). The Temple of Flora is difficult to photograph because it’s right by the lakeside, but here is my picture of the Temple of Apollo:
Not all the constructions at Stourhead are classical in form. The Grotto, dating from 1748, is a kind of artificial cave, housing the statue of an unnamed “river god”. It also has a statue of Ariadne, from Greek mythology, as seen in the following photograph:
Near the grotto is a small Gothic Cottage, which was added to the garden by Henry Hoare’s grandson, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, in 1806. The German tourists in front of me walked straight past it (presumably thinking there was nothing to see on the path from the Pantheon to the Grotto), but luckily for you I stopped to take a photograph:
The other Gothic feature at Stourhead is genuine mediaeval Gothic. It’s called the Bristol High Cross, and it originally stood in the centre of Bristol. It dates from the 14th century, but by the 18th century it was getting in the way of traffic and had to look for a new home. It was moved to Stourhead, where it now stands at the entrance to the garden. Here it is, with the Pantheon visible in the background on the other side of the lake:

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